Various Artists

Souled on Reggae [Music Club]

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An extremely clever idea for a compilation, this bundles up 15 covers of classic soul songs performed by legendary Jamaican artists. These versions were originally recorded between 1967 and 1978, over which time the island's music scene underwent several seismic shifts in style, which makes Souled on Reggae even more diverse than one might suspect. However, the album still makes the point that while R&B is the genre everyone credits as the biggest influence on Jamaican music, soul has also had an impact. This was twofold, as a musical or vocal influence and in the artists' choice of covers. Sometimes these two strands came together, but not always. With Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis, two of the island's most soulful vocalists, they most certainly do, equally so with Al Brown and Skin Flesh & Bones. The Heptones, unusually for them, deliver up some fabulous soul, while the Maytals take "Louie Louie" out of the frat house and bring it straight to Stax. Bobbi Houston is equally impressive, a cross between Lena Horne and Aretha Franklin. Other artists take the original and totally reinvent it. John Holt and Dennis Brown both offer up lush pop as far removed from soul as Kingston is from Chicago. "Queen Majesty" may have been written by Curtis Mayfield, but the Techniques strip out any hint of its origins and turn it into a rocksteady classic. Derrick Harriott's "The Loser" is another rocksteady gem, and as it was self-composed, one wonders just what it's doing here. Equally perplexing is the Slim Smith offering, which is indeed soulful, but is certainly not Smith himself -- collector's beware. But that aside, this is an intriguing set, and perhaps in the future listeners can look forward to Funked on Reggae and Motown on Reggae.

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