Various ‘Jammy’s from the Roots 1977-1985’ 2CD (Greensleeves) 5/5

Legendary producer, engineer and dub master King Jammy, like King Tubby before him, served a similar apprenticeship first of all in the musical background as an electrical engineer. This undoubtedly served him well, enabling him to build his own equipment and in so doing he was inspired by and rubbed shoulders with the likes of producers Bunny Lee and Yabby You. It was in 1977 that Jammy started to produce the roots 45s for which he become rightly famous and this is the pretext for where this wonderful present compilation begins. Black Uhuru were the first group to go onto major success that he would produce and a fine example of their early sound is heard here in ‘Tonight is the night to unite’. Lesser known at the time, but thanks to the excellent Pressure Sounds compilation brought to our attention once again in recent times are the roots harmony group the Travellers and ‘Jah gave us this world’ is a definitive example of the roots genre. There are some rare gems wisely included in the selection, most notably the 12” extended mix of Earl Zero’s ‘Please officer’ with its accompanying dub which is better known as Augustus Pablo and ‘Pablo in moonlight city’. In fact for many the dub version is better known than its vocal companion! There are some other delicious surprises of late 1970s roots such as Frankie Jones’ ‘Collie George’ with conscious lyrics and beefed up percussion while Johnny Osbourne, primarily known as one of the early pioneers of dancehall, is a wonderful roots singer as illustrated on ‘Jah ovah’ and Barry Brown was similarly impressive on ‘It a go dread’. The second CD takes the story forward a little further with roots in transition before dancehall came to become the dominant style. For the former the Jays, a class roots act at Channel One during the 1970s, embraced the dancehall style in their own way on ‘Jah do love us’ and not dissimilar to the Wailing Souls for Greensleeves on their early 1980s productions. Jammy still allowed his roots artists’ harmonies to take precedence while modernising the production sound and this was part of his genius to repackage classic sounds in a new musical context. This was further exemplified on the socially conscious Natural Vibes’ ‘Life hard a yard’ and on the early dancehall hit ‘Time a moment in space’ for Wayne Smith. That dancehall and roots could combine to good effect was suggested once again on the early 1980s 45 by Black Crucial ‘Conscience speaks’. Classic riddims being reworked is a common feature throughout Jamaixcan music and Lacksley Castell’’s ‘What a great day’ cleverly uses an anthemic Black Uhuru riddim to its advantage. Among a whole host of artists featured elsewhere on the compilation from Dennis Brown, Junior Delgado, Half Pint and Frankie Paul, Jammy made an immeasurable contribution to reggae music during the late 1970s and 1980s and just some of the vocal highlights are chronicled here. As with all Jammy productions, impeccable sound with percussion to the fore and crystal clear instrumentation and excellent sleeve notes place the music in a historical context.

Tim Stenhouse