A welcome addition to the Itals' canon, this compilation rounds up a clutch of the group's early recordings, most previously unavailable in the U.S. The set kicks off with "In a Dis a Time," the trio's debut single and one that actually predates their official launch as a group. However, that 1976 Jamaican chart-topper is obviously not the earliest recording here; that honor goes to "Run Baldhead Run," a potent warning unleashed by Keith Porter and his then-singing partner, Roy Smith, in 1971. The single's flip-side version, "Last Prayer," is also included. But the vast majority of tracks date from the second half of the decade, drawn from the Itals' stream of singles, all released exclusively on small Jamaican labels. Many of the best were overseen by Lloyd Campbell, including the aforementioned hit, "Time Will Tell," "Brutal," and "Don't Wake the Lion." "Time Will Tell" and "Brutal" would both be re-recorded for the Itals' debut album, Brutal out Deh, along with "Baldhead" and the equally classic "Temptation," also found here, while "Smiley Knotty Dread," a new number from that set, is bundled up as well. The bulk of Early Recordings 1971-1979 showcases Keith Porter's eloquent, religiously themed numbers, thus two of the most surprising numbers find the trio in quite different pastures. There's a phenomenal cover of the Techniques' rocksteady masterpiece "You Don't Care," as well as the Motown-inspired "Seeing Is Believing," the latter one of two previously unreleased songs found within. However, although Porter pens the vast majority of the group's songs, Ronnie Davis offers up the heartfelt "Living in the Ghetto," while Lloyd Ricketts adapts Burning Spear's "Red Gold & Green" for his equally impassioned "I See a Sign." Virtually all the songs are backed by the rhythm powerhouse of Sly Dunbar and Lloyd Parks, with Ansel Collins on keyboards, a clutch of expert axemen, and the all-star brass section of Tommy McCook, Felix "Deadly Headley" Bennett, Bobby Elis, and Vin "Don D Junior" Gordon. In their homeland, the Itals were never to break into the big league of roots groups, but their myriad American fans now have the opportunity to hear what they offered up and be left to ponder why not.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene