on 13 August 2014
In 2001, Virgin released the immensely satisfying four-cd boxset, simply called The Front Line with a fantastic attached booklet with features on all the acts. I guess Virgin have picked that most people won't have that, and they are probably right. But it is still a little disappointing that 20 of those tracks are replicated here on this otherwise outstanding compilation (I have included the 12" versions which tend to offer little extra, but not the dub versions which are often regarded as separate tracks). That's a little surprising as acts such as The Mighty Diamonds, Tapper Zukie and Gregory Isaacs have an extensive back catalogue, from their Front Line days alone.
Nevertheless, this is an excellent collection that will introduce many people to the likes of U Brown, Ranking Trevor, The Twinkle Brothers (not as twinkle toes as you might expect), Vivian Weathers, Delroy Washington and Jah Lloyd. It will also reveal that Althea and Donna recorded more great records beyond Uptown Top Ranking, and allows Sly Dunbar to play around on his own.
But ultimately it is the stars who make this effort more than worthwhile: Gregory Isaacs is untouchable, Culture are outstanding, Big Youth revolutionary and Tapper Zukie a demented rock.
it could have done with more Johnny Clarke and less Keith Hudson, and listening would have been more cohesive if the act's contributions were collated three at a time, as they were on The Front Line set, but with a big booklet including a preface by John Lydon, this is a magnificent addition to anyone just finding out what reggae has to offer or those with sizeable collections.
on 16 October 2014
I have been seeking out the original 'Front line' album for years as that compilation punctuated much of my life back in the late 1970's when I used to live in a squat down Latimer Road, in West London, and hung about down Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Road all the time. I had to get this as a download immediately when I found it on Amazon, as there is so much good stuff in this collection, including the tracks from the first album. Such nostalgia is well worth the money for me. I gather that the C.D box set has some sort of introduction by John Lydon. I encountered him once back in the late 70's, wasn't impressed by his negative, arrogantly assumptive, labelling of us people he didn't know and the other theatrically anti social, proclamations of disinformation being emitted from his gob, so I won't be too sad to miss him in print either. this is a great album of a really exciting bygone era that I can now enjoy in my 60s, even if my hopes and dreams never even came close to being realised. Do they ever ?
on 12 August 2014
It is rather wonderful that Universal/Virgin Records should produce a lovingly packaged 5-CD box-set with a hefty booklet with evocative pictures and label scans (and an introduction by John Lydon himself!) dedicated to a minority musical form [reggae] in an age of fast declining record sales. The tagline for this set is that it summarises the short-lived Front Line label started by Richard Branson's Virgin Records in 1978 and closed down two years later in 1980 (effectively bringing to a close the roots era of reggae). In fact the first music on this set comes from 1976 and includes tracks from The Mighty Diamonds seminal "Right Time" LP (produced by Joseph Hoo Kim at Channel One) and Johnny Clarke's similarly brilliant "Rockers Time Now" LP (produced by Bunny 'Striker' Lee). The 1st CD therefore chronologically covers 1976 and 1977, before the Front Line Label actually existed! No matter since it contains some brilliant music from the high summer of the roots era of reggae with an emphasis on vocalists and vocal groups rather than DJs. The only two duds on this CD emanate from the usually reliable Keith Hudson; from his legendarily awful "Too Expensive" LP (it really was!) and these two tracks should have been replaced with something else (more Johnny Clarke perhaps?).
CD2 is where Front Line proper starts largely covering 1978 and is reasonably strong but for the presence of [way] too many DJ tracks (how they thought this was a commercial proposition in the international market even in the late 70's I don't know and I'm speaking as someone who largely likes DJ stuff but this music isn't from the top drawer of roots based toasting and at an hour plus it really is too much with not enough vocal tracks to break things up).
CD3 which spans 1979 prior to the shut down of Front Line in 1980, and covers the autumn of the roots era, is much stronger than CD2 since Gregory Isaacs makes a welcome appearance with the excellent "Lonely Girl" as does Culture and remarkably The Abyssinians (though their tracks aren't so great), all this in addition to the hardy perennials throughout these CDs; The Gladiators and the underrated Twinkle Brothers. There are still a few toasting numbers but obviously the 1st wave of DJ music from 1978 (detailed on CD2) hadn't sold and so a lot of these artists had been dropped (to no avail since the label was closed entirely early the following year).
CD4 covers a bunch of rare 12" discomixes (typically a song immediately followed by its dub) and these tracks are largely excellent in a solid roots vein containing a third to two-thirds split of DJs to vocalists and only one real dud, the closing live version of "Chalice In The Palace/Wear Yu To The Ball" by the foundation DJ U-Roy. The standouts here are "Soon Forward" by the ever dependable Gregory Isaacs and the tough roots steppers of "Africa" & Jah Kingdom Come" by The Twinkle Brothers (unfortunately spelt 'Winkle Brothers' on the tracklisting of the latter track).
CD5 is titled 'From The Vaults' and contains a mix of rare 12" discomixes (mostly very strong with entries from Gregory Isaacs, the brilliant "Mr. Brown" & "Tune In", The Twinkle Brothers "I Don't Want To Be Lonely....", and even Linton Kwesi Johnson AKA Poet & The Roots; the powerful "All Wi Dooin' Is Defendin'"). Also Keith Hudson somewhat redeems himself with a solid flute driven unreleased instrumental, "Virgin Rock".
Overall there about 5-7 real duds in the set which out of 92 tracks ain't half bad. In addition a couple of tracks overlap with the recently released Front Line Roots & Dub 2CD sets (eg. Prince Far I's "Borno Dub"), a bit of an oversight but in no way a deal breaker. The set itself is contained within a sturdy cardboard box (sadly with some typos on the tracklisting) and inside is a car sticker (?), some large post-cards comprising contemporaneous label advertising (evocative) and best of all a thick booklet with a solid set of liner notes [inc. artist by artist descriptions], plenty of photos/label scans and full track details. The 5xCDs are contained within thin cardboard sleeves with original LP label art to differentiate them [a nice touch]. The packaging is a real boon and really contributes to the value of the set despite the occasionally 'up and down' nature of the music itself.
In conclusion an excellent set with some strong music from the peak to the end of the roots era ['76 - late '79] and only a few underpar tracks and excellent packaging ----- if you are a reggae fan, especially one of the roots era, this is definitely worth picking up.
on 14 October 2014
This is a really tasty presentation complete informative book and other goodies. I like the CD covers being faithful reproductions of the original vinyl releases. Sound quality is generally first rate and in some cases exceptionally so. As an original collector of the label in its heyday, the tracks chosen here seem all too familiar to these ears but there is enough more lesser heard tracks to make the listening experience to be worthwhile as a whole. Like all large compilations, there are a few tracks which would have been better left out, but that is just a personal thing. I am happy that I purchased this release and pretty sure it should prove to be indispensable to 'new ears'.
on 19 April 2016
Bought this after listening to this on Spotify, so I knew this would be great. Love 'Hip Hug' by Vivian Weathers, 'Jah Works' by the Gladiators. I have a smaller box set, but with these extra tracks, it's great value.