Roy Shirley

Your Musical Priest

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Eccentric as they come, with a live stage show that was as unpredictable as it was intense (complete with eye-scorching apparel that would make a colorblind golfer cringe), Jamaican soul man Roy Shirley has been woefully underserved in the CD era. Trojan has a two-disc Shirley retrospective on the market that muddies the waters as much as it clears them, and while this single-disc compilation from West Side seems to have a sharper vision of this unique artist, it sticks pretty much to his early years (covering 1966 to 1971) and really only begins to scratch the surface. Most of the tracks here were self-produced by Shirley, although a handful were done for producers Joe Gibbs, Lloyd Charmers, and Bunny Lee, and each features the same odd, American soul-derived phrasing that gives Shirley a large part of his appeal. Never a good singer in the traditional sense, his vocals have the sort of swooning, even keening, kinetics that make them immediately identifiable, and Shirley succeeds as much by the power of his personality as he does by his technique. Among the highlights are the song that almost single-handedly created rocksteady, "Hold Them" (the version here appears to be a slightly different mix than the original single), "Musical Train," and "A Sugar." Also included are two shared vocals with Slim Smith (Smith and Shirley combined with Franklyn White to form the first incarnation of the Uniques) on "Evil Love" and "The Facts of Love." Again, this collection is hardly the complete story, but until such a release comes along, Your Musical Priest remains probably the best place to start to sample this one of a kind performer.

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