Various – Legends Of Jamaica: A Tribute To Ska
4 Vinyl Box Set
April 28, 2023
Website Record Label
Ska lovers are in for a treat. Thanks to the efforts of the Congos’ Watty Burnett and Rafael Allen – a New York-based Grammy winning musician – Skaville Music has come up with a collectors item. It’s comprised of over 30 new high quality rearrangements of classic cuts from familiar faces.
Burnett and Allen have secured the services of a host of luminaries for this ‘Legends of Ska’ bumper crop. It’s perfectly packaged in a 4 vinyl boxset. Artists include Ansel Meditations (from the vocal harmony group – the Meditations), the smiling Big Youth, Marcia Griffith’s dear old departed Bob Andy, the brooding Bunny Wailer/Jah B, hit-maker Boris Gardiner, the musically-steeped Carl Dawkins, Cornell Campbell of falsetto fame, the late great Dennis Brown, Spanish Town’s Dennis Walks, the foundation stone that is Derrick Morgan, Skatalites legend Eric Monty Morris, guitar virtuoso extraordinaire Ernie Ranglin, Mr. Big Ship Freddy McGregor, the ubiquitous Johnny Osbourne, the soulful Ken Boothe, Mr. Heptone Leroy Sibbles, Lloyd Parks without ‘We The People’, the ringleader Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Marley co-traveller, vocal supremo and the sole female representative on the boxset Marcia Griffiths, the retiring (but still touring) Max Romeo, the vocally well-endowed Michael Rose of Black Uhuru fame, the almighty Mighty Diamonds, Stranger Cole – better known as StrangeJah Cole, the righteous and rootsy Abyssinian’s, the messaging Cables, ska, rocksteady and reggae specialists the Clarendonians, the Congos (as you’d expect), rocksteady’s Melodians, vocal-trio the Silvertones, the Tennor Twins- the Tenors, the late Daddy U-Roy, alongside the lovely Winston Francis.
The backing musicians on a selection of tracks are the right honourable saxophonists Dean Fraser, Glen DaCosta and Richie Cannata (of Billy Joel fame), guitarist Alex Moseley (of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam fame), the indomitable duo Sly and Robbie alongside sporadic appearances by the ubiquitous Horsemouth, gentleman and general good-guy guitarist Andy Bassford (or is it Bashford?), the timeless Stephen ‘Cat’ Coore, the Roots Radics’ Dwight Pinkney, fellow-axeman Ernie Ranglin, the multi-talented bassist Val Douglas, with the Skaville Horns making inputs on all discs.
The selection opens with a mighty drum roll, before Eric Monty Morris kicks in with his delightfully pacey Beautiful Garden. This is followed by the honeyed tones of Bob Andy, telling mankind a few home truths, on how life could be if only we could live in harmony, set to a bumpy rhythm on A Symphony. The pace then picks up, courtesy of the too long departed Dennis Brown’s Live and Love, before Leroy Sibbles has a cut off the politicians, with some searing bongo playing for accompaniment on Storm Clouds. Ansel Meditation then warms up the vibes with a sumptuous quality treatment of Fly Natty Dread, for a track alone that is worth the boxset’s asking price. Though the vocal treatment may alter, the pace never drops, as pure ska prevails next via Cornell Campbell’s Stars, before the good old Wailing Souls deploy a range of musical instruments to deliver War, followed by the much-travelled Ken Boothe’s soulful sound to close the first album in the set with Home Home Home.
Volume 2 opens with Bunny Wailer’s almost unrecognisable This Train as he gives the classic the royal treatment, with some neat hollow samba drum type sounds set against an organ-like swing effect, before ska’s main man Derrick Morgan has his say with a hot-steppin’ Blazing Fire. Ska continues to reign when Stranger Cole – bringing us back to 1962 – kicks in on Ruff And Tuff, setting the scene for Freddie McGregor’s earthy rendition of Jogging through creation. Tastefully dropping in some quality vocal support on the choruses, Boris Gardiner’s ‘So Nice To Be With You’ then proves to be an aural delight. Next up, Toots looks in on proceedings, via the Maytals Mathew Mark, as they confirm their own longstanding ska credentials. ‘Scratch’ then has a go at Roast Fish And Cornbread, but you could have fooled me, so far is this rendition from the familiar one. But you wouldn’t expect any less from Mr. P. would you? Thereafter it’s much more straightforward, with the Clarendonians’ pure ska-beat on I’m Sorry, before the vocally-gifted Michael Rose announces – at a hellish pace – that he’s Leaving To Zion.
Volume 3 opens with a mellow but jaunty Good Luck To You from the Cables of 1960s Studio One fame, before the much revered but recently (largely) departed Mighty Diamonds trio deliver an even mellower tune in Jah Will Work It Out. This track makes way for the living legend that is Marcia Griffiths, who gainfully reworks the galloping vintage spiritual classic called Steppin Out Of Babylon, before we’re brought back to 1964 by the piano grounding sound of the Silvertones, singing Rejoice in an unhurried manner befitting the pace, sound and swing of the era. This is followed by the lesser known (but no less musically formidable) Dennis Walks, who sets the heart a pumping with one of the compilation’s more instrumentally varied (and pleasant) tracks, entitled Heart Don’t Leap. Stand back then for Peter Tosh’s Buk-Imm-Palace, which is treated with musical respect by Big Youth, (with this collection’s driver and Congo) Watty Burnett lending a vocal contrast (as is his wont), on the track they title Buckinham Place. Having set the scene, Burnett then reappears with the Congos for Sadom And Gommorah, where Ashanti Roy takes the vocal lead, allowing Myton to offer some sumptuous celestial and contrasting falsetto. The disc closes on a lively note, with the now retiring Max Romeo giving the delightful No Peace track tasteful treatment, with the help of intermittent brilliant brass inputs to light it up.
It is befitting that the Rivers of Babylon should open the final disc’s proceedings, taking us to Kingston’s Greenwich Town, to hear the magic Melodians give this classic a spin. Next up comes Winston Francis with Mr. Fix It, set to a hot steppin’ ska beat, with some wistful brass interjecting to good effect alongside the percussion and peppering piano. Carl Dawkins then deploys his not inconsiderable vocal depth on Get Together to good effect, before a true highlight of the compilation slopes in courtesy of the Abyssinians’ Forward To Zion. The final disc’s flipside opens with Lloyd Parks’ soulful and real rootsy We’ll Get Over It – a bolter of a track, before the Tennors bring joy, with the help of Glen DaCosta, on Another Scorcher. Thereafter, Ernie Ranglin successfully tests a Cuban-style influence on a track entitled Ochio Rios – a bright and breezy tribute to his home town of Ocho Rios. The penultimate place is reserved for Johnny Osbourne – who is ‘alive and kicking’ and still touring – with Folly Ranking, a tune that can rightfully be described as sweet riveting roots. This allows the relatively recently deceased U Roy to complete the package with Something, a track that he was good enough to record as a new song for the album, with a big band jazz sound supporting his stance on sinsemilla.
The promo-piece reminds us that there would be no reggae without ska, before asking: “What better way to launch a Ska label than to do it with a project involving all the true Legends of Jamaica?”. Indeed, it is a great credit to a small independent label like Skaville Music that it can kick off with a classic collection of tunes from so many of the maestros of the genre. The fact that a small independent label was able to put together a project of this scale is impressive. Next up is the ska-lovers’ queue to get their hands on this gem of a collector’s item.
So, ‘hats off’, as we bow to Allen and Burnett for this priceless musical memento. Allen’s composing and arranging, allied to Burnett’s tireless networking, have given us some sweet sounds and moving memories on ska’s ‘Legends of Jamaica’.\
WHERE TO GET IT
John “Rafael” Allen comes with an ambitious project
The multi-instrumentalist helped fashion a dancehall movement from Long Island that produced hit songs by Shaggy, Super Cat, Heavy D, and Sluggy Ranks. He is looking for similar success with an ambitious project featuring some of Jamaica’s biggest acts.
On April 28, Legends of Jamaica: A Tribute to Ska, will be released by Skaville Music, a company operated by Allen and Watty Burnett of The Congos. It has 34 songs by the creme of ska, dancehall and reggae.
The project, which has songs by Eric “Monty” Morris, Lee “Scratch” Perry, U Roy, Bunny Wailer, Ken Boothe, Mykal Rose, Max Romeo, Marcia Griffiths and The Melodians, among others, hears them putting a fresh spin on one of their classic songs.
The four-vinyl will also be available digitally. Allen explained the decision to go the route of the music industry’s most resurgent platform.
“‘Cause it’s most cost-effective we went with vinyl and it’s more in-demand than CD. We plan to target events like Rototom (Sunsplash) and other European festivals where vinyl is popular,” he said.
‘Legends of Jamaica’ was five years in the making. Allen and Burnett agreed on the project after working on songs with veterans like Ernie Ranglin. The initial idea was to record new songs, but changed course after the artises preferred to ‘cover’ their own songs.
The songs include “Home Home Home” by Boothe, “This Train” by Bunny Wailer, “Heart Don’t Leap” by Dennis Walks, “Forward On To Zion” (The Abyssinians), and “By The Rivers of Babylon” by The Melodians.
U Roy, who died in 2021, recorded the lone new song – the jazzy “Something.”
Allen played keyboards and bass on some of the songs which also features Sly and Robbie, bassist Val Douglas, guitarists Stephen “Cat” Coore and Dwight Pinkney, saxophonists Dean Fraser and Glen DaCosta.
“It was a lotta work but we feel satisfied that we have a good product that will satisfy a diverse market,” said Allen.
A stalwart of the New York reggae scene, Kingston-born Allen has lived there since the early 1970s. He grew up in East Kingston where he remembers listening to The Skatalites rehearse, sessions that piqued his interest in music.
Allen was a member of the funk-reggae band Monyaka which recorded an album for A&M Records during the 1980s, but made his name as a session musician out of Long Island a decade later.
He played on countless hits such as “Don Dada” and “Dolly my Baby” (Super Cat), Sluggy Ranks (“95 % Black 5 % White”), “Kuff” (Shelly Thunder), “Hot This Year” (Dirtsman), and “Oh Carolina” and “Boombastic” by Shaggy.
(Photo courtesy of Skaville Music)