Although today usually extolled for his clever wordplay and innuendo-laced lyrics, Judge Dread's real love was reggae in all its forms; his rudeness was just a sign of his times. The ex-bouncer turned DJ turned hitmaker was so in tune with Jamaican music that he could even fool the islanders. Entering the scene back in 1972 with "Big 6," the magistrate rode the reggae train across the British charts for the next six years. Ska'd for Life is not a best-of collection; in fact, it only contains two hits, the yearning "Bring Back the Skins and "Jamaica Jerk Off," both from his 1977 charting 5th Anniversary EP. Nor is this a ska album. In fact, so diverse are the island styles within that, intentionally or not, this compilation celebrates just how eclectic Dread's music actually was. Reaching back into the ska age come sizzling covers of "Al Capone" and "Phoenix City"; from the rocksteady era comes a fine take on Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, a Message to You." "Deception" features the flawless stop-start rhythms of the early '70s, "Jamaica Jerk Off" is an equal tribute to the overblown symphonic reggae days, and "Confessions of a Bouncer" tackles the lavish sounds of lovers rock. Dread's hits rarely corresponded with the musical fashion of their day, but beyond his A-sides, the Judge judged all Jamaican music worthy of appeal, and avidly arranged his songs in the latest styles. "Banana Song" and "Big Punk," for example, skanked into roots reggae, "Rasta Chat" into rockers. "Mind the Door" featured the sharp reggae guitar and laid-back riff that was the classic sound of the mid-'70s, while "What Kung Fu That" bristled with the militant aura of the day. Contrarily, the calypso-fied "Rub a Dub" is not done a rub-a-dub at all; however, "Rudeness Train," whose title suggests rocksteady, actually features the kind of digitized ragga arrangement that preceded rub-a-dub. Dread's love of Jamaican music knew no bounds, and he paid tribute to it his entire career, long after the hits had stopped coming. This compilation showcases just how deep that love was across 18 sensationally eclectic tracks.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene