An all-star reunion of sorts, as ten legends of the golden age of Rocksteady recorded these 15 tracks last year at Tuff Gong studios in Kingston, Jamaica. Our trip down memory lane begins with Leroy Sibbles’ “People Rocksteady,” which namechecks several of the genre’s elite artists via new lyrics from Sibbles, including Dennis Brown. Listeners familiar with the 80’s UK ska reunion will thoroughly enjoy these seminal tracks, which employed a slower tempo and heavier bass than traditional Jamaican ska. Judy Mowatt is in fine voice on “Run Silent, Run Deep,” illustrating the more soulful aspects of rocksteady, while U-Roy’s “Stop That Train” and Derrick Morgan’s “Tougher Than Tough” illustrate rocksteady’s early propensity for what later became labeled as “rap.”
Dawn Penn’s vocals add another soulful, teary-eyed twist to the soulful ballad, “You Don’t Love Me (No No No).” Listeners with little or no familiarity with reggae or the rocksteady scene will still recognize a few classics of the genre, particularly Hopeton Lewis’ interpretation of The Melodians’ ”Rivers of Babylon” and Ken Boothe’s smooth arrangement of Desmond Dekker’s “(007) Shanty Town,” (here reversed to “Shanty Town (007)” that you can find on the The Harder They Come soundtrack. And you’ve gotta love Marcia Griffith’s slow groove take on The Paragon’s “Tide Is High,” which was also covered (not here) by U-Roy in ’71 and taken to the top of the charts (twice!) by Debbie Harry & Blondie (1980) and Atomic Kitten (2002).
The set ends with the dynamic trio of Derrick Morgan’s uptempo “Conquering Ruler” that will certainly appeal to fans of Eddy Grant’s more rocking style of reggae. And if Hopeton Lewis’ “Take It Easy” and Lynn Tait’s galloping, big brass band-driven instrumental, “Bog Walk” don’t get you up on the dancefloor, you better check your pulse ‘cause it’s time for a transfusion!
A documentary showing the recording sessions, along with live performances and vintage footage will make its way into theatres soon, so check your local listings. So if you are interested in the roots of reggae and don’t have the time or money to track down the originals, this is the next best thing. In addition to its historical importance, it’s one helluva groovy, laid back, enjoyable way to spend the next hour of your life. 8/10 -- Jeff Penczak (7 October, 2009)