The Skatalites

Foundation Ska

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As fans are well aware, although the Skatalites only officially existed for a mere 14 months or so, the bandmembers' impact on Jamaican music extended far beyond that brief period into the rocksteady era and then the reggae era and beyond, and stretching back into the island's pre-recording days. In various aggregations, the musicians played on vast swathes of songs throughout the '60s, and during the ska years virtually everything that was put on disc featured at least a couple of the men. Foundation Ska delves deeply into this era, exclusively with the group's work for Coxsone Dodd. A good number of the tracks predate the group's official launch, and even then the Studio One head oftentimes preferred to release their singles credited to the composer and/or the main soloist. Thus, although all 32 of the songs within were recorded by the band, many of them never appeared under the group's name. Helpfully, the sleeve notes provide an excellent background piece on the island's early music scene, as well as an exceptional biography of the band drawn from interviews with group members. Best of all, though, the individual soloists are listed for each song, a boon for those desperate to tell the saxophonists' work apart. While instrumentals are the main thrust of the set, five vocal tracks are also featured, a potent reminder of the group's equally crucial work behind the singers. Sadly, Skatalites' vocalist Lord Tanamo seems never to have recorded for Dodd during the ska age, but you do get a scorching number from another one of the band's singers, Jackie Opel, as well as a fabulous duet from Opel and Doreen Schaffer, who also sang live with the group. Filled to the brim with classic after classic -- "Don-De-Lion," "Eastern Standard Time," "Silver Dollar," "Scandal Ska," "Occupation," and so many, many more, just try to find a weak track within. Foundation Ska isn't the definitive set; fans still need to hear their equally masterful material from Treasure Isle, never mind the spectacular numbers they cut for the Yap brothers, but nonetheless this is a stunning and essential set.

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