Desmond Dekker

Israelites: The Best of Desmond Dekker [Hallmark]

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Two years after the release of Shanty Town Original, a compilation drawn mainly from the early reggae age and comprised of songs that illuminated ghetto life, fans were offered Best of Desmond Dekker: The Israelites. This set duplicates 12 of Shanty Town's 13 tracks, replacing the sole rocksteady offering on the previous album, "Rudy Got Soul," with the equally classic "Rude Boy Train" from that same era, then adds another five songs on top. This expansion adds value for the money, by and large without detracting from Shanty's overarching concept. "It's Not Easy" fits neatly into the "times are tough" theme of "Problems," "Peace of Mind," and "That's the Way Love Goes," while the romantic "You Got Soul," "My Precious Love," and Dekker's emotive cover of "For Once in My Life" all illustrate that life and love go on regardless -- which leaves the boastful "Nincompoop" sticking out like a sore thumb on an otherwise highly coherent set. Dekker wrote a flood of songs that zapped the Zeitgeist of his times, delved deeply into personal introspection, flicked around matters of the heart, and upended all obstacles in his path with an overwhelming sense of optimism. His songwriting reflected his own difficult life, which saw him orphaned as a teen and striking out twice at auditions at Studio One and Treasure Isle. Even when he was brought to producer Leslie Kong's attention, the Beverley's head kept him writing for two years before taking him into the studio. Dekker's fame had not come easy, and when he sang about "Problems" and the need for "Perseverance," it was experience talking; no wonder his words reverberated for Jamaicans and the world. Much of his music reflected both the adversity of life and his belief that it could be overcome; this set and Shanty Town beautifully illuminated that point, one oftentimes lost in more general hits collections.

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