Various Artists - When Rhythm Was King
Heartbeat - #HB330 (LP) & CDHB330 (CD) - September 11, 2007
Majestic Rhythms From The Boss Studio
Reviewed by MightyZ on September 08, 2007
The moment I began to listen to 'When Rhythm Was King' it became clear how they came up with the title! The front cover carries the message "Collectors beware – this is a release for the masses". I guessed that tagline was basically trying to say that this isn't a collection of lesser known, obscure tracks. This is a collection of the riddims that we all know and love, the classic Studio One riddims. It is packed with some of the finest and best known artists in the world of Roots Reggae.
The history of Studio One runs right through the history of Reggae music and even before that, right back to the earliest roots of the music. Even before Ska, back in the 1950's, Clement Dodd's Downbeat was competing with Duke Reid's Trojan and other Sound Systems for dominance. In these heady days the Sound System owners would travel to the US to buy R&B records, which they would then introduce to the Jamaican audiences. By the early 60's, the Jamaicans were beginning to establish their own studios and cut their own sounds, Ska was born! Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd established his studio, financed from income from the Sound System. He enjoyed some dominance during the Ska era but, during 66-68, his dominance came under a strong challenge as Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label began to produce some fine Rocksteady tunes. Studio One countered with some great Rocksteady of it's own and, over the next decade, moulded this sound into Reggae.
Most of the big names in Reggae have passed through the doors of Coxsone's studio to record, many beginning their illustrious careers there. This album has several of those big names present, including Sugar Minott, Dennis Brown, The Wailing Souls and Johnny Osbourne. It also contains some less well known names such as Basil Daley and Alexander Henry.
Although many famous names will stand out in this compilation, it is really about riddims. There are more than 50 versions of most of the riddims on this CD. The 1967 tune Mad Mad by Alton Ellis has inspired over 200 versions and become a Dance Hall Classic. If you have been listening to Reggae for any length of time you will be familiar with most if not all of the riddims, but perhaps not these particular versions. This is a great collection of fine riddims and some excellent vocal version too.
This album got my feet tapping from the first moment, by the time I got to classic rock steady rhythm of Bob Andy's 'Unchained' I was out of my chair and skanking round the floor. Another classic rhythm surfaces on Johnny Osbourne's 'Can't Buy Love' - superb downbeat with a familiar brass riff in the background.
It is hard to know where to recommend you if you like this album, being a compilation, there are so many possibilities. My best advice is to check the sleeve notes and the Roots Archives search facility for the source albums of your favourite tracks and buy those! To help you out I've picked out a couple that this approach led me to, see my recommendations below.
One last thing, unusually, if you buy this on vinyl rather than CD then you get the two bonus tracks. Great news for all those wax addicts out there!
MightyZ - Roots Archives, September 2007
Edited by Leggo Rocker