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V/A - From Dubplate to Download: The Best of Greensleeves Record

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Artist: V/A

Album: From Dubplate to Download: The Best of Greensleeves Record

Label: Greensleeves

Review date: Sep. 14, 2007

No offense to Jah, but – Christ – these Jamaican singers love their weed. On "Pass The Tu-Sheng Peng," Frankie Paul's contribution to Greensleeves’ new two-disc retrospective From Dubplate To Download, the agreeably high singer proclaims "I went under cover, to find my lover / She's in the kitchen, cooking chicken / meanwhile, I got the tu-sheng peng." He loves weed so much that, unable to complete a sentence or idea, he grabs the reins of clarity just long enough to sing the praises of his herb. He links its use to hunger, apparently. Paul represents the DJ with the song in his heart as well as the singer with too much street cred not to toast through a few verses. More than two decades later – Paul's track was recorded in 1984 – Jamaican vocalists have adapted more of a divide and conquer approach, firmly planting both feet in the realm of smooth crooner or roughshod, barking DJ.

Most of Dubplate to Download offers similar snapshots, almost year by year, of the manner in which various trends and styles have come in and out of fashion in reggae over the last three decades. From the spooky roots dub "War" by Wailing Souls and "Where is Jah?" from the lesser known Reggae Regulators, the first disc uses these languid, downtempo jams to remind listeners of a time before toasting, chatting and ranting replaced the soaring harmonies of more vocally-driven groups. Similarly, the vibe of these early tracks seems almost naive when juxtaposed with the bling ‘n’ glock set that took over dancehall in the ’90s. Several tracks, and several years, later, the remainder of the first disc and nearly all of the second gives way to the DJ.

Clint Eastwood (remember when Jamaican DJ's drew their monikers almost entirely from the revisionist Western oeuvre, including Outlaw Josey Wales and Lee Van Cleef?) and General Saint introduce the new era with "Another One Bites The Dust," followed by a Eek-A-Mouse's "Wa-Do-Dem," a curious alternate take featuring a straight vocal that lacks his trademark nasal tone. Legend Yellowman's "Zunguzungzeng," a masterpiece of onomatopoetic (and near palindromic) nonsense, is followed by another stylistic milemarker, Wayne Smith's "Under Mi Sleng Teng," groundbreaking not for its lewd innuendo (Yellowman and others had ventured much lower already), but the introduction of perennial rhythms driven by drum machines that would come to dominate dancehall reggae and push larger ensemble bands, sadly, to the peripheries of reggae. The Sleng Teng riddim itself morphed slowly over the years and found itself in the foundation of more pop-driven hits like JC Lodge's "Telephone Love," updated to include the synthesized orchestra hits that had previously helped differentiate East Coast electro-funk from Chicago House music.

Another quietly brilliant pass on Dubplate to Download is the decision to follow "Telephone Love" with Gregory Isaacs' "Rumours." The two have the exact same backing track, which the already established Isaacs works more cleverly than the one-hit wonder Lodge (actually, there may have been another hit or two).

The rhythm lurches forward with the first disc's last three entries, all including various interpolations of Shabba Ranks, Home T., and Cocoa Tea, and serves as nice representation of when the more electro-driven dancehall scene still had room for collaboration, cleverness, and nuance.

The second volume begins with "Oh Carolina," a track that, with its ingenious use of a ’60s-style boogaloo sample, introduces Shaggy in his prime. After sharp entries from Bounty Killer (another spaghetti westernization reinterpreted through patois), Beres Hammond, and Sizzla – the righteous, spiritual DJ and self-proclaimed musical heir to Bob Marley – the modern era of stuttering, cacophonous, Uzi-paced dancehall takes over, the voices becoming increasingly gruff and wild, the monikers reflecting a harder edge (Hollowpoint being one of the featured artists).

Dubplate to Download intelligently traces the parallel evolutions of melody, rhythm, cadence and subject matter over Greensleeves’ 30-year history, for better and for worse. If the tone and content near the end of this chronological survey seem more desperate and material, remember that even blazed Rastafarians have to face the music sometime.

By Andy Freivogel

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