Various Artists

Kings & Queens of Rocksteady

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On this decent compilation of vintage rock steady music, no dates are given for the tracks, as is the custom on reggae reissues. It's obvious, though, that most or all of these date from about 1966-70, and it's known that all were recorded by Duke Reid at Treasure Isle. Kicking off the disc is perhaps the best-known rocksteady classic of all, the Paragons' "The Tide Is High" (covered for a #1 hit by Blondie), which has been reissued elsewhere, but certainly can't be faulted as an inclusion. The emphasis is on harmonizing groups, including the Melodians, the Jamaicans, the Ethiopians, and the Sensations, but there are also outstanding solo vocals from Alton Ellis and Phyllis Dillon, as well as an instrumental from Tommy McCook. Overall, it's reggae music at its most likable, the tempos dreamy but not sluggish, the melodies soul-influenced, and the harmonies often sumptuous. Other than "The Tide Is High," the best cut is Phyllis Dillon's "Perfidia," a great illustration of how to make a pre-rock pop standard a seductive rock steady cut. For a portent of future directions in reggae, there's an early cut by U Roy ("Everybody Bawling"), whom Reid produced rhyming over old rock steady backing tracks.

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