This set comes in a thick cardboard lidded box. Inside there's a set of reproduced large-size postcards advertising Jamaican music. They're not really essential, but they are pretty cool to look at. Each disc comes in a color coded cardboard envelope that matches the disc. The 48 page paperback book size booklet is well worth having. There are many photographs that tie into Jamaican freedom and the music, a two page map of Jamaica, and many photos of Jamaican artists. There's a complete list of all the tracks in this collection including the year date for each song. The music has been remastered to what may be the best these tracks will ever sound.
The five discs are split into individual categories-"Songs of Freedom", "Jamaican Hits", "Pioneers", "Innovators", and "Forgotten Treasures". The first disc, titled "Songs of Freedom", with a number of familiar artists (Bob Marley & The Wailers ("Rainbow Country"), Bob Andy ("Stepping Free"), The Heptones ("I Shall Be Released"), Culture ("Trod On"), Third World ("Freedom Song"), Burning Spear ("Shout It Out"), etc.), is still a great collection of songs. Long time fans will recognize some of these tunes, but there's no denying this disc is full of great songs. Prince Far I is also here with "Jamaica's National Heroes", as is Alton Ellis with "If I Could Rule This World", alongside "Born Free" by Michael Rose & Black Uhuru, and Judy Mowatt's "My My People", sometimes titled "You're My People".
"Jamaican Hits" is just that. Many of these songs you probably already own, but their inclusion is proper since this set celebrates Jamaican freedom and the music from the era. And, quite frankly, many of these tunes are so good that hearing them once again is no real chore. From "Forward March" by Derrick Morgan, to "Rock Steady" by Alton Ellis & The Flames, to "007" by Desmond Decker & The Israelites, to "Wear You To The Ball" by U Roy & John Holt, to "Police and Thieves" by Junior Murvin, to "Night Nurse" by Gregory Isaacs, the list of great songs continues.
Disc Three, "Pioneers", is where things begin to get interesting. The Vibrators, The Sensations, Clancy Eccles, The Uniques, Ken Boothe, The Chuckles, and many others make this disc worthwhile. Other artists include Ernest Raglin ("Flaming Rock Steady"), Derrick Harriott ("No Man Is An Island"), Niney & The Big Youth ("Blood and Fire" extended version), The Gladiators ("Freedom Train"), Phyllis Dillon ("Midnight Confessions" extended version), and many others are well worth hearing in this context.
"Innovators" is just that. Artists like Johnny Clarke & King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Dillinger, Horace Andy, Barrington Levy, Johnny Osbourne, Charlie Chaplin, and others each are represented by songs that (at the time) pushed the boundaries a bit in Jamaican music circles. From the smooth, almost r&b sounds of The Heptones ("Brother"), to an extended version of Johnny Clarke's "None Shall Escape The Judgement" (with King Tubby), to "Sea of Love", by Horace Andy, to Luciano's "Never Give Up My Pride", produced by "Fatis" Burrell, there's a lot of great music on this disc.
The final disc, "Forgotten Treasures", too, is well named. The Spanishtonians, The Carib-Beats, The Little Wonder All Stars, The Sparkers, Ska Campbell, The Prophets, and many others are here with many forgotten tunes-and forgotten doesn't mean worthless-not on your life. This is a great way to end this fine collection of music. From the early sounds of The Planners, The Spanishtonians, and The Carib-Beats, to an extended version of "Chase The Devil", by Max Romeo and Prince Jazzbo, to the smooth vocals of Delroy Wilson, to "Socialism Train" by The Ethiopeans, to "Jerusalem", by Devon Irons, there's a lot of musical ground covered, much of it very fine. Even "Ode To Billy Joe" is here by the great Tommy McCook & The Specialists. Needless to say this disc covers a lot of ground with songs most of us (if not everyone) is unfamiliar with.
Currently there's a number of good box sets being released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jamaican freedom. Is this set all inclusive? No. But it doesn't claim to be. This is a good collection of music-much of it unheard until now-from the Trojan label. Of the many sets recently released, this is certainly one of the best-if not the best-that has been released of late. Are there artists/songs that should've been included? Yes. But that would've been prohibitive, so the folks at Trojan/Sanctuary had to make some hard choices. And on hearing this collection, I think you'll hear a lot of great music-both well known and rare. I hesitated to purchase yet another large size box set-but I'm glad I did.