Inner Circle

Big in Jamaica: The Best of Inner Circle With Jacob Miller

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There are no dates given with the 15 tracks on this compilation, but the liner notes do make clear that this is mid-'70s material, and there are songwriting credits. Be thankful for what you get! As the title makes clear, this is from the time when Inner Circle featured the talented lead singer Jacob Miller, who died in a car crash in 1980. Miller is indeed the focal point of the music on this collection, with a clearer, lighter timbre than many other reggae vocalists. The roots-reggae music, too, exhibits a lighter touch and more pop and American soul influences than much of its competition from the era, occasionally even opting for some sweet tinkling bells, strings, and female backup vocals. In much music criticism -- not just for reggae, but for all popular forms -- a "pop" influence is equated with lesser or even less honest music. The fact is, however, that Inner Circle's recordings from this time are distinguished, and refreshingly so, from oodles of other Jamaican reggae precisely by that pop element. They didn't eschew serious topics and Rastafarianism in their songs, either, as songs like "Forward Jah Jah Children" and "None Shall Escape the Judgement" testify. Still, some of the best moments here occur when they opt for some unexpected covers, from Al Green ("Here I Am Baby") and Johnny Mathis ("I'm Going Home") to the Chi-Lites ("Homely Girl") and several Bob Marley compositions. A worthwhile reggae anthology that might find favor with some listeners that aren't reggae specialists.

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