It’s hard to top the nirvana of a summer afternoon spent lazing on a snorkeling boat in Montego Bay, soaking up the scorching August sun and enjoying tropical rum drinks and reggae, among other homegrown delights. Back here on planet Everyday, there’s a new, attractively packaged compilation from the Putumayo folks to remind us of the distinctive musical pleasures of the island nation.
The disc, Jamaica, is an appealingly programmed collection of classic and contemporary reggae.
Bob Marley isn’t here, but other familiar artists and tunes clock in, beginning with “Reggae Got Soul” by Toots and the Maytalls. The anthem, a 1976 signature song for Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, is soaked in the R&B, soul and gospel influences that have served to make his music so identifiable and infectious.
Conscious roots reggae is the specialty of Culture, organized by Joseph Hill in 1975 and still going strong. The sociopolitical punch and slow-burning groove of the harmony trio’s “Why Am I A Rastaman,” released last year, go a long way in explaining the group’s durability. Jimmy Cliff, a born entertainer whose career dates back to ’60s ska, hints at his artistic philosophy with the lively, horn-punctuated “Give the People What They Want” (1981). Black Uhuru’s “Sponji Reggae” (1981) is fueled by the hypnotic rhythm section of bassist Sly Dunbar and drummer Robbie Shakespeare. And the late Peter Tosh is heard on the pun-littered “Mystery Babylon” (1979).
Several lesser-known notables are included, with trombonist Rico Rodriguez (the Specials) turning in “Midnight in Ethiopia” (1979) and Israel Vibration wielding sticky rhythms and distinct vocal harmonies for “Rudeboy Shufflin’,” a 1995 song that has Albert “Apple” Craig insisting, “You better put me ’pon your MTV.” Not a bad idea: I’d take these guys over Kid Rock or Eminem any day.
Also included are contributions from a pair of artists who died two years ago — bluesy singer Joe Higgs, with 1988’s “Upside Down” and melodica player Augustus Pablo, with 1972’s “Point Blank.” All give good vibes.
E-mail Philip Booth at [email protected].