Byron Lee

Jamaica Ska & Other Jamaican Party Anthems

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This double-CD set is a godsend for anyone curious about the incredibly prolific Byron Lee and his erstwhile Dragonaires. Prior to the arrival of Jamaica Ska & Other Jamaican Party Anthems, poor Byron's catalog was littered with late-period soca and smooth reggae collections with the occasional poorly packaged live collection of older tunes rearing its head, but no definitive set of his major works available. His assembly-line approach that continues to crank out disc after disc of music in whatever style is in favor is partly to blame. Be it calypso, ska, soca, reggae -- if it was popular in Jamaica or other parts of the Caribbean there is probably a tune or album by Lee and his group in that style. What he was known for, though, was ska, and that is where this collection sets its sights. Covering roughly 11 years, 1960 to 1971, Jamaica Ska follows Lee though the heydays of ska, rocksteady, and the nascent reggae boom. The first disc is largely ska, highlighted by the title tune and a number of covers, including a rousing cover of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man." Lee was also producing ska recordings at this time, and songs he produced for Stranger Cole and the Maytals are included as well. The second disc moves, as Byron Lee did, with the times with a rocksteady focus. In between the ska and rocksteady jumpers are various tunes that showcase the strong musicianship and overall eclecticism of the Dragonaires: an odd acetone organ-and-horns cover of "Ol' Man River," a fairly straight, although loungey, soul cover of "Green Onions," a rocksteady version of "Shaft," and other stabs at bossa nova, show tunes, calypso, and funk. Lee's contribution to Jamaican music cannot be understated, especially in introducing ska to American audiences. Jamaica Ska & Other Jamaican Party Anthems will at least let listeners find out, once again, what all the fuss was about.

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