Compilations from Adrian Sherwood's massive On U Sound catalog are not unusual, but Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. 1: 1979 - 1984 is. Rather than focus exclusively on reggae or blasted funk on the dub plates and albums from the label's issued archives, this collection offers a slew of rarities from artists on several labels that Sherwood has worked with. Reggae is here of course, but it's inside a range of tracks with post-punk, clattering future funk, woozy psychedelic dub, and pre-industrial sonic dance music craziness. Medium Medium's "Hungry, So Angry" from 1981, the first among these 14 tracks, is a sterling example. Its punk-funk has a quaking, spiny bassline and guitar interplay so infectious the Talking Heads tried to emulate its frenetic groove on Remain in Light. Maximum Joy's "Let It Take You There" features choppy, spaced-out, Stax-influenced guitars, rolling snares, and heavily reverbed horns while adding a classic R&B twist: this is funky soul-dub at its best. The edited version of Mark Stewart & the Maffia's "Learning to Cope with Cowardice" was a giveaway flexi-disc, while the Fall's "Middle Mass," from the Slates 10" (Rough Trade), features drums and bass higher in the band's mix than they would ever be again. Two fine examples of Sherwood's remix destruction are represented in Nadjma's "Some Day My Caliph Will Come" and Shriekback's dancefloor classic "Mistah Linn He Dead," both cuts are ripped up and remade from the ground up. "Running (Feeling Wild)" is an unreleased track by On U's Voice of Authority with Ashanti Roy of the Congos on vocals. The Slits' "Man Next Door" single is here, and underscores just how radical the group was -- Ari Up was also a member of On U's loose-knit New Age Steppers. Another On U studio collective was Singers & Players, whose "Reaching the Bad Man" is here (and features Bim Sherman on vocals). Other reggae all-stars are represented by an unreleased track from Prince Far I (one of Sherwood's mentors) backed by the Dub Syndicate with an amazing mix by the producer. Annie Anxiety's (aka Little Annie) "Third Gear Kills," from the classic Soul Possession album from 1984 (issued on Crass' Corpus Christi imprint), features members of the Dub Syndicate, African Head Charge, and Singers & Players. Vivien Goldman's crashing, booming "Private Armies Dub" (the B-side of the 99 Records single produced by John Lydon and Keith Levene). Sherwood's production on this flip features the bassline, guitar, and snare vamp from the Dub Syndicate's "The Show Is Coming." Goldman's reedy, spoken vocals are a stark yet totally organic-sounding juxtaposition. This first volume of Sherwood at the Controls contains no filler and hints at the treasure trove the mighty mixologist has buried in his vault.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek