Various Artists

Ska Down Jamaica

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Hudson Vandam's Ska Down Jamaica focuses on the pre-reggae styles that proliferated in Jamaica during the 1960s. On these 13 cuts, session players power vibrant horns, sublime vocals, and sweet harmonies with a series of chugging ska/rocksteady rhythms. As was the practice of the day, one artist's hit was never exclusive property, and, thus, many of these songs have been covered a few times over. The great bandleader Byron Lee, for instance, though only included on one cut (the fine "Jamaica Ska"), recorded "Sammy Dead," "If You Act This Way," and "Blessed Be," all of which are featured here by others. Unfortunately, in many cases, Ska Down Jamaica fails to serve up the best material by artists as strong as Lee, Stranger Cole, Monty Morris, and the Maytals. Still, while the last's "If You Act This Way" and "She Will Never Let Me Down" aren't up to the standards of the group's finest ska material, they still capture the growing confidence of a young Toots Hibbert and demonstrate the group's excellent call and response vocal exchanges. Also strong are Morris' versions of "Sammy Dead" and "Oil in My Lamp." In the end, however, the general lack of bona fide classics and/or rare treasures makes Ska Down Jamaica a dispensable compilation.

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