While the average American's perception of reggae music tends to be centered around ganja, good times and Jah, anyone who has seriously studied Jamaican popular culture knows that they value the bad ass above and beyond all else, so it's no wonder that Italian Westerns from the 1960s and '70s were a popular item on the island. Violent, amoral and invariably dominated by charismatic anti-heroes (and equally fascinating villains), "spaghetti westerns" were the cinematic bread and butter of the rude boys who dominated the early Jamaican reggae scene, and it's no mistake that Jimmy Cliff's character in The Harder They Come checks out Sergio Corbucci's classic Django shortly after arriving in Kingston -- and flashes back on the flick during his final gun battle with police. No small number of primal reggae tunes were inspired to some degree by the great Italian Westerns, and The Big Gundown collects 26 tracks from the Trojan Records archives which owe a debt of influence to classic spaghetti westerns. While many simply draw their titles from favorite movies, such as "A Taste of Killing" by the Upsetters or "Savage Colt" by the Eldorados, several feature bizarre recitations that mimic and/or pay homage to classic bits of business, most notably "They Call Me Trinity" by Joe White and the Crystalites and Lee Perry's "Clint Eastwood." A few also interpolate bits of classic movie themes, and some sort of award ought to go to Lloyd Charmers' amazing "Dollars and Bonds," which in both music and narrative brings together 007 and The Man With No Name for the first time. Even if you have no interest in European genre cinema, there's plenty of excellent early reggae on this collection (all cuts were recorded between 1968 and 1972, and remastered with no fear of bass), with the oddball vocal treatments and echoey instrumentals on many tracks pointing to the dawning of dub, which lurked around the corner. Ideal intermission music for your next Sergio Leone Film Festival, and a lot easier to dance to than those Ennio Morricone discs.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming