Marcia Griffiths ‘Naturally’/’Steppin’ (Doctor Bird) 5/5

As if re-issuing some of the classic soul, funk and Brazilian grooves were not enough, Cherry Red have now started re-exploring the reggae archives and the great news for reggae fans is that they have unearthed two pairings of absolute classic from the early and roots eras.

If one could look to a parallel with Aretha Franklin in the world of soul music, then singer Marcia Griffiths would almost certainly be the ’empress of reggae’, and this wonderful duo of albums from the mid-1970s is an ample illustration of her vocal talents. For those not aware, Griffiths began her career at Studio One with Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd at the helm, and cut some memorable sides on 45. Her career well and truly took off when she paired up with Bob Andy and their professional and personal relationship intertwined with a major pop hit in, ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, with strings added on, and this was one of the earliest and finest examples of reggae crossing over to a mass audience in the UK. A next stage comprised forming an integral part of the I-Threes who became the backing vocalists to the Bob Marley band of the mid-late 1970s once both Pete Tosh and Bunny Wailer had left to pursue solo projects.

It is during this period that Marcia Griffiths returned to solo duties and cut as Sonia Pottinger’s studios the albums contained within. While some of the songs were updated versions of Studio One material, others were newly composed and, as a whole, they are definitive examples of roots reggae and, crucially, from a woman’s perspective. From the first album, ‘Naturally’, the message laden, ‘Survival’ is a stunning number, as is, ‘Mark My Word’. Throughout, the accompaniment is top of the draw with crisp drums and the lilting sound of the horns. If one song were to sum up Marcia Griffiths in this idiom, then it would have to be the Bunny Wailer penned, ‘Dreamland’. Anyone who has witnessed Marcia Griffiths live, and this author attended a marvellous concert as part of the Africa Oyé festival in Liverpool a few summers ago, then they will realise that the two albums here amount to a de facto greatest hits package, so loved are the individual songs. It is truly gratifying to finally see them together on one CD and some of the Black Echoes and Black Music reviews of the albums are included. An essential purchase.

Tim Stenhouse