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Volume 91, Issue 16
Wednesday, September 24, 1997
Jammin' with island anthologies
Roots Rocking:The Island Anthology
Sound System: The Island Anthology
TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS
Time Tough: The Anthology
Since its inception in 1959, Island Records, under the tutelage of founder Chris Blackwell, has long been considered the spiritual home of reggae music. And while it's true that small fly-by-night Jamaican labels had been releasing ska and reggae for years before, Island Records was the first label to give the musicians their due both musically and financially.
So the arrival of these three double-disc anthologies is great news for reggae fans. All three are wonderfully-assembled replete, with proper band histories, a wealth of previously-unavailable tracks and as many tunes as technology allows on a compact disc.
The success of each individual collection depends ultimately on the context of the recordings in relation to the band's history. The British-born Jamaicans of Aswad heard Bob Marley's musical call early on and entered the fray with political and socially-conscious reggae. Roots Rocking shows that as time went on they slyly recreated themselves as a pop reggae outfit that made up in soulful commercial savvy for what they lost in political awareness.
Steel Pulse, also from the UK, were more consistent. Theirs was a more traditional approach vis--vis reggae, but always with a simmering social message and skank rhythms. If Sound System demonstrates anything new about the group, it's that over 15 years with Island, musically and politically, Steel Pulse are the true heirs of Bob Marley's musical legacy.
But the best of these three anthologies is Time Tough, a superb distillation of the career of Toots Hibbert and the Maytals. What sets Toots and The Maytals apart from their reggae contemporaries is Toots himself. He is arguably the heir to the impassioned soul legacy of Otis Redding in everything but musical sensibilities.
Hibbert came straight from Jamaica and while he loved reggae, he also had more than a couple of Stax soul albums in his collection. The resultant style is Trenchtown via Memphis and while he did formalize the obvious musical debt with Toots In Memphis in 1988, his entire oeuvre up to that album proves the point effortlessly.
Whereas Aswad and Steel Pulse were to leave Island Records in the '80s, Toots and The Maytals story on Time Tough takes us to the most recent chapter of their wonderful career. It is the most complete story of the three.
Roots Rocking, Sound System and Time Tough are all exemplary packages which authoritatively summarize three compelling chapters of the Island Records story. Still, if a nod is to be given here it would have to be to Time Tough for both its completeness and its thrilling music. Regardless, all are recommended for novices and fans.
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