Throughout his career, Steve Mason has been a hard man to pin down to any particular musical style. The Beta Band were known for their experimental approach to music and genre wise, Mason’s solo output after the surprise break up of the band has also been quite eclectic. So when 2010’s Boys Outside suggested a return to more organic song writing we should have known it wouldn’t last long. Just to keep us on our toes Mason has enlisted the help of renowned Reggae artist and producer Denis Bovell to create a track for track dub version of Boys Outside, remade and retitled as Ghosts Outside.
I’ve got to be honest, I was expecting a lighthearted reggae take on the original, much in the same way that Easy Star All-Stars have Dub-ified some of the worlds best loved albums in recent years. Mason’s track record suggested there might just be some trick up his sleeve but I was wrong. Bovell and Mason both treat Dub with the utmost respect here and each remix stays well within the confines of the genre rules.
You get a lot of the expected Dub effects and sounds throughout the album; Mason’s vocals are soaked in echo and reverb, ebbing and flowing through the tracks, appearing at random and disappearing just as quickly. In true Dub fashion the songs become less about the lyrical content and more about the laid back reggae rhythms. The bass takes the lead in the absence of a definite melody, creating some gorgeous grooves that are interrupted sporadically by blasting horn sections or reggae piano and guitar.
When it all comes together the combination of Mason’s Folk melodies and Bovell’s Reggae nous is irresistible. Album opener 'Lost And Dub' and 'Dub Outside' show the formula in full flow and it is hard to argue that the collaboration wasn’t worthwhile- but that's not the whole story of the album. With Bovell’s insistence of staying loyal to the Dub sound with minimal vocals, Mason becomes a passenger on his own album. This is fine up to a point but when the rhythms are less inspired the tracks drag with no vocal respite.
Overall Ghosts Outside is a success in that it does exactly what it sets out to do; Bovell has created an authentic Dub version of Mason’s original so in essence it’s mission accomplished. The restrictions are obvious in a project like this making it hard to improve on the original, the source material is limited and clearly defined and the Dub genre has strict rules to stick to but Bovell delivers what is required. It’s not a world beater, but if you have a hankering for some vintage Dub then it’s definitely one to check out.
- Brian Kinsella