Cornell Campbell ‘Sweet Baby’ (Burning Sounds) 4/5

Falsetto singer Cornell Campbell will forever be associated with his Studio One reggae classic ‘Queen of the Minstrel’, and with roots fans for his 1970s opus ‘A Dance in a Greenwich Farm’. However, his late 1970s albums continued to be of a high quality and this one, recorded at Harry J’s studio, was produced by singer/producer Linval Thompson. It is noteworthy in that, similar to Sugar Minnott, Campbell was sensitive to new developments in UK reggae and more particularly, a gentler form that embraced soul music, and this new style was known as ‘Lover’s Rock’. The album here adopts some of the lover’s rock innovations, while featuring the cream of roots reggae musicians, notably Sly and Robbie, with Skully and Sky Juice, ensuring the instrumentation is heavy on percussion. As a result, the hybrid of roots and lover’s combines from start to finish, with a gorgeous opener in ‘Blinded by Love’. Creative covers of soul gems include a more uptempo reading of Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me’, while the 1970s Philly influenced smoother soul is paid homage to on ‘Gonna Take a Miracle’. A softer, more fluid interpretation worked especially well at the ‘blues’ dances that sprouted up all over the UK as impromptu and, generally speaking illegal, parties at which music was played.

The consistent quality of the music here places Cornell Campbell in the lineage of other reggae singers noted for their soulful influences and these include Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. To round off an excellent release, the music is supplemented by a four page article from Black Echoes journalist John Masouri who provides a comprehensive historical overview, and places the music within a wider context including why the Burning Sounds label played an important role in disseminating quality roots reggae music when Jamaican pressing plants were unable to promote the music.

Tim Stenhouse