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V/A - Studio One Disco Mix

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Artist: V/A

Album: Studio One Disco Mix

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Jan. 20, 2005

Here’s a puzzler. Why select an organizing theme for a compilation album and then violate it? It’s kind of like cheating at solitaire. Studio One Disco Mix is ostensibly devoted to the extended mix 12” singles known as discomixes that came into vogue in Jamaica during the ’70s. Generally these records consisted of a single spliced together with its “version,” which could be a vocal-free backing track or a full-fledged dub, and could run upwards of 10 minutes. But over a third of this set comprises stand-alone songs that clock in at three minutes or less. No matter how good they are, they don’t fit the concept.

But note that the title sunders the words disco and mix. Perhaps the compiler wanted to put the spotlight on the reggae-fied dance grooves that course through the set? If so, he still lost the map. For every disco bona fide, like Norma White’s cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love,” there’s a rootsy excursion like Jackie Mittoo’s “Night in Ethiopia,” which is an undeniably soulful meditation upon the “Satta Massagana” riff. Maybe it’s best to banish hobgoblins of consistency and appreciate Studio One Disco Mix for what it is – one more immensely enjoyable cherry pick of the Studio One back catalog.

Soul Jazz certainly knows how to do that right, and they don’t disappoint here. It has diversity, from Lloyd and Devon’s dance floor vehicle “Push Push” to Winston Francis, Jackie Mittoo, and Brentford Rockers’ cultural plea “Going to Zion” to Willie Williams’ rebel anthem “Armagideon Time” (yup, the same one the Clash covered). It has the Ethiopian’s “Muddy Water” if you want your heart uplifted after a long, hard slog and Sugar Minott’s “Love and Understanding” if you need to dampen some drawers. It has boingy syndrums liberally ladled over everything. And the topper is the inclusion of Alton Ellis’s tilt at the usually irredeemable Blood Sweat and Tears windmill – he actually renders “You Make Me Happy” listenable by replacing the original’s blustery horns and staccato cadences with a cool loping groove and dreamy harmonies. It conjures mental images of the man elbowing Don Quixote aside and saying “Don’t worry, I and I got this one nailed.” And any record that can do that is well worth hearing!

By Bill Meyer

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