Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Jamaica: Roots Music From the Loudest Island on the Planet

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Compilation producer Steve Barrow had a monstrous job awaiting him in assembling a single-disc representation of music in modern Jamaica. While the giant ghost of Bob Marley's influence still flies high in the Caribbean sky, the island of Jamaica has never stopped for a moment looking for the next rhythm, song trend, or DJ style to further its reputation as one of the most musically progressive places on earth. The enhancement of this 20-track collection with a data track containing information on travel and guides to where to experience Jamaican music makes this a doubly wonderful offering. By leaving Marley and the original Wailers -- as well as Lee Perry, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, and other early innovators -- off the compilation, Barrow left himself and the set open to criticism, but also opened up space to offer the work of important innovators from years past who have not received the recognition they've deserved, as well as current scientists who are creating an entirely new reggae from the ashes of the past. Among the old school heroes are I-Roy and Big Youth -- who almost invented the DJ dancehall style -- and John Holt, who as a producer, singer, and songwriter has placed too many hits to count on the Jamaican charts. There are also contributions from the Maytals, Junior Reid, the late soul-reggae crooner Dennis Brown, style-smart singer Lopez Walker, and Laurel Aitken. From the middle years there is Roland Alphonso with his "Payton Place" and Cornel Campbell with "I Shall Not Remove." But the set comes full circle when it showcases Yami Bolo's "Blood a Run," the ragga dancehall-lighting speech-rap of Shabba Ranks, Home T & Cocoa Tea's "Holding On," and finally, Luciano's "Poor & Simple" (offering ample evidence as to why he is being called the finest reggae singer on the planet). The CD choices are arguable; every single track could have been another by the same or a different artist -- such is the wealth of material Barrow had to choose from. But this is what he chose; this is the vision of Jamaica's vast musical treasure trove he chose to share as a soundtrack, a travel guide through the island's musical history, and a killer dance party album. It is not to be missed.

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