Mighty Maytones ‘Madness’/’Boat to Zion’ (Burning Sounds) 5/5
Twinkle Brothers ‘Rasta Pon Top’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5
Linval Thompson ‘Rocking Vibration’/’Love is the Question’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5
The Burning Sounds label was one of the major roots reggae players in the UK in the 1970s and the re-issuing for the very first time on CD (a limited number did come out via Trojan, but this was by no means comprehensive) is a welcome addition to the catalogue, especially at a time when roots reggae releases are somewhat thin on the ground, at least albums. What is more, the new re-issues are terrific value for money since they invariably contain two albums on one CD, though the Twinkle Brothers album is an exception to that rule
Arguably, the pick of the bunch is the Mighty Maytones and the vocal duet of Vernon Buckley and Gladstone Grant enjoyed an early UK pop chart hit in the early 1970s with, ‘Black and white’. However, by the mid-1970s the sound was strictly roots and from this emerged one of the definitive examples of the genre in, ‘Madness’. The apocalyptic cover could just as easily symbolize the current schizophrenia in the world of politics. Recorded with a crack set of studio musicians under ace producer, Alvin ‘G.G’. Ranglin, this album is quite simply required listening for anyone who wishes to understand the socio-political undercurrent to reggae music in the 1970s and the lyrics are as prescient now as they were then.
Previously released on vinyl in the UK via Vista Sounds, ‘Rasta pon top’, is the debut album by the Twinkle Brothers, who are in reality the brother pairing of Norman Grant (drums and vocals) and Ralston grant (rhythm guitar and vocals). Their professional debuts go way back to 1962 and during the 1960s they cut several 45s for various producers including Duke Reid and Leslie Kong. This debut album, however, was released on their own Grounation label and is crammed with roots reggae delights, with key tracks including, ‘Give rasta praise’ and ‘Beat them Jah Jah’. While there are no extra songs on this re-issue, the four pages of historical background is extremely useful and the inner sleeve contains graphics of both the original Vista Sounds album cover and a long-lost gem in a 45 from the album that Rough Trade issued at the time.
Finally, producer and singer Linval Thompson is showcased from his period as a lead singer and we hear the contrasting sides to his career, both as a roots singer and as one of love songs. Thompson is, perhaps, best known in Europe for his anthem to ganja, ‘I love marijuana’, from 1978 and both albums here date from the same year. Recorded at a combination of Channel One studios and King Tubby’s, featuring the highly innovative rhythm section of Sly and Robbie, ‘Rocking vibration’, captures Thompson at his roots zenith, while the second album, ‘Live is the question’, still features a roots reggae instrumental accompaniment, but with secular lyrics. Linval Thompson was one of those musicians who effortlessly straddled the transition from roots reggae to dancehall and, in truth, he could operate equally effectively in either. As a producer, Linval Thompson would go on to enjoy his biggest hit for Freddie McGregor in 1982 with, ‘Big ship’.