on 8 October 2013
The excellent Soul Jazz record label continue their long series of Studio One compilations which originated way back in 2001. This is their second ska-themed compilation and it is largely superb. About half of this compilation covers the full range of instrumental ska from joyful major key rave-ups like The Skatalities "Ska La Parisienne" to the moody, modal "Skauling Johnny" by Johnny Moore. Don Drummond is here too of course with "Green Island" a tune with exuberant soloing over a pounding, murky rhythm. Another excellent instrumental comes from the Jackie Mittoo lead Soul Brothers in "Freedom Sounds" from which you can feel the stirrings of Rocksteady in its stately, somewhat muted progress. The Roland Alphonso lead "Cleopatra" is hardly rare but is a cracking tune being both sombre in its liberal use of minor keys and upbeat in its frantic pace. The only suspect instrumental track is somewhat surprisingly Jackie Mittoo's "Jump for Joy" though not for the music which is excellent but for the sound quality which isn't.
Of the vocal tracks there is a plaintive cover of The Beatles "You Won't See Me" by The Clarendonians, bouncy proto-roots in "Where's Garvey" by Bongo Man, the brilliant driving, minor key "Old Rocking Chair" with an impassioned soul-inflected vocal from Jackie Opel. Hugh Godfrey makes a plea against the "Mad World" in another ace proto-roots effort. The Ethiopians superbly harmonise on the soulful "Live Good" which again hints towards rocksteady in its slower pace as does The Gaylads chant-like "Don't Try To Reach Me" [based upon The Byrds' "2-4-2 Foxtrot (The Lear Jet Song)" of all things!]. Joe Higgs & Roy Wilson produce the goods in spectacular fashion on an early version of Higgs' "There's A Reward" [re-cut on his seminal "Life Of Contradiction" LP] by some distance the best track on the CD; quite simply a classic.
Poor tracks? Very few ----- The Wailers "Mr. Talkative" and "Climb The Ladder" are lesser efforts by their supremely high standards (both are OK though). Lee Perry's "Gumma" confirms Coxsone Dodd's doubts about Perry as a front-line vocalist/performer being nothing special. Other than that and the sonically subpar Jackie Mittoo track the rest is very good to excellent which means another essential addition for anyone interested in reggae from the best Jamaican studio of the '66-'71 period. Now where is that Studio One Rocksteady compilation that aficionados have been waiting for?