Various Artists

Dawning of a New Era: The Roots of Skinhead Reggae

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When the emerging skinhead youth movement in Britain turned from the bright, skipping rhythms of ska favored by the mods and began embracing the slower, more gutbucket rhythms of rocksteady and early reggae in 1968, the end result was that Jamaican reggae moved from the West Indies communities of London and straight into the headlines that were being generated by the violence-prone skinhead culture, gaining cache as a blue-collar music that actually said something about poverty, class, and social inequity. In the end, the skinheads probably helped reggae more than reggae helped them, and as punk took hold, reggae certainly wasn't late to that party, either. Trojan's two-disc Dawning of a New Era collects rocksteady and early reggae releases from 1968 and 1969, the defining point of the skinhead phenomenon, and while it is historically convenient to attach late-'60s reggae to the skinheads, it is probably best to listen to this set free of the association, since the music here is a good deal more than just the soundtrack to a British youth movement. It is distinctly Jamaican (even the handful of tracks collected here that were recorded in London), full of wheezing organs, heavy bass, whacky, echoing vocals, and an increasingly urgent need to address social and political issues. Skinhead connection aside, there are some wonderful gems in this set, including Rudy Mills' ragged "John Jones," Derrick Morgan's wry treatise on poverty, "Gimme Back," the floating, eerie instrumental "Tommy's Dream" by Tommy McCook, the almost mento-like "Wala Wala," complete with tenor banjo and sax, by the Pioneers, and the claustrophobic, echoing "Soul Scorcher," an impressive instrumental from Karl "King Cannon" Bryan & the Harry J All Stars. Also collected here are a pair of loopy Lloyd Charmers instrumentals, the odd, fascinating "5 to 5" and his alluringly seasick version of the Uniques' "My Conversation," which he retitles as "My Argument." To quote Leonard Dillon's Ethiopians, "reggae hit the town" in Britain in the late '60s, was adopted first by the skinheads, then by the punks, and remained completely and thoroughly Jamaican the whole time. Dawning of a New Era puts you right there at the epicenter.

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