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Various Artists - When Rhythm Was King Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 December 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    9
sound:    8
released:    2007
label:    Heartbeat
reviewer:    John Sutton-Smith

ImageIn their continuing series of releases from the late great reggae producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd and the legendary Jamaican Studio One label, Heartbeat Records have come up with When Rhythm was King, a wondrous selection of 18 of Studio One's earliest and most influential singles from core reggae artists like Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, the Heptones, the Wailing Souls, Sugar Minott, Bob Andy, Johnny Osborne and many others.

All the singles here are the original recordings of songs that have gone on to become the basis for literally hundreds of “versions” in the years since by numerous artists in Jamaica and elsewhere. There'll be a familiar ring when old time fans hear Ernest Wilson's “Undying Love” or the Heptones' “Fattie Fattie.” And like early versions of American R&B songs when you hear the original recording of a song for the first time, there is a freshness and vitality that is often missing in subsequent cover, all be they hit, versions.

From Dillinger's “Natty Kung Fu” to the Bassies' “Things A-Come Up to Bump,” Dodd's deft hand and sonic vision ranges from the absurd to the sublime. When Rhythm was King also includes several mixes that have never appeared on CD before, including the original mix of Bob Andy's “Unchained,” an extended mix of Dennis Brown's “Created by the Father,” an alternate mix of the Silvertones' “Smile,” plus an alternate vocal mix of Michigan & Smiley's “Compliment to Studio One.” Some of the artists are not as well known even to reggae aficionados, but Basil Daley and Alexander Henry, for example, sang the original versions of songs like “Hold Me Baby” and “Please Be True” respectively, songs that have inspired countless hit versions over the years.

Like classic soul and pop songs, Studio One's output is remarkably enduring; one can listen to these tracks endlessly - many of them continue to inspire new versions and variations to this day - and like a favorite comfort food or photograph, they give nourishment to the mind and spirit.

The Studio One label of Clement Dodd was the birthplace of a distinctive reggae sound, probably rivaled only by Lee “Scratch” Perry. His signature style and sense of rhythm was behind many of reggae's early vocal groups, and his influence can be heard in producers of all styles of music - pop, rock, even jazz, not just reggae.

All the tracks on this compilation have been re-mastered and the sound is definitely cleaned up and crisper. The rhythms bounce out of the speakers and Dodd's sonic landscape comes through in all its glory.

Extra Features
A two-disc vinyl version includes two extended bonus tracks, the Wailing Souls' “Back Out with It” and Al Campbell & Lone Ranger's combination, “Take a Ride/Automatic.”

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