Mighty Sparrow / Byron Lee

Only a Fool

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Trinidad's Slinger Francisco, known professionally as Mighty Sparrow, and Jamaica's Byron Lee met in the mid-'60s and became fast friends, and in 1969 they entered Lee's Jamaican Dynamic Sounds studio and recorded Only a Fool, an attempt to mash together their divergent styles and audiences. The result was unfortunately more Lee in tone than Sparrow, tending to a bland, middle-of-the-road sound that was pleasant enough but hardly designed to ruffle feathers or stir up a whole lot of excitement. The innocuous title track was a minor international hit, but none of these dozen tracks is particularly memorable. True, Sparrow attempts to inject a little calypso excitement into the mix with moderately feisty versions of "Maria" and "Sandra" and even gets a hair political with the cautious "Peace and Love," but most of what is here leans to Lee's play-it-safe philosophy of bleaching Caribbean rhythms into a dull tourist attraction-like state of smoothed-out inertia. Why else do listeners get a rhythmically upbeat but completely inappropriate rearrangement of "Theme from Dr. Zhivago"? It might sound cool to tourists just off the boat, but it's background Muzak at best, pure and simple. And Sparrow isn't exempt from blame, either. Witness his version of "Born Free," which goes nowhere with a ponderous lack of pace and dynamics. Sparrow and Lee reunited in the studio a half dozen years later for 1975's Again! LP, which was amazingly even more lackluster and uninspired than Only a Fool.

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