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The top reggae reissues to add to your collection

Over the years and the myriad comps to which the reggae collector has been exposed, it’s sometimes easy to think that you really have heard from these eras all you ever could need to. You haven't.
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Various Artists

In a Rocking Mood: Beverley’s Rock Steady 1966-1968

Never Ending Songs of Love: Hits & Misses from Treasure Isle 1973-1975

United Dreadlocks, Volumes 1 & 2

All Doctor Bird (2-CD Set)

Six discs, close to eight hours, and you’ve got nigh-on 10 years of reggae history at your fingertips, swathes of which have never before appeared on CD. Or you can just pick them up separately, play them out of order and you’ll enjoy it just as much. Your choice.

The Beverley’s disc is fabulous. Disc one focusses on producer Leslie Kong’s work with singers the caliber of Eric Morris, Glen Adams and Freddie McKay, the duo of Winston & George, and the vocal groups The Spanishtonians and The Rio Grandes; disc two is a non-stop instrumental party courtesy the great Roland Alphonso.

In truth, the latter can get a little wearing if you’re not a fan of sax-led rock steady, but it’s a valuable offering and it’ll sound great on the dancefloor, however big your listening room might be. A solid gem.

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The Treasure Isle package follows the same format, delving into Duke Reid’s early 70s and emerging with one solid disc of ballads and slow songs; and another of the same kind of material, dub-wise. Don’t let such names as the Conscious Minds or the Treasure Isle All Stars put you off, either. Reid worked only with the best players around, and he had to call them something!

Of the singers, Lloyd Robinson, BB Seaton, Pat Kelly, Tinga Stewart and Beres Hammond are probably the best known, and full marks to the label for digging out the songs that, again, we’ve not heard before on a dozen other collections.

Even better, though, are the names that might not be quite as familiar, but who drop some amazing sounds onto the disc — the Mello Lads, who set things going with a delightful “Chatty Chatty Mouth”; Smokey 007’s “Never Ending Song of Love”; Claudette Miller’s “Tonight Is The Night.” And then there’s two separate versions of BB Seaton’s “High School Dance” — the reggae take and a smoothly delicious soul version.

  

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Finally, United Dreadlocks recovers two volumes of roots released by the Mighty Two — Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson — during 1976-1977, highlighting a veritable who’s who of the studio’s biggest names: Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Junior Delgado, Freddie McKay (again!), the Ethiopians, Junior Byles, Max Romeo, Trinity, Culture, the Mighty Diamonds - and Althea & Donna, whose UK chart topper “Uptown Top Ranking” sounds better with every play.

A solid 44 tracks consume the two discs, with the original LPs accounting for just 20 of them - that’s a lot of bonus material and, in fairness, it’s the extras that pack the most punch. Prince Far I’s “Deck of Cards” simply cannot be beaten, and Shorty the President’s “Natty Pass His GCE” is phenomenal, too.

But the discs as a whole hang together well, and the same can be said about the other two collections. It’s funny, over the years and the myriad comps to which the reggae collector has been exposed, it’s sometimes easy to think that you really have heard from these eras all you ever could need to. And then Doctor Bird came swaggering over, and it’s like you’re beginning your discovery all over again.