Sunday, December 6, 2020
Duff Review: Various Artists "This Is Jamaica Ska"
Rocka Shacka/Studio One
LP/CD (includes two bonus tracks)
(Review by Steve Shafer)
In addition to the stellar Intensified! Original Ska 1962-1966 and More Intensified! Original Ska 1963-67 Vol. 2 compilations released by Island Records/Mango in 1979 and 1980 respectively (which directly inspired the first generation of traditional-minded ska bands in the USA), there were always represses of a few Studio One ska comps floating around the New York City record shops in the '80s that were fairly easy to be had, including History Of Ska Vol. 1 - The Golden Years 60-65, History Of Ska Vol. 2 - The Golden Years 66-69, Oldies But Goodies Volume 1 and 2, and This Is Jamaica Ska. For anyone who wasn't able to pick up a copy of This Is Jamaica Ska back in the day (or wants a pristine pressing in their collection), Japan's Rocka Shacka has just reissued this phenomenal album (and is releasing a series of related singles: The Blue Beats "Finger Mash" b/w The Skatalites "Salt Lane Ska" (alternate mix), The Gaylads "Gal & Boy" b/w Roland Alphonso "20-75," The Blue Beats "Change your Gear" b/w Roland Alphonso "Lee Harvey Jnr.," The Wailers "Simmer Down" b/w "How Many Times," and Andy & Joey "Wonder No More" b/w Don Drummond & Roland Alphonso "Heaven & Earth"). As Brian Keyo states in his liner notes, this really is a Skatalites album--they back all of the singers here--and captures them at the height of their powers in '64 (it also showcases Coxsone Dodd's incredible roster and productions). As well, Keyo notes the origins of these tracks, many of which are covers, including "Salt Lane Gal," which is a version of the 1952 mento cut "Swine Lane Gal" by Lord Fly with Dan Williams and Orchestra; "Bongo Tango" is an adaptation of Monty Kelly and his Orchestra's 1959 "Tango Bongo"; "Sucu Sucu" is a wildly popular 1959 Latin track written by Tarateño Rojas and was used by Laurie Johnson as the theme song for the 1961 UK TV show "Top Secret"; and "20-75" was Willie Mitchell's R&B instrumental hit in 1964. Side A is tremendously good from start to finish, evenly split between superb instrumentals and stellar vocal cuts by The Wailers ("Simmer Down"), Jackie Opel (the deliciously innocent-but-naughty "Push Wood"), and Andy & Joey ("Wonder No More"--their follow-up to "You're Wondering Now"). The flip side is almost as consistently strong--though the stand-out tracks are Alphonso's cover of "20-75" and his duet with Don Drummond on the powerful "Heaven & Earth." The title of this compilation doesn't lie--this album represents some of the best JA ska of that era.