Ernie Smith

The Best of Original Masters

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There really isn’t anyone quite like Ernie Smith in the whole history of Jamaican pop music. A subtle and unassuming songwriter, his songs are more Merle Haggard than Bob Marley (although he has done some fine covers of Marley tunes), and with his everyman baritone voice, he made each of his tracks sound honest and sincere, and in Smith's case, having a limited vocal range is part of why his songs work -- they’re simple and unadorned without being throwaway trifles, a bit like hearing one’s neighbor sing a Lou Rawls song with conviction on the back porch. At his best, Smith created a kind of country reggae with Jamaican honky tonk ballads like “I Can’t Take It” (later covered by Johnny Nash as “Tears on My Pillow”), “Bend Down,” and his wonderful version of Kris Kristofferson's “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” while Smith's renditions of Marley's “Nice Time” and “You Poured Sugar on Me” have a sturdy, patient, and good-natured vibe about them, all attributes that Marley no doubt appreciated in these versions. All of these tracks are here in this no-frills set that surveys Smith's time with Jamaica’s Federal Records in the 1960s and 1970s. It adds up to a great portrait of one of Jamaica’s best-kept secrets.

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