Various Artists

Phil Pratt Thing

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A companion set to Safe Travel the Rare Side of Rock Steady, Phil Pratt Thing explores the legendary producer's work during the roots reggae era. Eight vocal cuts -- a pair from Ken Boothe, a trio from the underappreciated Al Campbell, and one each from the Heptones, Pat Kelly, and Dennis Brown; four DJ versions -- three from Big Youth and two from Dillinger (the second part of a "Discomix" number); and a clutch of accompanying instrumentals and dubs comprise this sumptuous set. Boothe kicks off the album in style with his superb "I'm Not for Sale"; his "Who Gets Your Love," later in the set, is an equal stunner. But it's the clutch of tracks that proceed "I'm Not for Sale" that set the tone for the set. Big Youth's sizzling "Keep Your Dread" was cut over an incendiary version of the "Artibella" riddim, keyboardist Bobby Kalphat solos on the haunting instrumental version, with Campbell providing the powerful vocal version, "Going the Wrong Way," here showcased in original single form and across the 12" "Discomix." Pratt monikered his studio musicians after his Sunshot label, they're better known as the Soul Syndicate Band, and can be heard backing many of the numbers featured here. Pratt, like most singers turned producers, infused even his most militant, rhythm driven riddims with melody. That's particularly evident on the Heptones' magnificent re-recording of "Party Time," a hit originally cut for Studio One back in 1968, with the gala continuing across Kalphet's dub version. The organist then positively swaggers on "Counter Punch" an updating of the old jazz classic "Take Five." Another classic Studio One riddim, "Skylarking" was updated for Campbell's emotive "Take These Shackles Off," which can be read as either cultural or a romance gone bad. However, there's no mistaking the cultural theme of the singer's infectious "Every Man Say." Campbell's fabulous performances light up the entire set, but even they're no match for Dennis Brown at his roots heights, and his majestic "Let Love In" may not be one of his better known numbers, but it's outstanding regardless. However, it was Pat Kelly's "Talk About Love" that was one of Pratt's biggest hits, the former Technique showering the grooves with his sweet vocals and upbeat unity theme. And then Dillinger steps up and kicks the number into high gear with his irresistible, exuberant DJ-gets-girl toast. "Big Score" is less interesting, but its riddim, Brown's "Love In," is lethal. Big Youth is uniformly superb throughout. "Keep Your Dread" is a masterpiece, the emotionally powerful "Love Jah Jah Children" is nearly its equal, while "Phil Pratt Thing" was cut before the DJ rocketed to fame. All told a magnificent set, Pratt's riddims were inspired, his productions exceptional, the musicianship sublime throughout, while the artists and their songs are absolutely unforgettable. If only the quality of the reproduction matched it; unfortunately, though, many of these tracks come from poor vinyl sources, with the scratches, pops, and tape hiss evident. For audiophiles, this will be torture, for roots lovers, the phenomenal music will overshadow the set's aural flaws.

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