Reggae Legends ~ Dennis Brown & Superstar Friends
4CD Box Set
March 10, 2014
Disc 1: Judge Not (Dennis Brown & Gregory Isaacs)
from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)|
|Vocals : 4/5||Backing : 5||Production : 5||Sound quality : 4/5||Sleeve : 4|
Dennis Brown, born 1st February 1957, was a child star in Jamaica after recording the Van Dykes song "No Man Is An Island" for Studio One in 1970. Besides recording albums for Coxsone Dodd he worked with numerous producers who all acknowledged his incredible talent. Joe Gibbs and Niney the Observer recorded extensive and highly successful material with the vocalist, Sly & Robbie & Derrick Harriott amongst others also benefited from his talents and vice versa. He established his own DEB label in 1978 and (self-)produced various roots classics before the label folded in 1979. For his impressive voice, countless hits and widely acknowledged credibility he was nicknamed the Crown Prince of Reggae. After dancehall music became more popular than roots reggae he also scored hits during the eighties. In the mid 90ís his health got worse due to a drug addiction, his shining moments got more sparse and in 1999 he died because of a collapsed longue. His legacy is one of the biggest catalogues in reggae history.
VP Records released the first Dennis Brown "Reggae Legends" boxset in 2008, they also captured his work at Joe Gibbs in a 4cd compilation in 2011 featuring "Money in My Pocket", his only crossover chart success. Now volume two in the Reggae Legends series is released, containing 4 combination albums he recorded in the 80's and 90's co-named Dennis Brown and Superstar Friends.
The first disc is the "Judge Not" album originally released in 1985 on the English Greensleeves label. The eight tracks set is produced by Augustus 'Gussie' Clarke and was recorded at Channel One Studio. The album is a co-effort with Gregory Isaacs, a singer with a likewise career and life path, it's no wonder they were good friends. The first three songs ("Crazy List", "Judge Not" and "Deceiving Girl") are killer songs by Dennis Brown, the next three ("Live And Love", "Streetwalker" and "Innercity Lady") equally impressive by Gregory Isaacs, with the latter arguably the best of all six tracks. A consistent high level without exceptions.
All tracks are recorded in showcase style, the vocal track followed by the dub version, leaving enough room for the Channel One house-band the Revolutionaries to shine as well. All riddims were well crafted with a heavy bassline and full of diversity and originality. The backing vocals are by Tetrack, making it a real all-star effort. The only duet of the album, "Let Off Supm" is more magic. Gussie Clarke later got famous for his sublime combinations and this track already gave a hint how great his duets could sound. The album closes with a do-over of "To The Foundation", the rhythm is stunning with great drum and bass and it is classic Dennis Brown material.
1989's "No Contest" is the second album also released on Greensleeves. The singers are the same, the producer is still 'Gussie' Clarke, the difference is it is recorded in his own studio. Jamaican music had changed direction big time since King Jammy & Wayne Smithís "Under Mi Sleng Teng" introduced the island to digital riddims to replace talented but expensive musicians. 'Gussie' Clarke adapted swiftly to the new style and had opened his own Music Works studio in 1988. Still using top notch musicians and engineers, he managed to create a highly creative and distinctive studio sound. He always took time to perfect his productions, worked with good songwriters and made sure the backing vocals were tight too.
This album has more duets than the predecessor and the singers solo tracks were divided in the track listing. The duet "Easy Life" and the very strong "No Camouflage" are the opening two tracks. Like all songs on the album they are recorded at full length, first the vocal take, then the dub version and ending with the bare rhythm. All are typically produced with Music Works signature synths, a modern drum pattern and a contemporary bass part. "Jealousy" is a duet with the backing vocals presented in the frontline and both vocal parts blending swiftly, the drum section that starts the dub version makes it overall one of the highlights. The best solo effort by Gregory Isaacs is "Love Me Or Leave Me Alone". The Cool Ruler proves once again his work with Gussie Clarke pushes him to great heights. More of the same in the setís typical dark style, but just as high qualified as the rest of the album are "Why Cry" and "Neon Lights Flashing".
"No Contest" has no weak moments, but the bragadocious "Big All Around" is without a doubt the climax of the album. Recorded in a time that all in demand ragga deejays released 45 after 45 and one album after the other, using the hottest riddims of the moment, the two veterans claim and proof that they still run things all over the globe. It was Dennis Brownís biggest hit of the entire decade. "Open Up" has a piano introduction and Gregory Isaacs's timing is perfect on the up-tempo beat. The closing track slows down the pace, "I'll Make It Up To You", to end a consistently strong disc.
"Legit" is another Greensleeves album from 1993 album again produced by hit maker 'Gussie' Clarke. 'Gussie' was really successful with combination songs, singers with deejays and pairing the freshest ragga deejays of the moment. In 1993 he progressed to record a trio to do the "Legit" album and had another trick up his sleeve for its closing track. This time the legendary Freddie McGregor and younger star vocalist Cocoa Tea were teamed with still around Dennis Brown.
The opener the title track is a three-the-hard-way song that marks the quality of the entire album. The vocal transition between the vocalists is timed perfectly, all three singers shine equally on this clever song. Freddie McGregor follows with "Bad Mind", Dennis Brown with "Last Lick" and "Try Love" is a slower song by Cocoa Tea. All excellent solo efforts with a wonderful cocktail of sweet voiced singers, talented musicians and a production team that has a strive for perfection. Two combinations are up next, the warning "Home Boy" and my personal favourite the parental and prudent "Chilling Out". Cocoa Tea recorded the meaningful song solo in 1991 for his "Authorized" album for the Music Works crew. This version is another boom shot, the different vocal ranges perfectly blending and the rudimental backing making it a flawless track.
The vibe is totally different from the first two cds, the leap in years gives a hint the musical landscape in reggae had changed once again. More up-tempo, no more 12" releases, but both Dennis Brown and 'Gussie' Clarke made clear that they were still a force to be reckoned with. The singles "Quashie", "What About Love" and "Here's To The Famous" are just as strong as the first single songs. Although the singles are without exception very entertaining, it are the combined efforts that give the album the extra dimension. "It Could Be Worst" is another example of the chemistry there must have been around in the studio, otherwise the result could never have been this sublime. Once again Gussies songwriters deserve a compliment as well, he always paid good attention to this. What's the trick for the closing track? Mutabaruka accompanies the trio on "Bone Lies" in sublime fashion. The content is critical Rastafarian roots to the core and the music just keeps you moving. The dubpoet comes on so strong and convincing that this song is really the icing on the cake, just a great way to end a fantastic and somewhat underrated album.
"Hotter Flames" is also a 1993 set. The album was produced by hot dancehall producers Patrick Roberts and Andre Tyrell for Shocking Vibes Productions and was recorded at Penthouse Recording Studio. It was released by VP Records and also features dancehall superstar Frankie Paul. The blind singer released countless albums but was mainly known for timeless dancehall classics like "Sara", "Worries In The Dance", "I Know The Score" and "Tidal Wave" to name just a few. Thatís why George Phang and Henry Lawes and several other producers were willing to record albums with him, but seldom a whole set was too convincing.
The disc has no duets between both vocalists and is divided in five single tracks each. First it's up to the Crown Prince of Reggae and then the honour is given to the Jamaican Stevie Wonder to show his lyrical talents. Listening to the set it is apparent to conclude that it can't match the high quality of the first three cds. The opening track, the immortal Bob Marley song "Natural Mystic", is a nice effort by Dennis Brown, it is sung in characteristic fashion, fascinating as in his best years. The beat of "Candy Man" reminds of his classic "No More Will I Roam", but Dennis Brown doesn't sound to connect with the rhythm. "My Reasons" is just okay followed by "Come With Me" that works out better, partly because of the solid bassline and Paul Crossdaleís skills on keys. The only duet is "Running Around" with deejay Little Lenny, a fast record to end the first section. Frankie Paul starts on the "No More Will I Roam" riddim and his version "Israel" is the stronger one. "Thank You", "Come On Baby" and "Donít Be Afraid Baby" all have likewise bouncy riddims, Frankie P cruises to spit out his lyrics on tunes that probably would have got some attention back in the days. The last song, "All Wey A Gwane", is more of the same, making "Hotter Flames" in retrospective the album with the least impact.
Dennis Brown continued his impressive career in the eighties and also showed he could compete in the digital era. With a little help from his long lasting friend Gregory Isaacs and from reggae superstars Freddie McGregor, Cocoa Tea and Frankie Paul he recorded these pivotal albums. In quality it surely supersedes his first "Reggae Legends" volume. VP Records has done a great job presenting these combined sets, if you don't have the albums in your collection yet, this is your chance to buy four at once at a fair price.