Gregory Isaacs

The Best of Gregory Isaacs, Vol. 1 [Channel One]

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Gregory Isaacs had been haunting the Kingston studios since 1968, but it wasn't until 1973 that the singer notched up a hit, and another year before he finally topped the chart. That first number one, "Love Is Overdue," was produced by Alvin Ranglin, one of a slew of sensational songs Isaacs cut for the former Maytone in the mid-'70s. Like many singers turned producers, Ranglin had a fabulous ear for melody, and he made it the centerpiece of all his productions. Even during this period, when adamant rhythms were de rigueur, Ranglin softened their effect by lacing arrangements with warm, cheery brass alongside glowing organ and sparkling piano, courtesy of Winston Wright and Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson, respectively. Recorded at Channel One studio, these types of glorious riddims were the backbone of The Best of Gregory Isaacs, the singer's third album. Contrary to its suggestive title, this was not a compilation of hits at all, at least not yet. A couple of numbers had already seen success as singles, including "Look Before You Leap" and "My Number One," but the rest of the record was all new. Many of these songs, however, would swiftly become Isaacs' standards, including the seductive "Special Guest," the aching "Tear Drops" (with exquisite backing from the Tamlins, who offered up harmonies across the set), the cultural classic "No Speech," and his emotive cover of Hortense Ellis' "Willow Tree." Equally worthy of note are a soulful cover of the Ellis siblings' "Breaking Up" and the incredibly haunting "Cool You." Then again, every song on this set is a standout. So, when is a best-of set without a host of hits still a best-of set? The answer is simple: when -- like this best-of -- it showcases the artist at his very best.

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