Dennis Brown

Tracks of Life

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For fans of a prolific artist as Dennis Brown, who's knocked out more albums and notched up more hit singles in his career than some entire rock scenes, compilations are essential, but inevitably essentially frustrating. Few are well-organized, most contain little or no information on the tracks themselves, while smashes rub shoulders with far inferior numbers. Tracks of Life is no exception to this rule, sweeping across a swath of Brown's career with no sense of chronology, and mixing must-have tunes with could-have-lived-without tracks. Invariably, there's a clutch of Niney the Observer productions scattered across the set; there almost always is. Reaching further back in time, though, there's also a fistful of Brown's cuts for Derrick Harriott, including the seminal "He Can't Spell," as well as the disposable cover of "Wichita Lineman." From this same early period, there are also a couple of productions from the Chins and their cousin Herman Chin-Loy. Needless to say, it's the Niney material that's the meat and potatoes of this compilation, and virtually every one is a masterpiece. There are equally crucial numbers from Joe Gibbs -- "Cassandra" and "Money in My Pocket." "Black Magic Woman" may not be a cultural classic, but it was a phenomenal cover, and that Garfield Phillips production is included here too. Many roots fans turned their noses up at Brown's later work, but there's plenty of excellent music from the '80s featured within to prove them wrong, including some sizzling Prince Jammy numbers. The set bounces around the years like a ping-pong ball, and not every number is Brown at his very best, but as overviews go, Tracks of Life does the artist no disservice, which is more than one can say for many of these compilations.

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