Original Blue Recordings Original Blue Recordings

Feb 19, 2003 at 12:00 am

Long regarded as “the Sam Cooke of reggae,” Jamaican vocalist Cornell Campbell comes off more like the genre’s Curtis Mayfield on this excellent and comprehensive compilation of his best work with producer Bunny Lee. Unlike, say, the usually good but sometimes merely archival Blood and Fire compilations of overlooked ’70s reggae, OBR has a relevance that extends beyond just cataloging a bygone era. Campbell’s falsetto sounds even more resonant among today’s crop of brazenly precious R&B singers (Usher, etc.) and tracks like the phenomenal “Just One Kiss (Magic Spell)” seem to beg for a modern interpretation by some velvet-throated New Jack. Campbell sings, “Just one kiss and I can’t sleep at night/It just goes on and on …” with a quiver in his voice that is as woefully whipped as it is proud to be so smitten.

Where attention is usually paid to reggae producers (King Tubby, Lee Perry, etc.) or more politically active frontmen (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh) of ’70s reggae, Campbell, like fellow singers Prince Allah and the like, have long been marginalized as disposable crooners. But Campbell here shows a more universal appeal than on his 1999 compilation, I Shall Not Remove, which sounded more like a historical document than a case for worldwide recognition. Wisely, the Moll-Selekta label has included Campbell’s take on Mayfield’s “I’m The One Who Loves You” and “You Don’t Care For Me,” as well as Cooke’s “I’m Just A Country Boy,” all of which try their damnedest to breath new life into songs instead of merely reggae-fying them.

E-mail Hobey Echlin at [email protected].