Continuing its series of excellent compilations of obscure reggae tracks by genre, U.K. reissue label Kingston Sounds offers up the dancehall chapter of its Listen Up! series with Listen Up! Dancehall Originals. Focusing more on the roots-originating early-'80s dancehall sound than the digital-derived one that would follow by the middle of the decade, the 16 songs here are mainly slower, driftier affairs, with wide-open rhythmic skeletons to hang upon the laid-back vocals and chants of the genre in its earliest days. Licensing and time constraints keep the collection from being a definitive document of essential early dancehall, but a fair number of key tracks show up, including Johnny Clarke's strutting "King of the Arena" and the summery "Ababa John I" by Don Carlos. Those looking for hard-edged rhythms and thick-voiced dancehall DJs will want to look elsewhere, as the closest this volume of Listen Up! comes to the shape dancehall would take in the later '80s and afterwards are the occasional computerized sound effects on "Take Heed" by Ronnie Davis and the dribbly scatting on Cornell Campbell's "Got to Tell the People." Though it may be a little too early in the subgenre's development to be categorized as dancehall by some listeners, taken even as a collection of killer reggae this scores high marks, and maintains the great batting average set by the rest of the series.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas