“Jamaica”- Various Artists
People often ask me or write in, “I love Bob Marley, but I don’t know what else to buy in the Reggae section. Where should I start?” They often regret asking as I proceed with a long-winded tirade about the differences in the music from roots, dancehall, lovers’ rock and dub, but essentially I end up telling them all the same thing–turn to the classics.
Earlier this summer Putumayo Records released what I would consider the beginner’s introduction to Reggae. It contains eleven roots tracks from the biggest names of the genre. Highlights include Culture’s “Why Am I A Rastaman,” Israel Vibration’s “Rudeboy Shufflin’,” Black Uhuru’s “Sponji Reggae,” and Peter Tosh’s “Mystery Babylon.” Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Joe Higgs, Ras Michael, The Gladiators and the late Augustus Pablo round out the CD. However, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer and the Twinkle Brothers are conspicuously missing. Listening to the disc, you will discern which tracks and similarly, which style of roots music you prefer, leading you to explore more CDs by single artists and bands.
Once you have a general feel of the style you like (the British sound, the 70s Jamaican harmony trios, 90s conscious dancehall, etc.), Hip-O Records (a subsidiary of Universal) has recently released a series called the Ultimate Collection and has showcased the artists who have shown longevity in their careers: Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Toots and the Maytals, the late Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Lee Scratch Perry, Jimmy Cliff, Third World, and Buju Banton, among others. These collections are very well done, and include major hits. If you’re a Black Uhuru fan looking for the live version of “Leaving to Zion,” this won’t be the collection for you, but if you want a strong overview, the compilers have selected well.
An older series that I also recommend highly is the Mango series (formerly a subsidiary of Island Records): “Reggae Greats.” Although the cover art has something to be desired, the tunes are strong. These were done in the mid-1980s and were produced by some of the best Jamaican producers: Chris Blackwell, Jack Ruby, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Leslie Kong and others. Aswad, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jacob Miller, Lee Scratch Perry, Steel Pulse, Third World, Toots & The Maytals, and Sly & Robbie all have CDs to their names. These albums are similar to the Ultimate Collection (many of the tracks are repeated), but feature some artists that the Hip-O collections don’t.
Once you’ve overdosed on “Greatest Hits” albums, you can go back to the originals and fill in the gaps. Ultimate Collections, Reggae Greats and Best of Jamaica albums are a sure way of getting your money’s worth and aid in getting a true Reggae collection started. If dancehall is your preference… well, that’s a whole other column!
Happy music hunting.