Laurel Aitken

The Pioneer of Jamaican Music, Vol.1

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This Laurel Aitken disc provides something of an audio tour of early Jamaican music history. Covering the years 1957-1966, the selections take in the island's popular musical styles of the period, including calypso, mento (Jamaican folk music with calypso strains), Jamaican R&B, and ska. A mix of calypso and mento numbers kicks things off, some including hand drums and proto-Rastafarian lyrics inspired by Jamaica's popular gospel revival churches ("Mas Charlie (Prisoner Song)," "Nebuchadnezzar"). The topical bent of calypso is well represented too, with songs covering both politics ("Ghana Independence (They Got It)") and sports ("West Indian Cricket Test"). Aitken indulges in several Jamaican R&B numbers in the middle of the disc, showing how island musicians turned the U.S. R&B beat inside out; standout tracks in this style include "Going Back to Kansas City" and "Mash Potato Boogie." Also in the R&B vein are gospel tunes like "Judgement Day" and "I Believe," the latter featuring an infectious New Orleans shuffle-blues beat. The last third of the program is dedicated to some excellent ska, including such standouts as "We Shall Overcome," the joyously manic "Green Banana," and "Bachelor Life" ("A life without a wife is like a kitchen without a knife"). Contributing to the fine musical backing heard throughout are tenor saxophonists Val Bennett and Stanley Ribbs, guitarist Ernest Ranglin, and trombonist Rico Rodriguez. This is a great title for students and fans of early Jamaican music. For listeners expecting a program of just ska and/or rocksteady, though, the good number of calypso and R&B tunes here might be a turn off.

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