Sly & Robbie

Crucial Reggae: Driven by Sly & Robbie

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The "Driven by Sly & Robbie" subtitle says it all, and the clever sleeve cover drives home the point with its drawing of the duo in the front seat of a taxi, whose license play boldly states "RYDIM." However, as the album predates ragga, just how crucial these dozen cuts remain to a contemporary audience is open to interpretation, as it was even upon this compilation's release in 1982. What you do get is eight Taxi productions, and a quartet that the Riddim Twins played on -- a pair recorded for Big Tanka, and one cut each for Gussie Clarke and Donovan Germaine. Among the Taxi tracks is the mighty "Unmetered Taxi," its laid-back sax riff driven by a metronomic beat and percolating electronics, Flabba Holt's "Danger Zone," a master class in radical roots, Dennis Brown's delicious "Hold On to What You Got," and Jimmy Riley's sweetly insistent "Sexual Healing." Of the outside producers, younger fans should check out the Mighty Diamonds' "Pass the Kouchie," which passed into the hands of Musical Youth, who took it straight up the U.K. chart under the title "Pass the Dutchie." Equally memorable is Yellowman's "Soldier Take Over," which draws its lyrical theme from Bobby Aitken's rocksteady classic, "Curfew," but now sports a marching beat, a popular dancehall rhythm, and a provocative toast by the DJ accompanied by his adjunct Fathead. This is dancehall at its most revolutionary. As promised, Sly & Robbie drive the entire record, with Dunbar's syndrums to the fore and Shakespeare's sinuous bass wrapping itself around the grooves like a python. And although the pair never drives into dead ends, some of the tracks do lead into back lanes, but it's an enjoyable ride nonetheless.

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