Various Artists

Reggae: The Essential Album

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There's a lot of good music on this two-CD, 30-song compilation, but it overbills itself. This isn't the most essential reggae album, or even one of the most essential reggae compilations, due to imbalances in both chronology and quality. The first disc is certainly the less impressive, largely offering a scattershot selection of material from the 1980s and 1990s, incongruously interrupted by a couple classics (Dave Barker and Ansel Collins' "Double Barrel," Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves") of earlier vintage. Though some big names (Ini Kamoze, Chaka Demus, Barrington Levy, Cutty Ranks, Shabba Ranks, Gregory Isaacs, Aswad) are on this first disc, they're not always represented by their best material. You'll also have a hard time convincing many reggae fans that this stuff measures up to the best reggae from the '60s and '70s, especially in view of the over-production on some cuts. If you are one of those who feel the late '60s and early '70s were reggae's golden age, you'll have a hard time quarreling with disc two, which largely sticks to those eras (and has nothing from 1980 onward). Plenty of core reggae classics are on this half of the anthology, including John Holt's "The Tide Is High," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites," Harry J All-Stars' "Liquidator" (whose opening riff was lifted for the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There"), Bob & Marcia's "Young, Gifted and Black," Toots & the Maytals' "Pressure Drop," and Susan Cadogan's "Hurt So Good." Also included are some of the reggae singles that crossed over most heavily to the pop charts in the U.K. market, such as Janet Kay's "Silly Games" and Ken Boothe's "Everything I Own." Still, many of the songs on disc two have shown up on other, and sometimes better, reggae compilations.

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