Desmond Dekker

King of Ska [Varese]

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What a brilliant idea: pair original rude boy Desmond Dekker with the boots-and-braces leaders of the 2 Tone scene, and set them all loose on a dozen classic Jamaican hits. That was Trojan Records' grand scheme behind King of Kings, but unfortunately they were ten years too late. This wasn't the Specials shredding their way aggressively through the past, with a delighted Dekker in tow, but their far more laid-back 1990 incarnation. And even though it's obvious the bandmembers are thrilled to be working with the Jamaican legend, their youthful exuberance is gone, and most of their energy as well. In fact, the feel to most of this set is closer to UB40 than to "Gangsters" -- pleasant enough, but nothing to get overly excited about. The set opens on a high with a rousing take on "Sammy Dead" and "Fat Man" muscles in strongly as well, but then the wind seems to go out of everyone's sails, at least until a tornado suddenly rips up for a roaring take on Dekker's own "King of Ska," only for the remainder of the album to be utterly becalmed. Regardless, Fuel/Versace felt there was enough interest in the album to license it for release in 2000 under the title King of Ska (not to be confused with Dekker's 1991 Trojan album of the same name). However, this wasn't a straight reissue; missing in action are "Oil in My Lamp" and "Dancing Mood," two of the better tracks on the original set, replaced by three of Dekker's own hits -- "007 (Shanty Town)," "Israelites," and "Rudie Got Soul." And just to be clear, these aren't his classics recut with the Specials, but the original versions, which only reinforces how far the mighty have fallen. A far from great set the first time around, which now falls even flatter.

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