Because it's always midnight somewhere....
While vinyl has probably always will be the preferred medium for collectors of reggae (and most other types of popular music), the compact disc has been a boon to us reggae lovers. Because of the digitization of music, and the consolidation of labels and their valuable back catalogs, it is possible to produce compilations sliced and diced in any manner desired by the consumer: By artist, by style, by producer, by unique rhythm, and so on. This flexibility is particularly useful in reggae, where producers had distinctive styles, artists switched labels and producers, and singles rather than albums rule the market. In the wake of the recent deaths of Sugar Minott and Gregory Isaacs, one of the giant surviving labels, VP Records in Queens, New York, has released fine compilations of each man's career. We've highlighted those releases below, and also are bringing to your attention recent releases regarding a lesser known part of the reggae world--the Bristol, UK reggae scene of the late 70s and 80s. We hope you enjoy them.
Gregory Isaacs (b. 7/15/51; d. 10/25/2010) was known as "The Cool Ruler" of reggae. As a reggae artist, Gregory was about as close as one could be to the complete package. He could deliver lover's rock that strummed the heartstings (see "Number One", below), challenge the government on ganja policy (see "Rumors" below), and highlight the plight of the black man in the white man's world (see "Slave Driver", below). And he had the charisma needed to rock the house live.
VP Records' imprint, 17 North Parade, has just released Reggae Anthology: The Ruler 1972-1990, comprised of 40 tracks from the most productive years of Isaacs' long career, and a DVD of the 1984 Brixton Academy concert. Given the length of Isaacs' career, this collection doesn't include the artist's entire body of work. But as a fan, I think it reflects very good choices. If you want your reggae collection to include Gregory Isaacs and you currently have none, this set would be an excellent choice for the foundation. As an aside, 17 North Parade releases typically are attractively packaged and contain interesting liner notes.
"Night Nurse", from the Brixton Academy concert:
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Reggae great Lincoln "Sugar" Minott (b. 5/25/56; d. 7/10/2010) owes his nickname to a voice that sounded as sweet as sugar. His career spanned most of modern reggae, from the days of Studio One lovers rock through to digital the rhythms of dancehall. His contributions included performing, songwriting, promoting and producing. He also devoted time and money to helping young musicians find their way off the streets and into the studios. As was the case with The Cool Ruler, Minott could add a sweetly sung twist to a nursery rhyme (see "Old King Cole", below), inspire lovers (see "Good Thing Going", below), sing eloquently about the plight of the underclass (see "No Vacancy"), and ride Sly and Robbie's rhythm for the dancehall (see "Devil's Pickney", below).
"Old King Cole"
"Good Thing Going"
Again through its 17 North Parade imprint, VP Records has just released a Sugar Minott collection Reggae Anthology: Hard Time Pressure. The collection includes 36 of Minott's hits spread over two CDs, and a DVD of a 1986 live performance. If you like reggae and you don't have any of this key reggae artist, this set is a very good way to build a collection. If you want more, you can add his Rare Jems and The Roots Lover: 1978-1983 collections later if you decide that you want more. To be honest, I have trouble evaluating the choices VP made because I have the two other albums as well. Sugar, as is the case with Gregory, is a collector's essential.
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It isn't well known at this point, particularly in North America, but there was a lively reggae scene in Bristol, UK in the late 70s and 80s. Bristol Archive Records has released two anthologies of the scene. What I think is particularly wonderful about these anthologies is that the music is absolutely wonderful reggae, and I've never heard of most of the artists. I can listen to them (as you can below) without and expectations or preconceptions. Moreover, the recordings were pressed in small numbers and sold at gigs, so they have been very rare.
Bristol Archive Records
Bandcamp for the 1978-1983 Anthology
Bandcamp for the '80s Anthology
And a tip of the Rocksteady hat to Ed at the 17 Seconds blog from whom I learned of the Bristol releases.