Sly & Robbie

Taxi Fare

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So big were Sly & Robbie that by the mid-'80s their rhythms were driving songs straight into the charts for a myriad of artists across the musical spectrum. Taxi Fare sums up this success via a killer compilation that is so focused on the duo that all else is heaved overboard. So devoted were the pair's fans that all that was required was their photo on the sleeve and their names on the cover. It was the first and only time in Western musical history that a drum and bass team took top billing. This album actually rounds up a baker's dozen of hits, but for whom? Apparently listeners were uninterested in such minutia; singers were simply extraneous and, as for the rest of the backing musicians, who cares? Well, at least the sleeve credits the music to Sly & Robbie and the Channel One All Stars, an aggregate of superb session men better known as the Revolutionaries. But all that's simply churlish when confronted with the fabulous music within. The instrumentals are all top-notch, and include seminal songs like the breezy "Taxi Connection," featuring Bobby Ellis on trumpet, the smoky dub of "Unmetered Taxi," the searing swing of "Red Hot," the urban militancy of "VLA Music," and the nod to Yazoo and the new wave of "Triplet." That heavily synthesized latter track is typical of much of the pair's work in the '80s, as they furthered their experiments in electronic rhythms and studio sounds, as can be heard on "Devil Pickney," a hit for Sugar Minott. And although producer Wayne Smith is credited with unleashing the first pure electronic number, "Under Me Sleng Teng," Dunbar had paved the way earlier in the decade. But even in the midst of their electro fixation, Sly & Robbie maintained an organic quality to their sound and productions, as they do on "Rock Music," which has a natural sway even as the syn-drums boom. Expertly sequenced, the set swings across the years, from their later more synth-driven numbers to their earlier pure roots work. One of their most militant roots rhythms was Junior Delgado's "Fort Augustus," today considered a masterpiece. The Tamlins' "Baltimore" adds an urban flavor to a tough rhythm, while Jimmy Riley's "Bang Bang" is a classic of booming electro beats, sinuous bass, gentle synths, and gorgeous vocals. Dennis Brown's "Sitting & Watching" is a treasure trove of opposites: fat beats and lithe synth riffs, throbbing bass and a breezy melody. Every track included is up to these standards, an exuberant celebration of rhythm and song.

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