Tommy McCook

Top Secret

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This reissue is being marketed as a ska classic, which is understandable since Tommy McCook was a charter member of the Skatalites and, therefore, one of the primary architects of the ska sound. However, Top Secret is actually more of a document of the rocksteady period, when the galloping tempos of ska were slowing and the rhythm was congealing into the elastic groove that would slow even further over the next couple of years, until it settled into the one-drop beat that characterized early reggae. Accompanied by such top-flight musicians as drummer Lloyd Knibbs, guitarist Jah Jerry, bassist Lloyd Brevett, and organist Jackie Mittoo, McCook recorded these brilliant sides at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio in 1969; the album has been out of print for years and is here reissued with four previously unreleased bonus tracks. The sound quality is better than you'd have any right to expect, and the musical quality is so consistently high that it's a little bit difficult to pick out highlight tracks -- though the proto-reggae strut of "Jungle Skank" is particularly nice, as are the twin saxophone harmonies on "Hot Shot." Highly recommended.

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