Various Artists

Raw Roots, Vol. 1

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In '70s reggae, producer/arranger Phil Pratt occupied a place comparable to that of someone like Bobby Eli in Philadelphia soul. Though Eli wasn't as famous as Gamble & Huff or Thom Bell, he had an impressive track record. Similarly, Pratt wasn't as celebrated as Lee "Scratch" Perry, but he was respected in reggae circles and attracted his share of first-class talent. Raw Roots, Vol. 1, which the French Jet Set label put out in 1998, spotlights Pratt's 1971-75 work with selections by artists ranging from the Heptones (one of reggae's finest vocal groups) to solo singers like Dennis Brown, Pat Kelly and John Holt, and dubwise toasters such as U-Roy, Big Youth and Dennis Alcapone. On this compilation, original versions of songs are often followed by dubwise and instrumental versions. After you hear Kelly's Impressions-like "Talk About Love," Holt's haunting "Strange Thing" or Brown's remake of Santana's "Black Magic Woman," you'll also hear what happened when someone toasted over the track and how that track sounded without any vocals at all. Because it contains so many dubs and instrumental tracks, casual listeners might find Raw Roots a bit too esoteric. But hardcore reggae fans will find it to be a thoughtfully assembled, pleasing survey of Pratt's classic work.

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