Various Artists

Top Rock Steady

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Joining the many ska, rocksteady, and early reggae collections put out by both Heartbeat and Trojan records, Top Rock Steady from the French label Esoldun features an appealing and competitive mix of vocal and instrumental cuts. All the tracks were originally recorded at producer Duke Reid's era-defining Treasure Isle studio between 1966 and 1968, and feature the urbane musical backing of Reid's house band of the time, Tommy McCook & the Supersonics. With McCook on tenor saxophone and flute, fellow ex-Skatalite Ernest Ranglin on guitar, and Winston Wright on organ, among others, the Supersonics contribute hip and breezy instrumentals like "Travelling on Bond Street" and the incredible "Rock Away," while also providing stellar support on vocal tracks by Phyllis Dillon, Alton Ellis, and Joya Landis. Adding to the stock of this fine material are several harmony numbers by three of the period's top vocal groups: the Techniques, the Paragons, and the Melodians. And even though cuts like the Paragons' "I Am Going to Tell" and the Techniques' "Travelling Man" can be found on other discs, there are enough rarities here, including Tommy & Dennis' "Folk Song" and another number by the Techniques ("Drink Wine"), to make this a worthwhile package. Relative to optimally engineered rocksteady titles like Heartbeat's Duke Reid's Treasure Chest, however, Top Rock Steady doesn't quite make the grade of some first-choice recommendations due to some below-par transfers and/or source material. And although it's certainly a good disc for enthusiasts, newcomers should start with other collections of Duke Reid's rocksteady sides like the aforementioned Treasure Chest disc or Trojan's Ba Ba Boom.

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