Soul Jazz Records have again come up with an excellent selection of tracks for this latest compilation. ‘Rocksteady’ is defined broadly here, and overall the collection thoughtfully and successfully captures the moment when the insistent rhythm of rocksteady started to give way to the different emphasis of reggae. The eighteen tracks here may not all be familiar and it is to the label’s credit that this is not just another rehash of well-known tunes. The production on these early cuts is relatively unobtrusive, rightly drawing attention to the music itself rather than studio techniques, and reminding us that Studio One’s reputation was based on knowing when ‘less’ can be better than ‘more’ in the control room.

The influence of soul and blues is clear enough at some points, in particular Cecile Campbell’s ‘Whisper to Me’ and Ken Boothe’s ‘Moving Away’. Elsewhere different musical styles make themselves known, for instance in Ken Boothe’s striking ‘Home, Home, Home’ , an unusual excursion into gospel-led reggae with strong and unconventional harmonies, together with lyrics that can easily be read on a number of levels. The Heptones contribute two tracks including the classic ‘Love Won’t Come Easy’ where the prominent rhythm track and latter-era reggae bass start to become more evident as the old rocksteady rhythms changed and developed. The great Alton Ellis, Marcia Griffiths and John Holt can also be found to good effect within the tracklisting here.

Standout tracks include the Wailing Souls’ ‘Row Fisherman Row’ (not the Congos’ song) with its repeating reggae rhythm and a great instrumental fadeout which although not exactly dub – it sounds more like someone twiddling the tone control on an old Dansette – hints at where this music would go next. The bass is turned to 11 on the little-known Larry and Alvin’s ‘Throw Me Corn’, again anticipating the future direction of this music.  Dennis Brown’s ‘Easy Take it Easy’ with its familiar rhythm track is excellent indeed, here going straight into its instrumental ‘version’ with some early dub flourishes: it would be worth getting this album for this track alone so it can only be a plus that there are seventeen other songs that repay our attention too.

‘Studio One Rocksteady’, CD/DDL; Soul Jazz Records, February 2014

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