Desmond Dekker and the Aces ‘Action!’ / ‘Intensified’ Expanded 2CD (Doctor Bird) 5/5

Singer Desmond Dekker occupies a special place in the heart of UK reggae cognoscenti, largely due to his chart success in the late 1960s and early-mid 1970s. However, that early period in his career when Jamaican popular music morphed into rock steady and then early reggae had hitherto been hard to find, certainly in original vinyl format, and this re-issue brings together some of the classic early period material, supplemented by a plethora of 45s and alternative takes, which simply put makes this an essential purchase. The complete album of ‘Action!’ from 1966 captures Dekker in fine form from the outset, with the gentle paced, ‘Don’t Believe Me’, a stunning example of the rock steady genre with tight vocal harmonies and that Beverly’s rhythm section composed of Kingston’s finest session musicians, arranged by Leslie Kong. The guitar motif on ‘Unity’ leads into an anthemic number, and historically important in its message of calling upon unity in the post-independence era of Jamaica as a fully fledged nation now politically separate from the United Kingdom. Naturally, the compelling ‘007’ has over the decades acquired legendary status as the hit single off the album, and its hook has not diminished in force. Often it is the seeming simplicity of the lyrics that comes across, but there is a real skill in condensing a message down to its bare essence as illustrated on ‘It Pays’, with beautifully executed harmonies. That optimistic tone that is omnipresent on the album is demonstrated further by the uplifting, ‘Young Generation’, while humour is not far from the surface on, ‘Mother Long Tongue’. That album contains yet another killer riff on, ‘Sabotage’, which is the writer’s favourite number.

By the release of the second album, ‘Intensified’, Jamaican music was evolving and one hears a more pronounced tempo on the early reggae of, ‘Ah It Mek’, or on the uptempo beat of ‘Too Much Too Soon’. While entirely different from the later Two-Tone song, one wonders whether The Specials might have been inspired to write a similar sounding title. Back in a rock steady vein, ‘Sweet Music’, is a celebration of those knock out vocal harmonies, with Dekker at his peak. However, the influence of US soul on Jamaican singers should never be underestimated and there is a clear nod to what was happening Stateside on ‘My Lonely World (to sir with love)’. The concept of the ‘rude boy’ in the toughest areas of Kingston became a phenomenon ripe for song and Dekker was not behind with times in penning ‘Rude Boy Train’. Both CDs contain thirteen extra tracks that boost the listening enjoyment immeasurably, and serve as a de facto ‘Best of’ from the period between 1966 and 1968. Authoritative sleeve notes come courtesy of Laurence Cane-Honeysett who has been an unwavering supporter of reggae throughout the years. Graphical illustrations are sumptuous from the outer original album sleeves to the UK flyers and with black and white photos of Dekker and the band in live performance, plus the usual excellence in 45 label covers that adds just the right touch of authenticity. A fine re-issue that fills in a vital part of the Desmond Dekker musical jigsaw.

Tim Stenhouse