Dennis Brown

Open the Gate: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2

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Picking up the Brown/Holness story where Some Like It Hot left off, Open the Gate rounds up most of the rest of the pair's 1970s material. The singer recorded exclusively with the Observer from 1973 and 1975, and those songs made up the bulk of Hot. After a trial separation, so to speak, during 1976, Brown returned to Holness' side early in the new year, and recorded a new batch of equally crucial cuts. The most seminal -- "Wolf and Leopards" and "Tribulation" -- are found on Hot; the rest appear here, alongside a handful of rarities. Collectors will revel in the cuts culled from albums, the 12" extended mix of "Tenement Yard," an alternate version of John Holt's "Only a Smile" (one of four excellent covers found here), Dillinger's DJ version of "Here I Come," and, most spectacularly, a ferocious live version of "Cassandra," seeing the light of day for the first time here. In some ways, Gate is a greater revelation, and not just for collectors. Hot's hits are so familiar from previous compilations that the very freshness of these tracks enables the listener to discover Brown's power anew. Holness' deep roots production played to the singer's strengths, while the Soul Syndicates' impeccable playing is also showcased. There's a palpable chemistry at work here, with all the parties involved pulling out all the stops, not just on their own behalf, but to also complement each other. The guitar frills on "God Bless Our Souls," for example, give an added sense of poignancy to Brown's own superbly soulful delivery. "Take a Trip," a revision of the Hollywood chestnut "On Broadway," could have been a throwaway, but turns into a dread classic via Brown's new lyrics and emotive delivery, which are heightened by Holness' dread production. The lightly dubbed "Whip Them Jah Jah" is a standout, as is the title track and "Tenement Yard," featuring a fine toast by a now barely remembered DJ. But with 19 excellent tracks to choose from, it's almost impossible to play favorites, so why bother?

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