Non-specialist labels venturing into this field usually make a meal of it, but this is a shockingly excellent compilation, stuffed with 17 cuts and a booklet filled with historical, recording, and artist information. Even though Rhino was unable to license anything from Studio One or Island, these omissions are barely noticeable, as instead the album draws heavily from Duke Reid and Prince Buster's archives. In keeping with the title, Roots of Ska covers all the strands that went into the tapestry of the genre: R&B, big-band jazz, nyabingi, and mento. Of particular interest is Bunny & Skitter's "Chubby," one of Prince Buster's earliest productions, with the duo singing a cappella accompanied only by the nyabingi drums of Count Ossie & His Wareikas. The album is arranged chronologically, so the listener can follow the genre's progression. And it progressed swiftly; by 1962, virtually every song sported a ska beat -- love ballads, spirituals, instrumentals, old folk songs (like the mento "Sammy Dead," a huge hit for Eric Morris), and so forth. Each of the tracks included was a chartbuster in its day, and deservedly so. Prince Buster's "Madness" and "Al Capone" were both instrumental in the formation of Two Tone, and remain influential to this day, while artists like Laurel Aitken, Justin Hinds, the Maytals, and Derrick Morgan are still extremely popular. But the less well-known names are no less worthy of worship. Behind the scenes were the star-studded studio bands, who sadly remain uncredited here, but whose contributions were no less important. For collectors and the general public alike, an album to be cherished.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene