Although it's the dub version of this album that was to reach legendary status, the original vocal version of Dread at the Controls is equally crucial. On this, his debut album, Jamaica's one and only roots Rasta DJ toasted over some of the most superb rhythms to be had, laid down by a kaleidoscope of power pairings -- Robbie Shakespeare, Ranchie McLean, and Earl "Bagga" Walker throbbing, high-stepping, and slinking around on bass, with Sly Dunbar, Carlton "Santa" Davis, and Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace snapping out the militant beats. Joining them is a trio of star axemen including Earl "Chinna" Smith, a quintet of pianomen/keyboardists including Augustus Pablo, Ansel Collins, and Gladdy Anderson, a pair of expert percussionists, and a lethal brass section. An errant explosion could have snuffed out the island's entire music industry in a nanosecond, assuming everyone was present in the studio. While Dread was at the controls, behind him were such studio wizards as Ernest Hookim, Errol Thompson, Errol Brown, and Prince Jammy, with the latter overseeing the remixing alongside the legendary King Tubby. Needless to say, this was one of the most phenomenal-sounding albums of its day, and would have sold in vast quantities even without Dread opening his mouth. The musicians reinvent classic rhythms, spinning them out like spider webs, trapping listeners in the long rhythmic strands, hypnotizing their prey with the pounding beats and heavy, heavy basslines, then wrapping them up in the heady atmospheres. And sitting in the middle of the web is Mikey Dread himself, magnetic, entrancing, utterly mesmerizing as he toasts leisurely along to the music. The album is titled after the DJ's radio show, which also provided the name for Dread's own record label and the title of his debut single. Rather confusingly, that single is not included here, but there are inspired versions of others including "Proper Education," "Love the Dread," "Step By Step," and the classic "Barber Saloon." Every track is a revelation, and one could lose oneself in this album for hours, even days, so mesmerizing is the sound, so sumptuous the atmospheres, so resonant the DJ. Controls was built for sound system play, and the creative sparks of the dub set ignite across its grooves. It just doesn't get better than this.
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene