Bo Marley – B Is For Bob

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Another Marley album… produced by Ziggy Marley!… for which he took the original masters of eight classic songs and revised the instrumentation and arrangements, even using some of his father’s alternate vocal tracks”It’s a very different vibe,” says Ziggy, “but still real Bob. It’s not like fake Bob. It’s still the real Bob…It’s Bob singing and I’m playing, like an acoustic session almost. Anything I did on this record is soulful and musical. There’s no gimmicks. I’m keeping true to the spirit of my father, to the spirit of his music.

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Funky Kingston – Reggae Dancefloor Grooves 1968-74

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American soul music was one of the formative influences on the development of ska in 1960s Jamaica, and since ska eventually slowed down and turned into rocksteady, which then slowed and thickened even further into reggae, it can be argued that soul music is one of the stylistic pillars of reggae for that reason. But, in fact, American soul continued to inform Jamaican reggae even as both styles were developing throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as this fascinating compilation makes clear. Bands like Toots & the Maytals were deeply influenced by James Brown (check out “Funky Kingston” and “Funky Funky,” which open and close this album, respectively), and reggae versions of American funk and soul hits were very common. The Chosen Few covered both “Funky Stuff” (as “Reggae Stuff”) and “Do Your Thing”; Lloyd Charmers even did a reggae version of “Shaft.” Not all of these versions were entirely successful, of course — that cover of “Shaft” is hilarious, but probably not intentionally so — but even the most ill-advised covers are lots of fun, and the best ones, such as the Pioneers’ darkly brilliant version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” bring new insight to songs that were classics to begin with.

Jennifer Lara – Studio One Presents Jennifer Lara

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Jennifer Lara released her debut album for Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label in 1974. ‘Studio One Presents Jennifer Lara’ was an instant success, along with a massive hit single with ‘Where have all the good men gone?’. Also several notable contributions as duet or backing singer, with Freddie McGregor on ‘I Am Ready’, and in the eighties with Prince Far-I, Henry Junjo Lawes and Tristan Palmer. In the nineties she worked for King Jammy, on ‘I wanna sex you up’ with Thriller U [!!], ‘You Turn me on’ with Bounty Killer and ‘Stop’ with Major Mackerel.

Jazz Jamaica Allstars – Skaravan

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Recorded in 1993, it took three years for this to see the light of day in the U.S.–until the ska explosion had started. But although the Skatalites are an obvious reference point (this band even includes trombonist Rico Rodriguez, a former Skatalite), this definitely isn’t the junior version. Sure there’s some of the same material, but Jazz Jamaica’s sound is rooted in the more complex rhythms of reggae, using that as a jumping-off point to the infinite spaces of jazz. The originals cook beautifully, and their version of Charlie Parker’s “Barbados” fairly sizzles with enthusiasm and skill

Ernest Ranglin – Below The Bassline

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Below the Bassline is a successfully smooth integration of traditional reggae and jazz: two music forms that may not immediately spring to mind when contemplating the flawless mixture of music styles. However, the collective featured in this album — and Ranglin (a reggae and ska rhythm innovator) is a chief among them — plays 55 minutes of island tree-swaying, soul-backed precision. Ira Coleman’s bass playing is not the focus of this album, even though the title seems to suggest so. Nor does the focus of this album fall upon the popular funk and fusion (and yes, even disco) drummer Idris Muhammad. In fact, there is only one brief drum solo by Muhammad on Below the Bassline, and it is the first thing you hear. Muhammad opens up “Congo Man Chant” with a snare-laden solo whose rhythm quickly involves RanglinĀ  and Coleman, who collaborate to play eight bars of a rapid but laid-back bassline. Monty Alexander jumps in with the piano and brings Ernest along with him as they determine what ends up being the refrain for a moving piano solo sandwiched between two adept Ranglin solos. There are two ska rhythm selections on this album, “Ball of Fire,” on which Roland Alphonso plays saxophone, and “Bourbon Street Skank,” which features some of Ranglin’s most dexterous playing (also heard on “Nana’s Chalk Pipe”). The title track is immediately identifiable as reggae, with its organ stabs on the down side of the beat, Muhammad’s gentle but consistent treatment of the hi-hats, Ranglin’s lyrical playing on the guitar, and the overall slow, relaxed tempo and feel of the tune. It is an accurate capsule of Below the Bassline, another testament to the skill of the legendary Ernest Ranglin and the other musicians featured here.