When Marcia Griffiths' Play Me Sweet and Nice arrived in 1974, "Jamaica's First Lady of Song" had just left the hitmaking duo of Bob & Marcia -- best known for "Young, Gifted and Black" -- but was still a year away from forming the I-Threes with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt. Released in Jamaica on the Wildflower label, the album launched her solo career with what was considered an instant classic back home, but liberties were taken -- different cover art, a rearranged track list, and a new, less risqué title, Sweet Bitter Love -- when the U.K. label Trojan released their version later that same year. This 2006 reissue is Trojan's attempt to right those wrongs and then some. Besides the remastered sound, which is revelatory, there are no less than 14 winning bonus tracks from the era, including the singer's fantastic version of "The First Cut Is the Deepest" plus an alternate take of the album's Neil Diamond cover, "Play Me," with producer Lloyd Charmers adding his own vocals. The core album remains reggae at its most soulful, slinking, not skanking, through a wealth of pop and R&B-sourced material. Here, Marcia's smooth voice is laid-back in the best sense of the word, gracefully holding notes for extended periods and drawing out every last bit of sensuality these lyrics hold. Some might find that this even temperament makes for a limited listen across ten -- now 24 -- tracks, but longtime fans should appreciate this style, which Marcia grew away from as the days of the I-Threes and "Electric Boogie" came to pass. Prepare yourself for a slow, sexy journey, and this improved release reveals itself as both vital reggae and fascinating proto-lovers rock, but there's a headslap-worthy mistake that makes this reissue less than perfect. Who knows how or why, but side B of the original Play Me comes first, with the original -- and much better -- opener, "Here I Am Baby (Come and Take Me)," coming in at track six. It's an easily corrected mistake, and with so much care put into the rest of the package, this still stands as one of the most desirable gems the 21st century Trojan has unearthed.
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
feat: Lloyd Charmers