Born in Jamaica but raised since his mid-teens in Florida, Winston Francis has carved out a name for himself on the British reggae scene but remains largely unknown in the U.S. On this album, he teams up with a crack studio crew drawn primarily from the stable of famed British reggae producer Dennis Bovell to pay tribute to the great singers and songwriters of the rocksteady era. Rocksteady emerged in the late '60s as a gentle reaction to ska; it took ska's jazzy, galloping backbeats and slowed them down, creating a more sensual and moody rhythm and leading to a greater focus on songs and sweet vocal harmonies. The songs Francis tackles on Sweet Rock Steady are true classics of the genre: "Baby" and "Why Did You Leave?" (from the Heptones' catalog), the Alton Ellis standard "Rock Steady," Bob Andy's "Feeling Soul," and, inevitably, two Curtis Mayfield covers, "You Don't Care" and the oft-recorded "Queen Majesty." Francis' voice is as strong and sweet as ever -- his falsetto is powerful where others are wispy, and his sense of phrasing and intonation are undiminished. The backing band plays in a slightly updated style, and the production (by guitarist and producer John Kpiaye) is maybe just a touch too slick. But this is a very enjoyable album overall.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson