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One of the best lovers rock compilations yet

Song titles such as It Must Be Love, Thinking of You and I Love You give a hint of what lies behind the album title Harmony, Melody & Style – Lovers Rock & Rare Groove in the UK, one of Soul Jazz Records’ recent compilations.

You probably guessed the genre – lovers rock. A British style of smooth reggae kick-started in the mid 70’s with Louisa Marks’ Caught You in a Lie.

Fusing the tough bass lines and relentless drum patterns of Jamaican reggae with U.S. stylish soul, elegant R&B and pulsating disco and funk rhythms, lovers rock almost became the antithesis to the dread riddims and conscious lyrics that reigned the Kingston and London sound systems at the time.

Lovers rock was an escape from the tough urban jungle of London and other big UK cities marked by racism and tough financial conditions. It was way a expressing heartaches and relationships as well as a tool for female vocalists to make themselves heard, and lovers rock is truly dominated by women, also manifested by the track list of this compilation – only five out of 25 tracks are sung by men.

Harmony, Melody & Style moves from some of the earliest cuts in the genre to its commercial explosion in the late 70’s and early 80’s to being an underground phenomenon in the 90’s.

The album includes classic tunes and ones rare as a hen’s teeth. Several of them are also extended, providing plenty of space for the mixing engineer and the players of instruments to shine. Just listen to the last one and a half minute of La Famille’s cover of Mary Jane Girls’ funky All Night Long. The interplay between the saxophone and trumpet is sublime.

The extensive liner notes – about 40 pages – is written by Soul Jazz Records’ founder and boss man Stuart Baker. It contains photography dating from the 50’s to the 80’s along with interviews and features on the artists, musicians and producers who helped define lovers rock and put it on the global music map.

Harmony, Melody & Style may not be the definitive lovers rock compilation since smash hits such as Janet Kay’s Silly Games and Brown Sugar’s I’m in Love With a Dreadlocks are missing. But those tunes can be found on almost any lovers rock compilation, and it’s a clever choice focusing on a less obvious collection of tracks, tracks just as great, but less known to other than hardcore collectors.

The album is available as a double CD pack with slipcase, digital download and as limited edition two gatefold sleeve double vinyl sets. The vinyl edition might be a bit expensive, but the investment is definitely worthwhile.

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Lovers rock is about looking for love and losing love

Even though a romantic and soft side of reggae has been heard ever since the late 60’s with artists such as Delroy Wilson, John Holt and Ken Boothe, it wasn’t until the mid to late 70’s it became a genre in its own right.

Lovers rock heralds from the UK and evolved as an alternative to the political and militant roots music dominating the 70’s. Lovers rock is not particularly well-suited for riots or uprisings, but rather for late night dances and intimate moments between silky sheets.

Songs like Janet Kay’s Silly Games, Louisa Mark’s cover of Bobby Parker’s Caught You in a Lie or Brown Sugar’s I’m in Love With a Dreadlocks helped to make the genre popular and are today regarded as classics.

Menelik Shabazz’s documentary The Story of Lover’s Rock tells the story of a hostile environment characterized by discrimination. It’s a story about escaping the harsh reality and the search for identity in a divided British society marked by racism. But also about thirsting for love and losing love.

Maxi Priest, Janet Kay, Kofi, the late Jean Adebambo, Winsome and Tippa Irie are just a small portion of artists interviewed. And they are telling stories of where the genre came from, the people behind it and what it has meant to generations of musicians and listeners. They also cover other aspects, such as its future, how it gave women a voice and how it has travelled from the UK to Japan and Brazil.

The many stories are also told through dance moves and music and vivid comedy performances.

Menelik Shabazz has made a thorough exercise in music history. It’s obvious that he has great love of the music and its culture, which might have contributed to making the film unfocused at times. There are too many subjects, too many stories to be told.

But as a lover of music in general and reggae music in particular, you can’t but sit down, relax and enjoy the tale of one of Britain’s finest export products.

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