Listen to the Music is another stellar collection from U.K. reissue label Pressure Sounds, this time gathering 21 45s from the mid- to late Jamaican label Caltone Records that haven't seen the light of day since their original vinyl release. Caltone was the work of lesser-known producer Ken Lack, who through a tour managing gig for the Skatalites came in contact with the upper echelons of Jamaican session players. Lack launched the label in the transitional time between ska and early reggae, and Listen to the Music graphs all of the exciting shifts and experimentation from that in-between time with songs crisscrossing the lines of instrumental ska, sentimental rocksteady, and even R&B-influenced early reggae tunes. The tracks are raw in the best way, some seemingly mastered direct from the original 45s, pressed on notoriously sketchy vinyl. The soft imperfections of these original vinyl source materials can range from in-the-red distortion on the more jumping numbers to noticeable warping sounds. Rather than distracting from the music, these extra sounds strangely add to the hidden-treasure feel of some of these obscured gems. King Rocky & the Willows' gorgeous ballad "You Are the One" takes on a dreamlike quality when its warped 45 master warbles and bends in pitch in the instrumental section, giving the guitars an unintentionally Hawaiian feel. Session players the Supersonics were the house band for Caltone, and back up most of the artists on the comp. Backing saxophonist Tommy McCook, the Supersonics contribute several horn-heavy ska instrumentals, including "Killer Joe" and the classic grim toast "Dreader Than Dread." The Uniques represent the soulful side of the label, offering up the Sam Cooke-influenced cuts "The Journey" and "Do Me Good." Eric "Monty" Morris' cut "Hear Them Say" is another offbeat chapter in the Caltone story, barely fitting in with either early reggae or later-period ska, landing somewhere else with its odd key changes and swerving rhythm. Rounded out by glimmering vocal tracks by the Kingstonians and grooving proto-lovers rock from Devon & the Tartans, Listen to the Music is a fantastic look at a relatively lost label. The intermediate time in the history of Jamaican music documented here gave rise to so many subgenres and movements in sound, and this collection is a window into the moments that helped those movements break through.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas