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Excellent selection of mid- to late- 70's roots from Island Records......
on 31 January 2014
I wonder if this 2CD compilation will be the swansong of Universal Records excellent series of reggae compilations on their Spectrum off-shoot now that they have sold the Trojan catalogue to BMG? I certainly hope not but if it is then it is a great way to go out with a generous 37-track selection in superb sound quality mixing both the familiar and rare in a heady mix combining solo vocalists, harmony groups and DJs. Some of the tracks are perhaps over-familiar ('One Step Forward' by Max Romeo & 'Marcus Garvey' by Burning Spear & 'Police & Thieves' by Junior Murvin being the prime suspects) but the generous 2-and-a-half running time more than compensates for this.
The rare tracks include the original version of 'Uptown Top Ranking' by Althea & Donna where they harmonise beautifully the familiar lyrics over a dread minor key rhythm to startling effect and it is then immediately followed by an excellent Trinity toast over the same rhythm - these two tracks are worth the absurd £5.99 price tag on their own. The nyahbingi/funk hybrid 'None A Jah Jah Children (No Cry)' by Ras Michael is similarly brilliant as is the almost 9 minute [presumably 12" mix?] of the awesome Black Ark recorded 'Life Is Not Easy' by the Meditations (my favourite track by this perennially underrated harmony trio).
There are a couple of rocksteady flavoured roots tracks by the great Justin Hinds ('Fire (Is My Desire)' & 'One Bird In The Hand') exhibiting Hind's ultra-soulful pipes in full effect. There are further superb examples of Jamaican roots harmonies by the legendary Congos and Wailing Souls and an intelligent selection of tracks from the (slightly) lesser Third World, Inner Circle and The In Crowd vocal groups [all three of these groups are perhaps too slick to represent the very best of roots reggae]. Rico Rodriguez the ska era trombonist pops up to play a stately instrumental ('Africa'). A few Lee "Scratch" Perry productions are present and correct as should be expected on a 70's Island Records reggae compilation including a few less familiar classic items from Junior Murvin ('Tedious'), Errol Walker ('In These Times') & Perry himself with some help from The Heptones ('Three In One')
Of the more obscure artists Pablo Moses' ('Dubbing Is A Must') from 1980 is particularly striking with a brilliant organ flecked dread minor key rhythm with Pablo's smoky vocals layered on top. Joe Higgs' 'Sons Of Garvey' is the lesser of the two versions of this song with too prominent backing vox overwhelming the great pipes of Higgs himself nevertheless it is still makes fine listening. Ijahman Levi's 'Jah Heavy Load' is certainly rock influenced with some prominent lead guitar threading through the rhythm but it fits in surprisingly well and Ijahman's vocals/lyrics really elevate the tune to classic status. I hadn't heard of Hosbah Lawrence before but his minor key Jack Ruby produced 'Gold Spoon' with an uncredited Trinity toast in a discomix style is a real unheralded gem, another find that fully justifies the price of this set.
Conclusion, if this is where Universal Records parts ways with the reggae genre after releasing many truly excellent compilations over the past few years sourced from the Island & Trojan catalogues then this set is a great way to bow out.