Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rocksteady, hats off to the men!

This album is a soundtrack for a film by Swiss film maker Stascha Bader that looked at the short lived precursor to roots reggae, rocksteady. In some ways it can be compared to Wim Wenders Bueana Vista Social Club in that it revolves around a reunion of major figures from that period. Meeting up in Tuff Gong Studios the veterans re-recorded some of the major songs of the period; sadly some of the artists are no longer rocking so stars of equal stature and ability stepped in to fill the gaps, for example the legendary U Roy fills the gap left by Scotty on a new version of Stop That Train.

Unfortunately I missed the film so I only have the YouTube clip to go on, and this album. As a stand alone piece of music it works; all the favourites are here - You Don't Love Me, The Tide Is High, Rivers of Babylon - which may pose a problem for the real reggae fan being as they will probably have the originals already, in all their raw glory. That said there's space in the world for beautifully realised versions, well recorded and solidly performed. Music buffs will appreciate the high recording quality that has been brought to the project.

Probably lovers of Cuban music found the Buena Vista versions lacking in a certain essence that their scratchy earlier versions possessed but speaking as someone who was never that acquainted with the originals they worked fine for me. This record should have the same effect on people who haven't spent many nights nodding into the bass bins of their youth. In fact some versions stand out; Derrick Morgan's Conquering Ruler and Hopeton Lewis' Take It Easy go down like cold stout on a hot Kingston afternoon and the playing throughout is smooth, as you'd expect with the god-like Ernest Ranglin MDing the project.

If you already have these tracks on various compilations you might not be bothered getting the album, unless you're a completeist, but if you want to know where it all came from and you don't know where to start this is a good place.