Various Artists

Downbeat the Ruler: Killer Instrumentals from Studio One

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The third reissue of the Heartbeat label's trawl through Studio One's back catalog that were originally released in the '80s -- expanded and remastered editions The Best of Studio One and Full Up being the first two -- focuses exclusively on instrumentals. The very nature of Jamaica's recording industry makes instrumentals a minefield. Some really were true instrumentals, composed solely for instruments. Others were instrumental versions of a vocal cut, the inevitable flip side of a single, and while some of these were unique takes on the song, others were merely the A-sides with the vocals stripped off. Then there were dub plates, acetates created specifically for the sound systems, the prototype for dub, and then there's dub itself. The fact that a song's rhythm can be recycled endlessly over the years just adds to the confusion. Originally released in 1988, then reissued in 2006 with a slightly different track list but with much better sound, Downbeat the Ruler is titled after Coxsone Dodd's own sound system and contains examples of most instrumental subtypes. With the 1987 remix of "Throw Me Corn" and the 1965 recording of "Man in the Street" both being dropped from the original edition, the vast majority of the tracks date from the reggae era into the roots age. "Throw Me Corn"'s earlier 10" version is featured and is obviously a dub plate aimed at the sound systems, leaving plenty of space for the DJ. "Banana Walk," in contrast, is pure dub, while "Real Rock" is a take on "Armagideon Time" and shows just how older rhythms can be revived. With the rise of dancehall, everything was elevated (or reduced, depending on one's point of view) to the level of a rhythm. And certainly many of these instrumentals were ripe for recycling -- and they were repeatedly. "Heavy Rock," "Baby Face," and "Rockford Rock" would all find new life in the '80s, while many of the rest were equally influential. Interestingly, regardless of the proliferation of groups and artists credited, they're all aliases, and every track here is actually performed by Studio One's house band. Even those credited to solo artists merely showcased a particular session man, normally the one who composed the song. But don't feel cheated -- these musicians were some of the best, and were the powerhouse behind Dodd's success. It's only right that they should be glorified with their own album.

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