Barrington Levy

RAS Portraits

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This compilation is a bit of a mishmash, which by using the RAS label's own release dates apparently gathers up material from 1991-1996, but in reality actually encompasses much earlier material. Two-thirds of Portraits is drawn equally from Prison Oval Rock and Here I Come, which were originally released in Jamaica back in 1983 and 1984, respectively. However, as Prison was itself a singles compilation, some of these tracks actually date all the way back to 1980. Levy released a lone live album after 1984, until his career was reactivated with the Divine album in 1990. Portraits picks up at this point, then skips a couple of albums and begins again with 1995's Duets and its follow-up, Time Capsule. Best to ignore the chronological chaos then, and concentrate on the album as a musical whole. Unfortunately, the record seems to have been sequenced by a bipolar jumping bean, leaping madly back and forth between uptempo ragga and more laid-back roots numbers, creating a very disjointed and disconcerting aural experience. Which just leaves the songs themselves. Are these the best dozen from these periods? That's a judgment call, and even if one is tempted to answer no, virtually everything here can make a strong case for inclusion. There's no arguing with such dancehall smashes as "Living Dangerously" and "Under Mi Sensi," nor with such crucial '80s cuts as the rootsy dub of "Robber Man" and "Mary Long Tongue," and who could resist Levy's command to "Do the Dance"? But with so much fabulous material to choose from, Portraits' miserly dozen cuts leaves one desperately wishing to hear more. Thus, at best, this is merely a great taster for the seminal toaster who brought roots to the dancehall.

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