Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ / ‘Pied Piper’ CD (Doctor Bird) 5/5

Now properly remastered, with a digitally enhanced cover photo looking better than ever, this is quite simply one of the greatest ever reggae albums, with two singers at an early peak in their illustrious careers, and as a duo, operating in perfect harmony, within and outside of the recording studio. The title track and first single was a smash pop hit going all the way to number five in spring, 1970, and has lost non of its charm. An uplifting tune if ever there was one, it is an adaptation of the classic Nina Simone composition and ode to a positive black consciousness, which Aretha Franklin then made her own with a grittier and earthier soulful rendition. Bob and Marcia take it out slightly of this context (though still mighty soulful) and have enveloped it in a light, but nonetheless spicy Jamaican jerk chicken sauce and the result is an all-time classic that has never dated and probably never will. In particular, the use of layered strings on the UK version made it far more accessible and embellishes the basic riddim. This expanded edition has the major bonus of enabling us to hear the rawer and harder sounding Jamaican 45, devoid of any strings, with the bass far more prominent and, interestingly, here the vocals are more to the fore and that adds a different quality to the song, thus making it a sheer listening delight and one that is a refreshing alternative take on the immortal reggae song.

The rest of the album is hardly less thrilling with some gorgeous covers of songs that were barely out of their original. In the case of ‘Ain’t Nothing But The Real Thing’, the influence of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell original is still discernible, but is now displayed over a chugging reggae rhythm section. On a lovely take on ‘United We Stand’, the simple, yet highly effective chorus is the pretext for Marcia Griffiths to take the first lead, with Bob Andy in close pursuit. Both were already fine lead vocalists, but the cherry on the cake here are the sublime collective harmonies. Of note is that, along with ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, Bob and Andy were marketed in the United States on Motown and its earlier offshoot, Tamla. At that particular time, there was no specific label which catered to the then emerging reggae sound. Bob Dylan was clearly an influence on reggae singers, especially given his consistent and unwavering stance on civil rights, with ‘It Ain’t Me Baby’ being one of the earlier examples of his songwriting skills being transposed to the reggae idiom. A real favourite is the beautifully structured, mid-tempo groove of ‘Peace in Your Mind’, with the rasping lead vocals of Andy never more lovingly illustrated. Ending the CD as a whole is that Jamaican version of the title track that showcases the two vocalists in their prime.

Making up a marvellous coupling is the follow up album, ‘Pied Piper’, that while not scaling the dizzy heights of its predecessor, still has plenty to offer. Once again, the album title track served as the introduction to the album as a whole and was another pop chart success, albeit just outside the top ten. Vying for the most compelling song and delivery on this follow up album are ‘But I Do’ and the catchy harmonies of ‘You Are Mine’. Previous re-issues have tended to offer compilations of the pair along with individual songs. This new and definitive re-issue provides us with the complete package and therefore is a clear first choice selection. Extremely well annotated notes by Harry Hacks set a benchmark that only the pioneering Blood and Fire label of the 1990’s set in the UK, with a plethora of references for the devotee to follow up on, various European pressings of 45s, promotional photos. Both singers would go on to enjoy illustrious careers in their own right, but this pairing of albums captures them in their youthful glory and, as such, remains a timeless classic that every new generation can discover with relish.

Tim Stenhouse