Harry J All Stars ‘Liquidator: Expanded Edition’ CD (Doctor Bird) 4/5

If you have never heard the oh so distinctive opening riff to ‘Liquidator’, you are, in all probability, not an inhabitant of planet earth. Adopted by 1970’s football fans and early skinhead reggae fans alike (sometimes indistinguishable, it should be stated), this is one of the most well-loved of all early reggae instrumentals and a founding pillar stone of the reggae collector, in 45 and LP formats with a classic front and back cover to match. This brand new edition wins hands down because it has the major attraction of twelve bonus tracks. Harry J was in fact producer Harry Johnson and the conglomerate of studio musicians that made up the All Stars were something of a mystery, even though they regularly performed with singers on the Jamaican imprint of the Harry J label. This was reggae music with a happy and open-hearted face and that meant covering some of the popular tunes of the day. One such interpretation was Stevie Wonder’s ‘My Cherie Amour’, which is a stomping cover tune and an ideal vehicle for the All Stars to impress. Taking a more uptempo rhythm than on the original Beatles version, a chugging take on Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (aka ‘Operamatic’) really works in a reggae idiom, while the faithful cover of the Anglo-French ode to love, ‘Je t’aime, moi non plus’, would be so loved by Serge Gainsbourg that he returned the compliment, recording a whole album of roots reggae in Kingston, with Sly and Robbie, and a host of others. Of the excellent bonus offerings, an instrumental take on the evergreen, ‘Young Gifted and Black’ stands out. Expert notes from renowned gospel/blues and soul writer Tony Rounce who regularly contributes to the ACE reissue series, provides some insightful historical context, and the All Stars certainly deserve their place alongside the likes of other all-star formations under the tutelage of Prince Buster, Coxsone Dodd and Alvin G.G. Ranglin, to name but three prime examples.

Tim Stenhouse