Tag Archives: Box sets

Five reggae superstars in a box

Dennis Brown  & Superstar Friends - Reggae Legends - artworkDennis Brown was on top of his game in the mid to late 70s and he put out more than a handful of excellent albums, including Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours, Words of Wisdom and Visions of Dennis Brown.

But this esteemed singer also dropped great material in the 80s and 90s, as shown on the brand new four disc box set Dennis Brown & Superstar Friends. It collects four original combination albums released between 1984 and 1993 – Judge Not and No Contest with Gregory Isaacs, Legit with Freddie McGregor and Cocoa Tea and Hotter Flames with Frankie Paul.

Augustus “Gussie” Clarke was responsible for production on Judge Not, No Contest and Legit. These collect solo and duo tracks as well as several discomixes, discomixes that showcase the crisp and sharp hi-tech riddims that became Gussie Clarke’s trademark.

Hotter Flames – produced by Patrick Roberts and Andre Tyrell aka Shocking Vibes – is rawer and more rugged compared to Gussie Clarke’s slick, yet with an edge, style.

Included is no less than 38 tracks, and highlights include the massive Gregory Isaacs combination Let off the Supm, To the Foundation, No Camouflage, Big All Around, Bone Lies and a nice take of Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic.

This set is a proper showdown where the Crown Prince of Reggae teams up with four of his superstar friends to make music for your ears and listening pleasure.

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A rockin’ Randy’s box set

VP Records follow-up on their Channel One 7” box set released earlier this year with a set dedicated to another legendary Jamaican studio and label – Randy’s, probably the most important studio of the early 70’s. It was for example here Augustus Pablo recorded several of his early masterpieces.

Roots Rock Randy’s collects seven rootsy 7” from the Randy’s catalogue produced by Clive Chin with engineering wizard Errol “ET” Thompson – later of the Mighty Two with Joe Gibbs – at the controls in Randy’s Recording Studio, located above Randy’s Record Mart on 17 North Parade in Kingston.

The music included is classic roots – vocals, instrumentals and dubs. Some of the tracks have previously been reissued on 7”, whereas others haven’t been on wax since their original released almost 40 years ago. A bunch of the tracks are also available on compilations such as 17 North Parade on Pressure Sounds, including The Gladiators’ The Race, The African Brothers’ Hold Tight and Broadway’s funky harmonica-lead Guns in the Ghetto, on the 7″ it’s the flipside to Hortense Ellis’ version of Marlena Shaw’s Woman of the Ghetto.

The most worthwhile 7”s are probably Ansel Collins’ haunting instrumental Spanish Town Road with its sparse dub version S-Corner Dub and Augustus Pablo’s Java Passion, his next cut to the original Java. Its flipside Woodpecker is just as tasty.

If the 7” format and quality roots music is your thing, then this rockin’ box set is well-worth investigating further.

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A questionable view on reggae history

Island Records, the legendary label founded by Chris Blackwell in Jamaica in 1959, has put out a huge box set titled Sound System: The Story of Jamaican Music, as a celebration of Jamaica’s 50 years of independence. It follows the 1993 release Tougher Than Tough – The Story of Jamaican Music.

Sound System: The Story of Jamaican Music comes in a massive cardboard package and collects almost 130 tracks on eight discs along with a 100 page hardcover coffee table book by respected writer Chris Salewicz and photographer Adrian Boot.

This is an ambitious and impressive project, and for the reggae novice it’s a bona fide treasure chest of widely known, as well as lesser known, tracks from the 60’s up until the early 2000’s covering ska, roots, rocksteady, dancehall, dub, instrumentals and ragga. The emphasis is however on the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Smash hits such as Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come or Ken Boothe’s Everything I Own rub shoulders with Buju Banton’s Bogle Dance and Val Bennett’s exquisite rocksteady gem The Russians Are Coming.

The tracks are randomly put together and those longing for a set of Bob Marley tunes must look somewhere else. Because the only Marley represented musically is Damian with his Welcome to Jamrock. And his contribution is actually also the only tune released in the 2000’s. If I didn’t know better I would have thought reggae disappeared after the 90’s.

But nothing could be more wrong. Reggae is perhaps more alive than ever before with producers, artists and labels making themselves heard from the four corners of the globe.

And it’s a shame that Island decided to focus on the so-called golden years of reggae and didn’t bother to recognize the impact reggae has had over the last ten years.

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Beloved and forgotten gems on The Story of Trojan Records

The story of the legendary Trojan Records has its ups and downs. In the 60’s Trojan was the label for reggae music. As the Specials’ Lynval Golding has stated – “If you saw a Trojan 45 you knew you could buy it without hearing it first.”

But in the early 70’s reggae music changed. Roots reggae was suddenly the new black and Trojan didn’t manage to follow the trend.

Labels like Island and Virgin signed a whole bunch of dread and eerie artists and dropped a number of records that took the public by storm.

Then came dancehall and another label popped up – Greensleeves. Trojan didn’t manage to follow that trend either.

Instead of signing new artists Trojan has for a long, long time focused on its back catalogue and has flooded the market with reissues of varied quality.

The latest reissue is the generic titled The Story of Trojan Records that holds five CD’s with a total of 123 tracks. Included are also a sticker, four post cards, a 50 page booklet written by Trojan long-timer Laurence Cane-Honeysett and if you decide to register your box over at Trojan Appreciation Society website you can download an exclusive 12 track bonus digital album.

There hasn’t been a release like this on Trojan before, even though two compilations come close, at least with regards to the title. The double LP The Trojan Story put out in 1974 and The Trojan Story vol. 1&2 released in the late 80’s.

This latest is indeed special and highly recommended. It covers the hits, artists, producers and labels as well as unreleased rarities, alternate takes and the occasional live version.

The first disc covers the big UK hits and is a good start for non-seasoned collectors. You’ll find sublime music that has been played over and over again – The Maytals’ Monkey Man, Wonderful World Beautiful People from Jimmy Cliff and Symarip’s classic Skinhead Moonstomp.

Disc two, three and four cover Reggae Greats, The Big Shots – The Producers and A to Z of Trojan – The Labels. Included is veritable who’s who in early reggae and roots reggae. The discs also feature a number of styles, instrumentals and dubs.

Most of the tracks were recorded between 1968 and 1975. There is however some tough early dancehall represented – The Viceroys’ Come Closer My Love recorded in 1981, produced by Linval Thompson and issued on the We Must Unite album.

The fifth disc is the most interesting piece in this box set since it includes gems, rarities and oddities. And there are no less than nine previously unreleased tracks included here. Several of them actually very worthwhile which make me wonder why they have been left laying around unloved, unissued and forgotten until now.

For example, The Dynamites’ funky version of Jr. Walker and The All Stars’ chart-topper What Does it Take to Win Your Love, Nora Dean’s take on Harry J’s immortal Liquidator riddim and Bob Andy’s pop-flavored I Can Win. Dave Barker also does a nice version of The Gaylads’ Can’t Hide the Feeling.

This box set represents a time of innocence. Before slack lyrics – not really, but almost anyway – and before singjays, hip-hop beats and auto-tune. It’s about being festive, joyous and happy.

Since Trojan was acquired by Universal a few years ago things has really started to happen and it seems that the management has great hope in the reissue business.

Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new great era for Trojan Records and that the story doesn’t end here.

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A great introduction to Dennis Brown

The late Dennis Brown is one of the most loved and consistent Jamaican singers and was in the 70’s probably more popular than Bob Marley. Several contemporary Jamaican artists are heavily influenced by him – Luciano, Frankie Paul and Bushman for example. But outside Jamaica he hasn’t been properly recognized.

He was signed to major label A&M in the early 80’s and dropped three albums with crossover potential, but didn’t make into the international charts.

He was in his prime in the mid and late 70’s and recorded some wicked tunes and albums with a number of Jamaica’s top producers at the time.

Joe Gibbs produced Dennis Brown with great success and this work is now collected by VP Records in the box set Dennis Brown at Joe Gibbs. Here you’ll find the albums Visions of Dennis Brown and Words of Wisdom as well as two CD’s that collects singles and album material from the 70’s and 80’s. All in all 60 songs with Dennis Brown’s powerful tenor voice.

Dennis Brown was a master of combining conscious tunes with more lovers oriented material. Just listen to the deep So Jah Say and the uplifting cover of Johnnie Taylor’s Ain’t That Loving You. It’s Pure gold.

There’s no denying of the greatness of the two full lengths that are included. The third disc – Love’s Gotta Hold On Me – is also sublime with material that ranges from the haunting Created by The Father to the soulful Historical Places, included on The Prophet Rides Again, his last album for A&M.

The last disc – Reflections – hasn’t the same caliber as the other three, mainly due to poor sound quality. It’s nice though to hear the original version of Money in My Pocket, probably the closest Dennis Brown has come to a hit song.

Dennis Brown at Joe Gibbs is sold at a bargain price and is a perfect introduction to one of the many greats of reggae music.

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