Joe Gibbs: 12″ Reggae Showcase Volumes 4 and 5

These two further collections of extended 12” mixes from the Mighty Two – Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson – completes the excellent collection that began last year with the release of the first three volumes (see album reviews 29 December 2009 for a review, together with a brief history of the music of Gibbs and Thompson).

As before the tracks are all presented in complete 12” format with a listing of musicians that includes Tommy McCook, Vin Gordon, Bobby Ellis, Tony Chin and Sly and Robbie. With tracks recorded at Joe Gibbs’ studio at Retirement Crescent, Kingston, volume 4 covers the period around 1979 and 1980. The results are pretty diverse. Opening strongly with the familiar bass line of Junior Byles’ Dreadlocks Time and its intriguing version from Kojak and Liza, the next track is Hortense Ellis’ take on Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain, a mainstream MOR sound which is made more interesting by the addition of Prince Weedy’s Same Complaint version. Ruddy Thomas’ attempt at Michael Jackson’s Shake Your Body Down to the Ground is unusual indeed.

Equally surprising is Derrick Lara’s rendition of Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough in a reggae style. This includes a particularly ill-advised rock guitar interlude, although the full 12” track is redeemed to some degree by the version from the ever-reliable Trinity. My Love/Can’t Take Mi Landlord from Wade Brammer and Lui Lepkie is a little-know but sweet reggae track, the backing rhythm and production showing off Gibbs’ production style to best effect. There are two great tracks to be found here. Dennis Brown offers Your Man, a standout track along with an old-style instrumental version which highlights Gibbs’ characteristically subtle dub sound. The collection ends with Wayne Wade’s account of the classic join-in John Holt track After You, completed of course by a joyful version from Trinity.

Volume 5 brings us into the early 80s, and it begins strongly with a series of powerful tracks. The first is Earth and Stone’s Ring Craft, its minor chords and melancholy feel set within a bass-led and thoughtful song, accompanied by a rather strange version from Snuffy and Wally. Then it’s into Su Su Pon Rasta from Naggo Morris, another strong track with its melodic melodica sad sound, again followed-up by Trinity’s take on the proceedings. Sylford Walker and Trinity’s Burn Babylon ensures that this collection begins more strongly than the preceding volumes. Junior Murvin makes a welcome appearance with Time Stiff. As on the previous volume, there are some surprises. Carl Brown’s Let the Power Fall takes us pretty much into gospel territory, while Ruddy Thomas provides a reading of Smokey Robinson’s Being with You which could have been a mistake but is saved by the great Gibbs’ rhythm charging along in the background and an excellent version from U-Black. Sammy Dread’s Deadlocks Girl (followed up with vocal contribution from Tappa Zukie) is great period reggae, tight bass and drums holding it all together.

Taken together with the previous volumes in this series, these releases contain essential 12” versions from the time when the Mighty Two were in their ascendancy. As before the most striking fact about the Joe Gibbs production style is that it was often barely noticeable: there were no studio gimmicks, no overkill effects, no pointless extra additions to the underlying rhythm. The Gibbs’ style was all the more effective for being as understated as it is throughout this 5 volume collection.

VP Records: 2 CDs/digital downloads; released May 2010

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