Various Artists

Skankin' Ska

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When the Jamaican practice of imitating U.S. R&B was redefined by the addition of the after-beat accent, the island had its very own music style. The ska sound would dominate the Jamaican record industry during the first half of the '60s, after which it was supplanted by rocksteady. Skankin' Ska gathers 15 pre-reggae cuts from the Skatalites, the Maytals, Prince Buster, and others. In addition to the early releases of artists like Derrick Morgan, Delroy Wilson, and Justin Hinds, the formative works of these groups constitute the most important recordings of the era. Though the original incarnation of the Skatalites lasted a mere 14 months, the band recorded prolifically, cutting sides for the top producers, and the music they made had a resounding influence on what was to come. The band, along with various alumni, are featured on half the tracks here, shining on a series of ska scorchers like "Shake a Lady," "Smiling," and "Red Is Danger." Further standouts include the Maytals' jubilant "He's Real" and Ferdie Nelson's storming "Ska Down Jamaica." The disc's biggest drawback is its poor sound quality. Pops and clicks mar many of the songs, a regrettable fact that makes other, similar compilations well worth mentioning. The two-volume Intensified set and Club Ska '67 (both on Island) offer more general overviews of the era and are a recommended place to start. Those looking for a closer look at the early days of the Maytals and the Skatalites should seek out Never Grow Old and Foundation Ska, respectively. Collections like these surpass Skankin' Ska in both fidelity and song selection.

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