One rarely sees the phrase "golden years" accompanying the output of a teenager, however, in Dennis Brown's case, it's an accurate description, but only in the sense of this being just one of several golden eras in the vocalist's career. Brown was already a recording veteran, with a string of hits to his name dating back to 1968, when he was all of 11, when he hooked up with the equally precocious young producer Niney the Observer. Brown had initially made his mark as a young balladeer, but his conversion to Rastafarianism and growing politicalization was the perfect fit for Niney's own views, and the pair embarked upon a two year burst of recording that produced some of Jamaica's most seminal and revolutionary music. The Golden Years, 1974-1976 stuffs 34 songs across two discs from this period, and although there are some notable omissions, there are so many exceptional tracks here that it would be almost perverse to complain. And although this collection is Niney heavy, it does include a number of songs recorded with other producers late in 1976, after the pair had split. The bouncy roots of "My Time," for example, was produced by Castro Brown. So it's not all apocalyptic production, crashing drums, and revolution, a fact that the surreal sequencing of the tracks brings home with a vengeance; only the most sardonic of selectors would deliberately precede the roots masterpiece "Wolves and Leopards" with the lightweight cover of "Traveling Man." And that latter isn't the most embarrassing cover found here, that distinction belongs to "Green Apples," a poignant reminder of the humiliating songs forced upon up-and-comers and stars alike. In a way, the jumbled tracks, at first so disconcerting, actually reinforce Brown's amazing versatility. Of course songs like the driving "Westbound Train" and "Cassandra," the masterful repatriation classic "Africa" and the darkly infectious, politicized "Some Like It Hot" remain standouts. But strewn among these better known tracks are deeply soulful love songs, brash pop numbers (often with cultural themes), emotional ballads and lovers rock. The moods may change, but the conviction always remains the same. Untangle the tracks, and one can piece together Brown's evolution from MOR teen star to dread hero. His extraordinary talent was in his passionate delivery, turning even simple, pretty love songs like the old housewives' favorites "Rain from the Sky" and "Only a Smile" into something special. When he turns that emotional conviction towards a devotional song like "God Bless My Soul" or a political one like "Fight for Truth and Rights" the power is palatable. Although the album ends in 1976, that year was in no way a turning point in Brown's career, equally great things were still to come. However, it does excellently capture the adolescent's emergence into adulthood, a crossroads which were indeed golden years.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2