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.
The latest vintage compilation from reggae powerhouse VP’s reissue subsidiary 17 North Parade focuses on female talents from Joe Gibbs’ label Joe Gibbs Record Globe.
The Ladies at Joe Gibbs collects 15 tracks sourced from vinyl. A number of the tunes are reggae standards and signature songs, including Althea & Donna’s smash hit Uptown Top Ranking, June Lodge’s Someone Loves You Honey, one of the best-selling Jamaican lovers rock tunes of the early 80’s, and Marcia Aitken’s chart topper I’m Still in Love With You.
The compilation is however not entirely revolving around women since a few male deejays join the party, including Trinity on Marcia Aitken’s version of The Techniques’ rocksteady gem My Girl, here titled My Boy, and Ranking Joe on another cover version courtesy of Aitken, this time The Uniques’ Let Me Go Girl, here titled Let Me Go Boy.
Compiler Donald Davidson has also thrown in a few rarities – Jem & Dean’s deejay version of The Sensation’s Everyday is Like a Holiday and Althea’s solo effort Downtown Thing, voiced over a relick of the wicked Please Be True riddim, originally a hit for Alexander Henry in the late 60’s, but today probably best know because of Johnny Osbourne’s cut Sing Jah Style.
The Ladies at Joe Gibbs is a smooth and sophisticated compilation, and it’s great that female reggae singers and deejays get a piece of the limelight. More of that please.
Now available on digital platforms and CD. The latter contains informative liner notes from Daddy Lion Chandell.