Barrington Levy unleashed two seminal albums in Jamaica in 1979, Bounty Hunter and Shine Eye Gal. The latter was licensed in the UK, and soon after a deal was struck with the British Greensleeves label for Levy's third full-length of the year, Englishman, with Robin Hood swiftly following in 1980. All four sets were produced by Junjo Lawes, who oversaw his first recording in 1978, and were backed by an equally fresh faced studio grouping, the Roots Radics. Levy too, had much to learn, with only a trickle of unsuccessful singles to his credit. These albums would change all that, and establish Lawes as the reigning dancehall studio king, the Radics is the most in-demand group on the island, and Levy as one of Jamaica's top hit makers. The singer's first two albums were exceptional, the latter two were both masterpieces and swept through the international reggae scene like a wildfire. The records swept up current hits, while adding new material of equal weight, some of which would also go on to become new hits. Bundling the two together onto CD, as Greensleeves did in 1991 makes perfect sense, as the albums are a continuation of all that came before.
Englishman is the more cultural of the two sets, the title track a mesmerizing unity piece, a theme revisited on the equally hypnotic "Don't Fuss nor Fight", the trance-like "Look Youthman" gives warning of Jah's coming, "Send a Moses" is a pure sufferer's song, while the simmering "Black Heart Man" is an exultant affirmation of dread-dom and a heartfelt condemnation of past injustices.
All of these numbers boast the most militant of rhythms, pounding beats that set the dancehalls alight, whilst simultaneously conjuring up the dreadest of atmospheres, spilling into hypnotic grooves which drummer Carlton "Santa" Davis pounded across.
Even a lush, romantic number like the stellar "Sister Carol" is infused by the cracking beats and an edgy quality that defined the Radics' sound. When Lawes took on an already militant rhythm, like "Real Rock," which he versioned for "Money Makes Friends", the results are stratospheric.
Robin Hood heralds the oncoming dancehall revolution, as Lawes and Radics start stripping back some of the arrangements, creating a sparser and even more lethal sound. This is noticeable on the title track, which kicks off the set, and reaches denouement on the inspired "Like How You Kiss and Caress Me", which closes the album.
One can almost hear the creative ideas ping-ponging between the Radics, Lawes and engineer Scientist as they bounce off the walls of King Tubby's and Channel One studios. From the killer take on the "Stalag 17" rhythm that fires the ode to the dance "Rock and Come In", to the sharply edged version of "Skylarking" that fuels "Gonna Tell Your Girlfriend", Lawes and co are taking dancehall to an entirely new level.
Levy, meanwhile is maturing before our eyes, and across the set's multitude of romantic numbers showcases new emotional depths and a warm, soulful quality that will become his trademark. Of particular note are "You Come to Ask Me What Is Love" and the aforementioned "Kiss and Caress," while in the cultural sphere the title track and "When Friday Come" are stand-outs. The latter will soon evolve into "Please Jah Jah", and boasts a distinctly different arrangement and rhythm than that future hit.
There isn't a mediocre song amongst these 20 tracks, never mind a throw-away, the Radics are at their most ferocious, Lawes at his most inspired, and Levy himself continues to astound.