Ethiopians ‘Reggae Power’ / ‘Woman Capture Man’ CD (Doctor Bird) 5/5

One of the great harmony groups of all-time, the Ethiopians belong to a select number of musicians of any genre whose melodic qualities are guaranteed to cut through the toughest of hearts. The Everly and Louvin Brothers practically defined the art of harmony singing, though in country music the Carter family were undoubtedly the early pioneers. Jamaican popular music took a leaf out of these practitioners of vocalese and the likes of the Heptones and later the Gladiators would emerge. Leonard Dillon was the leader of the Ethiopians and their chief composer. While previous compilations have sought to provide a wider vision of the band, and the 2 CD anthology on Sanctuary is praiseworthy in this regard (especially if you require the essential starting blocks of ‘Train to Skaville’ and ‘Engine 54’), the present CD offers something different; it focuses attention on a more narrowly defined period both in time and in genre. The two albums contained within were released in 1960 and 1970 respectively and are highly prized, not just for their rarity, but equally because they personify what is known as the ‘boss reggae’ period, associated primarily with the rise of the ‘skinhead’ sub-culture among youths in the UK. This is not to be confused with the later far right political connections that had nothing to do with Jamaican music. Rather, the youths in question aped the sartorial elegance and lifestyle of the Kingston ‘rude boy’ and reproduced what they perceived as a similar dress code. This came to coincide with an interest in their favourite football teams, several of whom adopted boss reggae tunes, with Harry J’s All Stars and the anthemic, ‘Liquidator’, becoming the adopted theme of a club such as Chelsea.

The first album has some of the most enduring of the Ethiopians song and these include, ‘Everything crash’, and, ‘Hong Kong flu’. A key element in the production was Karl ‘J.J.’ Johnson who worked on the two albums. Variations comes in the form of two instrumentals on the first album, with the J.J. All Stars offering up a then topical tribute to the politician and civil rights campaigner, ‘Robert F. Kennedy’. The second album continues in the same vein with social commentary prevalent on the opener, ‘Things a get bad to worse’, while a more optimistic tone is adopted on, ‘Joy joy’, and, ‘High high’. As a major bonus, there are another seven 45’s included and thus even those in possession of the original album vinyl may wish to purchase these and have the complete package in one handy place. These alone have some enticing titles with, ‘Everybody talking (aka ‘Big splish splash’) and especially, ‘Buss your mouth’ (aka ‘Contention’) from 1969, while later examples of the Ethiopians from the early reggae era are to be found in, ‘Mek you go on so’ and, ‘Wreck it up’, the latter from 1970. Detailed notes from authoritative boss reggae writer, Marc Griffiths and Andy Lambourn, coupled with terrific graphics of the various labels the band recorded on plus the UK and Jamaican covers of the very same albums round off an exemplary re-issue. The re-formed group would later record some memorable roots reggae music, with the 1977 Niney produced, ‘Slave call’, Leonard Dillon recorded further in his own right with Coxsone Dodd and lived until the age of sixty-eight in 2011. As for J.J., he re-invested his profits and founded a bus company that serviced rural Jamaica.

Tim Stenhouse