The album's front cover
with hand-written song titles
The album contains 6 discs
with a song on each side
The album's inner sleeve shows
"Clement Miller" made the recordings
The album's back cover
In 2012, I came across an old and one of
a kind mento album. The performer is Porkchops and his rural
mento band, who is best known as Lord Flea's
great banjo player on his
Capital Records recordings.
It was apparently recorded by Clement
Miller, who wrote about and taught music. He used a portable
Wilcox-Gay "Recordio" -- a precursor to the tape recorder.
It recorded on blank 7" records that played at 78 RPM.
Though they looked like regular records, these discs are thin with layers of
black lacquer on either side of a thin
aluminum core. The labels had space for hand-written description of
what had been recorded.
The aluminum core of these discs can
peeking out along the outer edge.
Best estimate, this one of a
kind album of 12 songs across 6 discs was recorded in the in 1947 or 1948, several
years before Stanley Motta
started the Jamaican record industry with mento singles at the start
Even though they are well preserved
and do not appear to have been played much (if at all), as you might expect from 65-year old
portably cut acetates, the sound quality is rough. The
surface noise is at least as bad as an overplayed 78 from the 1950s. Plus
the recording levels were too low and the pitch too slow. Still, this
was then the state of the art for personal portable recording. After
correcting these problems in the digital domain, lead and backing
vocals, banjo, acoustic guitar, and occasional hand drum can be easily discerned.
Rumba box is likely part of the band, but is more difficult to make
out. Likewise, the ubiquitous maracas are missing, possibly the victim of
surface noise and its removal.
But still, this very well may be
single earliest recording of rural mento.