Laurel Aitken is mostly, and justly, known as a pioneer of ska, and by extension of early reggae as a whole. This intriguing collection, however, reaches back yet earlier in his and Jamaican music's history, collecting 28 sides from 1957 to 1960 that even predate ska's emergence. You can hear hints, and sometimes very strong ones, of the ska that would became the rage in Jamaican pop in the early to mid-'60s. Yet there's at least as much mento, particularly on the earlier tracks, as well as heavy strains of R&B, doo wop, and early rock & roll. In hindsight all of these elements were crucial to the recipe for ska and reggae, but back then the ska/reggae ingredients sometimes weren't all that audible, especially in the mento cuts that sound close to calypso. But even if these varied blends don't quite find Aitken hitting his stride, they're pretty enjoyable numbers anyway, with an almost constant sense of effervescent fun. By the time of the Duke Reid-produced songs "Judgment Day" (with Rico Rodriguez on trombone) and "More Whisky," Aitken's verging on all-out ska, and these might be the tracks that find most favor with purist ska and reggae lovers. But open-eared listeners will get a lot out of most of the tracks, including ones that borrow heavily from '50s American R&B ("Love Me Baby") and boogie ("Boogie in My Bones," a 1960 number one Jamaican hit). There aren't many anthologies on which the transition from mento to ska is so evident, making this not just a welcome entry in the Aitken discography, but a notable release for anyone with an interest in the birth of ska.
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