Various ‘Soul of Jamaica’ / ‘Here Comes the Duke’ 2CD (Doctor Bird) 5/5

As the fiftieth anniversary of Trojan reaches its zenith, and coinciding with the Notting Hill Carnival celebration, comes this wonderful double bill re-issue that groups together two Treasure Isle produced compilations that saw the light of day in the UK via Trojan, dating from 1968, and thus fifty years old this year just like Trojan records. The evocative cover of the first album is matched by the quality of the music, and hearing once again these sides, the music sounds as fresh as ever, with some of the instrumentals remarkably up-to-date for the period. Of the vocal selections, Joya Landis cut a superb 45 in ‘Angel Of The Morning’, while there is a definite storytelling side to her other contribution, ‘Out The Light’. One of Jamaica’s greatest ever male vocalists, Alton Ellis, is featured here and he recorded for both Duke Reid at Treasure Isle, and Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. Although titled as Tommy McCook and The Supersonics (the backing band), ‘Ride Mi Donkey’ does feature a lead vocalist, and is a strong contender for the most engaging vocal on the original vinyl compilation. Phyllis Dillon is deserving of her very own compilation (due out in the near future), but here contributes the terrific calypso-tinged ‘Long Time’, as well as ‘Love Letters’.

To the original twelve numbers, an additional fourteen are added on the CD, and that applies equally to the second compilation on the second CD. For the first CD, fine examples of vocal harmony groups such as ‘Travelling Man’ by The Techniques and ‘Woman Go Home’ by The Jamaicans, personify the era. This writer is especially fond of the killer instrumental groove of, ‘The World Needs Love’, by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics, and that same band cook up a storm on ‘Heatwave’.

The second album, ‘Here Comes The Duke’, repeats the formula, with one of the earliest examples of The Gladiators craftsmanship in, ‘Sweet Soul Music’, while The Techniques return for ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’. The lesser known, yet much-loved, Soul Lads, offer an immortal song in ‘I’m Yours Forever’. Of the plethora of extras, a young John Holt impresses on ‘Tonight’, while Tommy McCook and The Supersonics interpret ‘Get Me To The Church On Time’, as only they know how.

As one might expect from the continuing Doctor Bird re-issue series, the highly informative booklet features lavish imagery with original colour album covers, numerous Treasure Isle and Trojan 45s, as well as black and white photos of the musicians in their early prime. Those photos happen also to include in studio colour photo of Tommy McCook. The fearsome character of Duke Reid with pistol in its holster is a reminder that the era had its own trials and tribulations, but only a foolhardy individual would wish to lock horns with the Duke! An exemplary showcase of Jamaican popular music as it evolved.

Tim Stenhouse