Johnny Clarke

Don't Trouble Trouble

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Over the years, a plethora of roundups from this formidable artist have hit the streets of Jamaica, Britain, Europe, and the U.S., all dedicated exclusively to the singer's recordings for producer Bunny Lee. Invariably there's some repetition, but so many singles did Johnny Clarke unleash under Lee's aegis, there's more than enough to go around. Inevitably there were some duds amid the barrage of hits, but the bulk of the material is of such high quality that fans really can't go wrong. With that said, Don't Trouble Trouble still rises to the top of the compilation pile. With copious hindsight -- the set was released in 1989, the British Attack label was able to choose tracks not based on the hottest sounds of the time, but those that were the most enduring. Nicely balanced between cultural concerns, romantic interests, and dancehall bravado, the set presents a particularly well-rounded picture of this crucial artist. Although it's still only a partial one, as Trouble troubles only to pull from the period 1975-1976, early in Clarke's partnership with Lee, equally great numbers were still to come. The album kicks off with "Rock with Me," the ultimate sound system smash, a breezy dance number whose charms have yet to fade. Songs like that and the equally entertaining "Rebel Soldering" established Clarke as a superstar in the dancehalls, while the title track's menaces to the competition and "Cold I Up"'s seemingly grandiose claims ("I am Kublai Khan, I am gorgon" indeed) were far from boasts. But it wasn't all good times in the dancehalls, and Clarke's pleas for peace on "Too Much War" and heartfelt demands to "Stop the Tribal War" alongside the Garvey-ite "Poor Marcus" won him acclaim in the roots community. Some of the most surprising numbers are the covers, where one cringes in expectation of throwaway fluff, only to discover surprisingly strong versions instead. John Holt's "Do You Love Me," Ivory Joe Hunter's "Since I Fell for You," Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me," and Lord Creator's ska classic "Don't Stay out Late" are all magnificently reworked. The entire set is backed by Lee's studio band, the Aggrovators, whose striking riddims are still revered to this day, and this set also doubles as a showcase for this sensational band's skills. Far from the only compilation one will require, but a set that belongs in every fan's collection.

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