Barry Brown ‘The Thompson Sound 1979-82’ (Hot Milk/Cherry Red) 4/5

Barry-BrownSinger Barry Brown tragically passed away at the young age of forty-two in 2004 following an accidental head injury and left behind a musical legacy that is a decade on only just being unravelled. This excellent selection of unreleased songs is no inferior left-over material, but rather a fine example of the reggae singer at his creative peak when he was capable of effortlessly straddling the dividing line between roots and dancehall styles. In this respect and in terms of his falsetto vocal delivery, he joins the likes of Barrington Levy, Freddy McGregor and Sugar Minott in being equally adept in either style. The sessions that comprise this anthology of his work with ace producer Linval Thompson (who would also produce Freddy McGregor and Rod Taylor) are during a relatively brief period, but were a key transitional moment in the history of Jamaican music and a deeply turbulent one from both a political and social perspective.

As was the case with Thompson productions of the period, the music was recorded at Channel One with the notable accompaniment of the Roots Radics and mixed at King Tubby’s studio by Scientist which simply put means this is bona fide reggae heaven. The music contained within veers between strictly roots social concerns and heavier dancehall riddims. The former is best exemplified on numbers such as ‘Can’t stop Natty Dread’ which is none other than a rhythm makeover of the Wailing Souls’ ‘Who know waan come’ and a terrific uplifting tune it is too. Inventive percussion and repetitive organ dominates ‘Ketch a fire’ which has a genuine sense of urgency to it while ‘It rough my brother’, in spite of the downbeat lyrics, has a joyous quality that overrides the subject matter. Elsewhere sparse dancehall grooves permeate ‘Mount Zion’ with pared down instrumentation and some nifty guitar work to boot. Of note is the absence of horns throughout, yet the other musicians more than make up for this

Barry Brown was a musician who consistently scored quality 45s that are available on compilations and on excellent albums of which ‘Showcase’ and ‘Step it up Youthman’ are two of the strongest. This new addition is well up to par and fills in the gaps which any self-respecting reggae fan will wish to be conversant with. Extended and highly informative inner sleeve notes from reggae connoisseur and musicologist David Katz set the scene admirably on Barry Brown’s action-packed career.

Tim Stenhouse