Compiled by the Trojans' Gaz Mayall, 2000s King of Ska was the first all-new Prince Buster compilation in almost 30 years, yet it was sensibly pieced together in the knowledge that almost everybody who was likely to look at it would already have picked up one of the earliest collections. So, no "Al Capone," "Ten Commandments of Man" or "Big Five"; instead, 16 tracks include close to a dozen that aren't simply making their CD debut, they're being heard for the first time since they originally appeared on now-scratchy 45s, back in Buster's prime. "Don't Throw Stones," with Buster's ominous pronouncements layered over the Skatalites' "Perhaps" instrumental, opens the show, to be followed by "Linger On," a tribute to Buster's hero Cassius Clay, and "God's Son"'s revision of the familiar "Madness" rhythm (also included here). Already, then, it's a crucial reserve for collectors, but the best is yet to come.
Perhaps surprisingly, less than half of the collection is bona fide Buster -- the occasional shouted interjection notwithstanding, there are just five vocal performances on board. The remainder of the set is a thrill, nevertheless, as it spotlights the wealth of studio talent that comprised Buster's All Stars -- a floating aggregation that again frequently included the Skatalites in some form or another. Instrumentals one and all, "Ska Town," "Mr Prince" and the Clement "Coxsone" Dodd-baiting "Downbeat Burial" are all excellent numbers; "Forrester's Hall," "Beat Street Jump" and "Count Machukie" all capture the flavor of the early- to mid-'60s Kingston music scene. But the finest has to be the superbly evocative "Seven Wonders of the World," a slowly-slinking, snaking creation that positively oozes Middle Eastern promise, and stands among Buster's greatest ever creations. Of course, the reliance on instrumentals may well disappoint some buyers, all the more so since there's no mention of the fact within the (typically) skimpy packaging. (How confusing, too, that the booklet reproduces the sleeves to two Buster LPs, neither of which are represented on the collection itself). But overcome that surprise, and King of Ska lives up to its title with a merry vengeance.