Various Artists

Island 40, Vol. 2: 1964-1969 -- Rhythm and Blues Beat

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Picking up where volume one left off, this second volume covers the Rhythm & Blues Beat years, from 1964-1969. Compared with its predecessor, which focused exclusively on ska, this compilation at first glance seems positively schizophrenic. Careening from American R&B and soul headfirst into British beat and delving into Jamaican rocksteady and reggae, one is tempted to ask just what Island label head Chris Blackwell was thinking. The enclosed elaborately illustrated booklet helps answer that question, charting the launch of the label's new imprints, notably Sue, an outlet for R&B. The record itself provides the musical answers, especially if played alongside volume one, where Jamaica's debt to American R&B becomes crystal clear. The U.K.'s British beat scene was equally influenced by the R&B records flowing out of the States, and it's particularly intriguing to hear how differently the U.K. and Jamaica built upon the same musical foundation stones. Inevitably, influences moved back and forth between the two islands as well, a point Jackie Edwards makes clear. The Jamaican singer spent much of his career in Britain, and the songs he composed for the British beat band the Spenser Davis Group rocketed up the U.K. charts. While Britain was in the grips of the mods, Jamaica was under the guns of the rude boys, as ska slowed to rocksteady then shifted into reggae. These genres moved ever further from their initial R&B roots, and thus the first volume actually fits better with this volume's U.K. artists. Careful selections and sequencing neatly solves this problem, though, but one is still left with a rather skewered view of Island's Jamaican releases. However, as an overview of the label's changing directions, it works a charm, and there are few better ways to explore the disparate threads that tied the '60s' sounds together.

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