Various ‘Out of many. 50 years of reggae music’ 3CD (VP) 4/5

Attempting to condense fifty years of music onto three CDs is a difficult task at the best of times, but VP have in general done a sterling job of choosing some of the most significant recordings from their extensive back catalogue to tie in with the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Jamaica. The first CD commences with the ska era and the Skatalites were the foremost exponents of this genre so the inclusion of the epic instrumental ‘Malcolm X’ is most welcome. The brief period of rock steady where the tempo slowed down and vocals were emphasized to a greater extent is highlighted by fine selections from the likes of Lord Creator with ‘Such is life’, groups such as the Galylads and Jamicans, and Hopeton Lewis’ seminal ‘Take it easy’. Early reggae is well represented with Ken Boothe’s ‘Everything I own’, Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry oh baby’ and Nicky Thomas’ Love of the common people’ a trio of classic songs as well as one choice inclusion from the crown prince himself, Dennis Brown who offers the irresistable ‘Westbound train’. Onto the roots era and there are, perhaps, there a some surprising omissions. For example the Wailing Souls might have been worthy of place (they are supremely well documented elswehere on single compilations) and Michael Prophet might have featured also. That being said, no one could the validity of Junior Byles’ inclusion with the epic ‘Fade away’ and Maria Aitken’s reworking of the classic Alton Ellis tune ‘I’m so in love’ surely inspired Anthea and Donna to re-invent the tune once more. The UK’s very own Capital Letters ‘Smokin’ ganja’ is included to represent reggae in the UK and Culture are always worth of a place with the epochal ‘Two sevens clash’ while Freddie mcgregor and Johnny Osbourne both straddled the roots and dancehall eras with aplomb.

CD2 focuses on when Greensleeves truly came into its own during the 1980s with the advent of dancehall as a distinct genre (as opposed to dancehall the physical location and social scene which has been a staple feature of Jamaican popular culture going way back to the 1950s, and quite possibly before). UK artists are included such as JC Lodge who scored a minor hit with ‘Telephone love’ and some of the dancehall legends such as Barrington Levy (soon to be anthologised and rightly so) with ‘Here I come’. Beres Hammond is featured on no less than three songs of which ‘Can’t stop a man’ is a prime example of his craft. Enjoying a new lease of life in his sometimes turbulent career Gregory Isaacs scored one of his greatest successes with ‘Rumours’ which was in many ways the perfect bridge between the roots era and the upcoming digital one. An early dancehall pioneer was slack DJ Yellowman whose early work at least was characterised by witicisms and an ability to mock his own condition which earned him a great deal of respect and he offers two songs on the anthology. Elsewhere on CDs 2 and 3 the likes of Lady Saw, Beenie Man Shabba Ranks (‘Mr. loverman’) and Sizzla among many others are present and deservedly so. Matters are finally brought bang up to date by the incoporation of a duet between Peetah Morgan and Hollie Cook from 2012, the aptly titled ‘Indepedence Jamaica’ whihc loops the lopp so to speak with the first song on CD 1 of the same title. Rounding things off nicely, there is a terrific front cover graphic that should be put into competition as one of the most creative and dazzling covers of the year. An ideal way, then, to view the gargantuan legacy that Jamaican musicians have left us and continue to contribute to. Tim Stenhouse