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Artist: V/A

Album: Studio One Lovers

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Sep. 14, 2005


The hot pink border and the portrait of an alluring veiled woman on the cover might lead one to expect that this is a collection of 1980s lover's rock, but it's actually something very different: a fine selection of vintage rocksteady and early reggae built around love and romance.

With its warm, heartbeat bass lines, relaxed one-drop drum beats, thick chank-a-chank guitars, and most of all, sweet soul-gospel Impressions-style vocal harmonies, the Jamaican rocksteady of the 60s and 70s proved to be a perfect vehicle for love songs that ranged from seductive to saccharine in mood and style. And singers like Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, and John Holt made a fine art of nuanced, soulful expression: their voices crooned, swooned, and caressed as they rode the sweet, smooth rhythms. All three singers are represented in this collection, as are crucial and eloquent vocal groups like the Gaylads, the Heptones, and the Paragons. There are also examples of the classic boy-girl love duet here, most notably a fine one with Bob Andy and Marcia Griffith.

As might be expected from the Soul Jazz label, the selection and sequencing here are superb. Just when the listener might be growing a tad weary of sweet, sticky love songs, the selector throws a curve: the latin-tinged Bolero chord progression and Spanish-style acoustic guitar on the Sharks' "How Could I Live?" for example, or the dense, Phil Spector-ish wall of sound on the Wailers' "I'm Still Waiting," with a young Bob Marley pleading soulfully over a dark and eerie slow rocksteady groove, his style already intense and hypnotic in 1966.

Most of all, Studio One Lovers offers an extended taste of rocksteady and reggae from outside of the better-documented rude boys, roots, and rasta paradigm. To put it simply, this is nothing but sweet soul music from Jamaica.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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