Missouri based label Nighthawk records recorded some of the finest late period roots reggae from the late 1970’s onward and this included a 12″ by Bunny Wailer as well as some outstanding albums by the likes of The Itals, The Gladiators, and this artist, Justin Hinds. who effortlessly has straddled the various transformations in Jamaican popular music. He started off as a youngster singing in the ska era, but came into his prime during the close harmonies of rock steady, ably abetted by his fellow male vocalists, The Dominoes. A brief gap in the early 1970’s was broken by two excellent Jack Ruby produced albums for Island/Mango in the mid-1970’s, but as the political situation and violence worsened in Jamaica at the end of the 1970’s, Hinds, like many Jamaicans, moved to the United States.
This album, however, was recorded at the Aquarius studio in Kingston with the cream of the capital’s session musicians and some famous names at that. For the rhythm section, the Barrett brothers, ‘Carly’ on the drums, and ‘Family man’ on the bass, backed Bob Marley and The Wailers throughout their most famous albums on Island, while ‘Sticky’ Thompson has featured on thousands of roots albums as the main percussionist. Factor in the dream horn section of Bobby Ellis, ‘Deadly’ Headly, and Tommy McCook. and, last but by no means least, add some tasty keyboards from Gladstone Anderson and, guitars by Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith and Bingy Bunny Lamont, and you have an instrumental backing that means to deliver, which of course they do. Above all else, though, it is the glorious harmonies that Hinds and The Dominoes have perfected over decades together which makes this an extra special musical event. These are never more beautifully exemplified than on, ‘Weeping Eyes’, this writer’s favourite, or on the gentle nod to an earlier era on, ‘Get Ready To Rock Steady’. In truth, the whole album rocks melodically from start to finish, and with the new CD edition, there is the major attraction of ten bonus cuts, of which three are songs never heard on the original vinyl, ‘Valley Of Reality’ being especially noteworthy, with seven version and dub tracks.
For those not already in the know, Robert Schoenfeld set up the Nighthawk label, to start off with as a tribute to blues legend Robert Nighthawk, but soon a passion for roots reggae took over, and the label prided itself on finding the premium recording studios and the finest musicians they could assemble to carry on the reggae tradition. A second album from 1992, ‘Know Jah Better’, has been re-issued simultaneously, and will soon feature in this review column. If you like your roots reggae, then discovering the Nighthawk records’ back catalogue is an absolute necessity.