Various Artists

Reggae Jamaica Stylee, Vol. 1

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Try to ignore the cheesy packaging and the even cheesier compilation title. This six-disc set, which lists at around $20, is not only a world-class bargain, but it's also one of the better surveys of roots and early dancehall reggae ever put together. Usually these super-bargain reggae box sets are filled with second-rate cover versions by unknown artists or hack work from tour-guide darlings like Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, but on this one, the quality is surprisingly consistent. There are a few unknown mediocrities like Dreadline and the Blackstones on the 108-song program, but the vast bulk of the artists represented are top-notch: Johnny Clarke, Alton Ellis, Marcia Griffiths, the Heptones, Dennis Brown, and even criminally under-anthologized performers like George Faith and the Paragons make appearances -- most of them appear five or six times. Griffiths delivers the Bunny Wailer classic "Dreamland"; John Holt does a credible version of "In the Midnight Hour"; and Bob Marley weighs in with "Soul Rebel." There are lots of reggae version of 1960s and '70s pop hits ("Unchained Melody," "Release Me," etc.), which are always lots of fun. Highly recommended.

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