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"Jah bring I joy in the morning..."
on 3 June 2011
An unashamedly populist collection of Jamaican roots reggae circa 1974-79; this release, with its ubiquitous tracks that seem to pop up everywhere, offers absolutely nothing new to reggae collectors and little for anyone who may own more than one Trojan box-set; but as an introductory sampler for the novice newcomer this is really quite impeccable, and is certainly the best all-round retrospective of the period Trojan have ever released. The reason this 2CD set is such a resounding success is that its superb track list features material licensed from other record labels (notice the familiar Island Records logo on the back cover). This album boasts pivotal tracks from Max Romeo, Leroy Smart, Burning Spear, The Congos and Culture; which when combined with Trojan's already heavyweight roster of roots classics (from Johnny Clarke, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Jacob Miller et al), makes this compilation a nearly-definitive account of the genre...or as near as a 2CD set is ever going to get.
Every major stylistic trait of the roots reggae era is covered on this album very satisfactorily: the shuffling, skanking early-reggae grooves (Junior Byles' "CURLY LOCKS"); the upbeat and exuberantly melodic (Bobby Melody's "JAH BRING I JOY"); the mystical, brooding and deep (Burning Spear's "INVASION"), the tough, militant "rockers" style (Leroy Smart's "BALLISTIC AFFAIR"); there's even some sublime examples of surreal dub remixing with The Congos' and Burning Spear tracks presented in their 6-minute extended versions with dub conclusions.
The mastering quality throughout is pretty-much faultless; though George Nooks' "TRIBAL WAR", seems to have a mix which only comes out of one channel (this is only a very noticeable problem while listening on headphones, however). The booklet features a well-written essay on Rastafarianism and reggae music, but does contain some errors in the track notes: Gregory Isaacs' "MR COP", for instance, is produced by Lee Perry and not Jack Ruby as stated. As for the track-listing itself, there are only 2 disappointing aspects to it in my view: the inclusion of the vocal-less dub version of Burning Spear's "Slavery Days" ("I AND I SURVIVE") instead of "Slavery Days" itself (surely would have made more sense to put the dub song on the "Trojan Presents Dub" album rather than this one); and the version of Dennis Brown's "CHILDREN OF ISRAEL", which has some tacky overdubbed synthesizer lines and a new beat, leaving it virtually unrecognizable from the original recording.
Anyway, that still leaves 38 absolutely crucial and "ital" recordings from reggae's glory days to revel in, for a budget price. Forget the cynical "heard-it-all-before" mentality and rejoice in the power of the "popular". After all they're popular because they're good. Jah bless.