Straight Outta Trenchtown: 1975-1980

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When Knowledge recorded its first two albums in the late '70s, the group consisted of guitarist Michael Smith, singer and songwriter Anthony Doyley, and additional vocalists Earl McFarlane, Michael Samuels, and Delroy Fawlin (who also contributed a handful of songs). Although the band would never achieve significant commercial success, and despite the violent deaths of several of its founding members, it continued to make albums throughout the 1980s. Straight Outta Trenchtown: 1975-1980 brings together five tracks each from the first two albums (Hail Dread and Judgment), several of them in extended "disco mix" versions with dub mixes appended at the end. While the material here is mostly quite good, it is also obvious why the group did not achieve greater popularity during its career: Vocally, the members are a bit ragged, and there is an almost complete dearth of memorable melodies. However, the top-notch producers and studio musicians involved in these sessions provide Knowledge with brilliant roots reggae grooves, and when the vocals rise to the occasion the result is electrifying: note in particular the darkly joyful "Hail Dread" and the slowly churning "Give I Some Work" (which features a cello solo by Robbie Shakespeare!). At the end of the album is a hidden track, another disco-mix version of "What's Yours" featuring toasting by Tapper Zukie. Recommended.