Various Artists

Deep Ska: 80 Original Ska Classics

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This compilation should have been subtitled "Duke Reid: The Early Years," as the four-CD box set is drawn exclusively from the great producer's archives. Half the set, interestingly enough, comprises instrumentals, the great majority courtesy of the Skatalites, although Baba Brooks and Drumbago are also well represented. Even a few U.K. groups get to strut their stuff; the Pyramids, Rico Rodiguez' All Stars, and Blue Rivers & the Maroons all put in an appearance. And so boogies, big band swing, and R&B surge out from the grooves, as hit after instrumental classic stream by, interspersed by the vocal tracks. Of the singers, the fabulous Justin Hinds & the Dominoes grab the lion's share of attention, while the smooth Stranger Cole is also highlighted, either on his own or partnered with Patsy Todd. A myriad of other vocal duos are also showcased. The box is nicely split between legendary hits and equally worthy, but lesser-known numbers, a boon for general fans and collectors alike. A 23-page booklet is also included, giving a detailed history of ska, with particular emphasis on the Skatalites' integral contribution to the genre, and also providing a wealth of information on the other artists and the songs themselves. The excellent booklet was written by Joop Visser, who obviously knows his ska, which means he runs into problems with the fourth disc, where a few rocksteady and reggae numbers creep in. But that's not his fault, and these handful of gaffes aside, Deep Ska lives up to its title, almost four hours of exuberant classic ska.

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