Various ‘King Size Reggae’ CD (Doctor Bird) 4/5

As the fiftieth anniversary of Trojan Records drew to a close in 2018, came another example of the label’s roster of artists and this fine compilation album bears comparison with ‘The Hot Shots of Reggae’, and a rare one at that. While most probably due to contractual reasons, three of the original songs have been left off (two by The Wailers and another, ‘Freedom Street’, by Ken Boothe), there is ample compensation in no less than nineteen bonus cuts, which all come under the genial umbrella of the Leslie Kong production machine. One of the tragedies is that Kong died so young, just thirty eight years of age when he suffered a heart attack in 1971. That deprived reggae music of one of its finest and most distinctive producers, but the music contained within, dating between 1968 and 1970, is testimony to his skills and verges between faster paced ‘boss’ reggae, much beloved or original skinheads, as well as gentler and soulful early reggae that appealed to a much wider audience. In fact, in the case of the most commercially successful singer, Desmond Dekker and the Aces, the group not only conquered the UK pop charts with a song of the calibre of, ‘007’, but equally managed to capture an audience in the United States when ‘Israelites’ entered the Billboard top ten. This was an exceptional feat given the general ignorance about Jamaican music in general at that time in the US.

If the billing on the compilation is impressive with top name groups such as The Gaylads, The Melodians and The Pioneers, to name but three, then the male lead vocalists who recorded solo were just as strong and these include the likes of Ken Boothe whose soulful delivery of ‘It’s Gonna Take A Miracle’, impresses, as does the highly underrated and under-recorded Tony Brevett (who also recorded with The Skatalites) as well as Bruce Ruffin. Indeed, the latter makes an excellent stab at covering the Stairsteps’ soul classic, ‘Ooh Child’, while Brevett offers up the equally fine, ‘Staircase Of Time’. On the bonus cuts, a duet of Tyrone Evans and Bruce Ruffin excel on, ‘I’m A True Believer’ (previously unreleased in the UK), while the uptempo, ‘Baby, Don’t You Do It’, by The Clarendonians is a fine example of group harmonies. If the original album with a predominantly black background front cover is somewhat lacking in imagination, the same cannot be said of the excellent inner sleeve notes by Andy Lambourine and ‘boss’ reggae specialist, Marc Griffiths respectively. Supporting the rest of the stellar cast of musicians, Glen Brown and Delroy Wilson add their own distinctive flavours. Then factor in some amusing tales by The Slickers on, ‘Run Fattie’, and the first-rate harmonies of a personal favourite group, the Tennors, on ‘I Can Remember’, and you have enough early reggae music to keep you in a good mood throughout. list of actors.

Tim Stenhouse

Read also: Various ‘Hot Shots of Reggae’ CD (Doctor Bird) 4/5