His royal Bobness
Those looking to stock up on some reggae for the Caribana weekend should check out the Essential Bob Marley & the Wailers (EMI) double-disc collection. The generic-looking sleeve art makes it seem like just another bargain-bin hits set, but you actually get a thoughtfully compiled and crisply remastered sampler of the Wailers ' early productions, overseen by Leslie Kong , Bunny Lee and Scratch Perry . There are more than a few pleasant surprises, like the trippy novelty number Mr. Brown and the beautiful Bunny Wailer -sung Dreamland, along with early versions of stone classics Lively Up Yourself, Natural Mystic and Small Axe. Sweet.
One of the trickle-down benefits of Mick Hucknall's Blood & Fire reggae reissue program has been the career revitalization of forgotten pioneers like roots dancehall great Joseph "Ranking Joe" Jackson , one of the key influences on a generation of toasters like Josey Wales and Charlie Chaplin . The Netherlands-based M Records label, run by Twilight Circus mainman Ryan Moore , has just released World In Trouble, a new Ranking Joe disc that sounds like a lost 70s session - it's that good. The remarkable vintage sound is no accident, since producer Moore assembled a reggae dream team for the session, including Style Scott , Chinna Smith , Dean Fraser and Bobby Ellis , with Michael Rose lending soulful vocal support to Ranking Joe's fire-and-brimstone chants. Also worth a spin is Rose's own similarly righteous African Roots (M Records) disc with the same stellar studio cast. Too tough.
Damon does it
Perhaps to atone for the sins Blur committed in the name of pop music, Damon Albarn has admirably put some of his ill-gotten gains to good use by starting up the Honest Jon's label and reissuing historically important recordings by such iconoclastic visionaries as Sun Ra, Cedric "Im" Brooks and Moondog. One of Honest Jon's finest moments was the 50s calypso comp London Is The Place For Me , which they've just followed up with a boffo second volume that builds on the retrospective concept by documenting the exciting sounds of Nigerian jazz and highlife and South African kwela breaking out in post-war London. You need it.
When it comes to quality roots reggae reissues, London's Auralux label is proving a top-notch operation, packing their collector-conscious compilations with insightful liner notes and rarely seen colour photos while also doing a brilliant job of remastering from less than ideal source material. The latest release is the fabulous Sufferation: The Deep Roots Reggae Of Niney The Observer , which salvages some ridiculously rare and great Niney productions in full-length versions. The sound is sometimes crackly, but it's worth putting up with a little noise to hear stuff like the Rockstones ' Burn Me Out and Oh Jah Man, Horace Andy 's Them Never Tell I, Dennis Brown 's Jah Is Watching You with Dillinger providing the Flat Foot Hustling and Tyrone Taylor 's wicked title track. Nice.