Barrington Levy ‘Sweet Reggae Music 1979-1984’ 2CD (VP) 5/5

Singer Barrington Levy’s period chronicled here represents a key era in the history of reggae. By the end of the 1970s the dominance of reggae would be overtaken by that of dancehall. The shrewder among Jamaican musicians would adapt to the new musical environment and this was certainly the case of Barrington Levy who positively thrived during the early-mid 1980s. This generously timed 2CD set focuses on productions by a number of producers, but by far the most productive collaboration was with Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes and it is their work which is celebrated to a large extent on the first CD with songs from the seminal Greensleeves albums they cut together from the very beginning of the 1980s such as ‘Englishman’ and Robin Hood’ while the earlier ‘Bounty Hunter’ is not forgotten and has its own charms. Reworking classic riddims, including those from Studio One’s bottomless pit of hits, proved to be a winning formula for the duo and ‘Shine eye girl’, the wonderful ‘Sister Carol’ and ‘Mary longue tongue’ all bear the classic hallmarks with the heavyweight rhythm support of the Root Radics. Elsewhere the early sounds of the rockers beat to the title track of ‘Bounty Hunter’ and ‘Collie weed’ were examples of how popular a singer Barrington Levy was likely to become

The second CD takes the story one step further with a greater variety of producers coming into play from the early 1980s onwards. Joe Gibbs was one such example and the horn-driven riddims and echo-infused vocals of ‘My woman’ stand the test of time well. For small label producer Carlton Patterson, Levy recorded the excellent ‘Warm and Sunny Day’ where social concerns were still present. A heavier dancehall beat dominates the Linval Thompson produced ‘Poor Man Style’ while there is a distinctly sparser feel in the breakdown, use of echo and percussion on ‘Whom shall I be afraid of’. Ace Channel One producer Jo Hookim also gets a look in on ‘The winner’ while Jah Screw produces a brace of numbers on ‘Under mi sensi’ and ‘Here I come’. Among the selection of forty songs, there are contained on the first CD some previously unreleased songs which will appeal to long-time fans and the 12″ mix of the ‘Tribute to Moa Anbessi’ produced by Jah Thomas is itself a hard to find item. All in all a splendid overview of a glittering career in reggae music. Tim Stenhouse

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