Various Artists

Trojan Box Set: Rock Steady

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This 50-song, three-CD set is about as good as it gets as a compilation. The box delights, teases, and fascinates from its opening number, "Rock Steady" by Alton Ellis -- practically the first record ever to use that term. Ellis and well-known acts like Desmond Dekker, the Maytals, the Paragons, Justin Hinds & the Dominoes, and the Melodians share space with lesser-known acts such as the Versatiles, the Federals, Derrick Harriott, and the Uniques. The majority of the acts emphasize vocals, and a great degree of soulful lyricism, whereas the Maytals display a sound and a quality of musicianship closer in content and spirit to the best folk-rock acts of the period. Not all of it is exactly groundbreaking; the pedestrian "You You" by the Natives becomes generic background music very quickly. The expected names, such as the Gaylads ("It's Hard to Confess") and Lyn Taitt & the Jets (a rare instrumental version of "To Sir With Love"), do tend to dominate the proceedings. Derrick Morgan's big rocksteady hit "Greedy Gal" isn't here, but in its place is "Conquering Ruler," another worthy showcase of his talents as a singer and songwriter. Also present is the Michael Jackson of the rocksteady boom, Errol Dunkley ("You're Gonna Need Me"), who cut a string of hits in his mid-teens. Juxtaposed with heavier numbers like "Dreader Than Dread" by Honey Boy Martin, this mix of songs is a good cross-section of this short-lived but dazzlingly creative period in Jamaican (and British) music. The sound quality is generally excellent, although a few of the tracks sound like they're not from first-generation sources. The only glaring flaw is the virtual absence of serious liner notes.

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