In 2004, Reggae on the River, the annual northern California festival, celebrated its 20th anniversary, and this compilation captures many of the highlights of that year's three-day festival. Thirteen artists are showcased, and one can only pity the person, presumably RAS label head Doctor Dread, forced to pick and choose not just between the artists, but to select a single song to represent each of their sets.
The result, though, is phenomenal, buttressed by the CD's sequencing, that captures the ebb and flow of a live concert. So the set kicks off with Anthony B's superb "Raid the Barn," its sharp cultural message eagerly embraced by the crowd. Culture's "International Herb" goes down a storm, as does Israel Vibration's unity themed "Same Song," while Third World offer up a history lesson on their classic "96 Degrees in the Shade," boasting phenomenal work for lead guitarist Cat Coore.
Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths' powerful performance of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is an equal crowd pleaser. And two of Marley's own brood later take the stage -- Damian "Junior Gong" to perform a solo tribute to himself, the ragamuffin tough "Mr. Marley," and in consort with brother Stephen, for the reverential "It Was Written (Book of Life)." However, it's Oliver Mutukudzi heartfelt "Hear Me Lord," world music at its most magnificent, that really gets the crowds swaying.
Beres Hammond turns up the heat, and sets women's hearts fluttering with his medley of "She Loves Me Now" and "Step Aside." But the festival's show stopper award, at least judging by this CD, is shared between two very different groups, Michael Franti and Spearhead and Toots & the Maytals. The Jamaican transforms his 1972 reggae smash "54-46 Was My Number" into a gospel gala that has the crowd screaming for more, while the American hip-hop/R&B hero brings the house down with a storming rendition of "We Don't Stop."
And you'll be begging the same, although the CD does end all too soon, leaving you hungry for a second disc, or even better, entire albums dedicated to each artist. Now there's a thought, perhaps a write-in campaign could bring it about.