Various Artists

Absolutely the Best of Reggae, Vol. 1

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It's difficult to believe in a title like Absolutely the Best of Reggae, particularly when the standards for reggae re-issues at the close of the 20th century had been raised to unparalleled highs by the likes of Blood & Fire, Pressure Sounds, and others. The little known Varese label's approach here is to select from any and every period of the music. Material ranges from the '60s ska of Lord Creator and Desmond Dekker to the '90s ragga of Chaka Demus & Pliers and Buju Banton, with '70s dub and roots covered along the way. Though it hardly offers anything new (and in fact repeats a number of tracks from other Varese releases), Absolutely the Best does deliver some undeniable reggae classics. Among them are Jimmy Cliff's theme to Perry Henzell's 1972 Jamaican cult film The Harder They Come, Desmond Dekker's crossover hit "Isrealites," and Bob Marley's (aka the Wailers') 1970 Lee "Scratch" Perry-produced single, "Soul Rebel." Also in tow are Eric Donaldson's "Cherry Oh Baby"; "Zion Gate Dub," a thunderous King Tubby mix of a Horace Andy classic; and early reggae hits by the Ethiopians ("Train to Skaville") and the Slickers ("Johnny Too Bad"). Unfortunately, the dancehall/ragga material suffers by being in the minority; tracks from Buju Banton and Beenie Man sitting uncomfortably between a Perry dub (which sounds mysteriously like Tubby mixing producer Bunny Lee) and Tony Tribe's reading of "Red Red Wine." Listeners may be better off programming these tracks out of the running order. Doing so would leave a satisfying, if slightly skewed, overview of the music's first 15 years.

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