Various Artists

Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamdown 1973-1980

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Arriving months before this Blood & Fire compilation was a similar release from Soul Jazz Records. Studio One Soul was just that, a collection of 18 covers of American soul tunes by the famous Jamaican label's finest '60s and '70s artists. Darker Than Blue however, has a distinct advantage over its predecessor. As it is not tied to the output of any one particular label, it manages to come up with a selection that's broader in scope and more diverse in sound. Bassist Boris Gardiner's band, with the help of organ maestro Leslie Butler, gets the proceedings off to a superb start with "Ghetto Funk," one of two originals that bookend the set. A series of gems follow. Carl Bradney turns out a suitably heavy version of War's "Slipping into Darkness," Al Brown adds a touching reading of Bobby Bland's "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City," and Freddie McGregor performs a wake-up call to the silent majority via George Jackson on "Get Involved." Though Sly Johnson's "Is It Because I'm Black?" can also be found on Studio One Soul, there's plenty of room for another version, particularly when the artist in question is Ken Boothe. Stripping away the horns that appeared on the original U.K. pressing, this mix reveals the rhythm in all its glory, letting it churn between Boothe's exceptional verses. Following a series of love songs, Darker Than Blue delivers another series of excellent reality themes. Among them are the Curtis Mayfield song that titles the set (performed by Lloyd Charmers) and Timmy Thomas' "Why Can't We Live Together?," presented in discomix form by Tinga Stewart and the Revolutionaries. The finest in Jamaican reggae meets the finest in American soul -- the combination is superb.

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