Jamaican musician, producer and studio owner Byron Lee is sometimes overlooked in the history of reggae. He had a middle class background and the sounds coming from him and his band The Dragonaries were often labelled as uptown and custom-made for tourists. Maybe his music was uptown, but in retrospect many Byron Lee’s productions often sounds as authentic as many other cuts recorded in the 60s.
This is shown on a new 20 track compilation appropriately titled Uptown Top Ranking. It collects classics and golden nuggets as well as several overlooked gems. The set is mostly instrumental and Byron Lee & The Dragonaires gives several classics cuts from the 60s and 70s the ska, rocksteady and reggae treatment, including Manu Dibango’s funky disco monster Soul Makossa, Herbie Hancock’s jazz standard Watermelon Man and the immortal Ol’ Man River.
There are plenty of dance floor fillers and the tempo is high – some might argue it’s frenetic – almost throughout the full album, but there are a few slower, organ-lead jams collected as well.
Byron Lee has been a pivotal figure in reggae and played a crucial part in expanding music from Jamaica beyond the Caribbean. He was part of taking ska to the U.S. and his studio Dynamic Sounds became a major hub for both local talents and major international acts like Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. And Uptown Top Ranking spotlights an entertainer and an entrepreneur that pioneered the Jamaican music industry.