Break Free ~ Singing On Classic Tracks From Treasure Isle
Mike Brooks
Teams - S & S Records
October 13, 2006

Track list
  1. Break Free
  2. Break Up To Make Up
  3. Rising Of The Sun
  4. Don't Know You
  5. Not In Love
  6. People Get Ready
  7. Glory Glory
  8. Hurt
  9. Give A Little
  10. Send Her Back
  11. Strong Love
  12. Glorify Jah Name
  13. Think Twice
  14. This Little Girl
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Vocals : 5 Backing : 4/5 Production : 5 Sound quality : 4 Sleeve : 3/4
Mike Brooks has been in the reggae business for almost 30 years. He established the Teams label with long time friend Patrick 'Jah Lloyd' Francis in 1969. However, the label was not activated until the release of "Soldier Round The Corner" in 1970. His debut single was produced by the legendary Lee 'Scratch' Perry entitled: "The Earth is The Fullness", released on the Harvest label in 1972 and credited to Edmond Brooks & the Tots. While it was not exactly a million seller, it did establish him as a major talent in Jamaica. However, it was a Jo Jo Hoo Kim's Channel One Studio at Maxfield Avenue in Trench Town, birthplace of the Rockers genre of reggae, where Mike Brooks really made his mark as a producer laying rhythm tracks with the studio's famous session band the Revolutionaries between 1974 and 1977.

Among the tracks produced during this time was The Mighty Diamond's classic "Shame and Pride" released on the Teams label co-produced with Pat 'Jah Lloyd' Francis. His breakthrough as a singer came with "Who Have Eyes To See" for the late deejay & producer Prince Far I on the latters Cry Tough label over the same riddim as Gregory Isaacs' "Lonely Days". Mike Brooks has a great falsetto voice, reminiscent of the great Curtis Mayfield. Believing that he needed more of an international profile Mike moved to London during the early 1990s. In London, Mike was responsible for the discovery of young reggae turned R&B singer Wayne 'G Spot' Marshall, whom he gave his first best selling hit record "Winter Love" and follow up "Over You".

And Mike Brooks in the UK always kept producing his own and others' roots and rocksteady tunes and albums and as I've been reviewing a couple of albums paying tribute to Bunny Lee, Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid productions lately although these were released more than a year or even two years ago that still deserve attention, this "Break Free ~ Singing On Classic Tracks From Treasure Isle" shouldn't be neglected. Following Colin B's "Rain Or Sunshine" over Bunny Lee riddims, the Blackstones' (Coxsone Dodd produced) "Tribute To Studio 1" over Studio One riddims and a couple of great releases paying tribute to Duke Reid's Treasure Isle riddims like Bitty McLean's "Peckings Presents... On Bond Street With The Supersonics" and "Made In Jamaica", the Peckings compilation "Old Skool Young Blood Volume 1" and last but not least the Blackstones combined tribute to Studio One and Treasure Isle "Greater Power", this time it's Mike Brooks singing and producing himself (alongside Winston 'Mr. Fix It' Francis).

Besides his 13 solo albums before this "Break Free ~ Singing On Classic Tracks From Treasure Isle", both compilations "Book Of Revelations" - released on Nocturne in 2002 - and the Trojan 2005 double CD "Living My Culture", despite its murky soundquality (quality itself being an overstatement here) and loveless put together sleeve notes and artwork, are definitely worth checking out. But in my opinion this album, relicking Duke Reid productions over classic Treasure Isle riddims with backing vocals by R. Zee Jackson a.k.a. the Dub Master, co-producer Winston 'Mr. Fix It' Francis, The Chosen Few's co-founder Franklin Spence a.k.a. A.J. Franklin and Bill Campbell, is one of the two sets you'd want to buy first (the other is his Studio One tribute "Them A Come").

The opening title track "Break Free" is a great lovers take across the Techniques' 'Love Is Not A Gamble'-riddim from 1965, followed by the straight cover of Junior Byles' "Break Up To Make Up" from 1973 and the cultural "Rising Of The Sun" over Alton Ellis' 'If I Could Rule This World' and both these riddims have also been voiced, like several others on this album, around the same time as Mike Brooks did, by the Blackstones for their "Greater Power" album. "Don't Know You" is a wonderful song over The Sensations' 1968 'Those Guys'-riddim (a.k.a. Studio One's 'I'll Be Lonely'-riddim for John Holt), before Mike Brooks delivers the impeccable "Not In Love" over Alton Ellis' 1967 'Baby I Love You'-riddim and with his falsetto delivery heavily styled after The Impressions' lead singer Curtis Mayfield he rightfully pays tribute with his "People Get Ready" over the Techniques seminal 1967 riddim 'Queen Majesty'. The rootsier "Glory Glory" is followed by a vocal delivery that at times very closely resembles that of Horace Andy in "Hurt" over the Paragons' 'Only A Smile' from 1967 and the faster paced early reggae of "Give A Little".

It's once more time for a truly timeless Paragons riddim when 'Wear You To The Ball' is used for the heartfelt lonely lover's plea "Send Her Back" and Mike Brooks (and his backing vocalists) show how skillfully their vocals have been laid on top of these late 60s Treasure Isle riddims as "Strong Love" really could have been recorded 40 years earlier, an authenticity as strong present on "Glorify Jah Name" over the Melodians' 'Last Train To Expo '67'-riddim, "Think Twice" and the last song "This Little Girl" over the Melodians' 'I Will Get Along Without You'-riddim (again from 1967) on this all too short (14 tunes in less than 40 minutes) album. An album that shows that Mike Brooks - after a career that has seen him recording Pat Kelly and Trinity at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle, and produce for Blacka Morwell, Hortense Ellis, and Soul Syndicate before relocating to London some 15 years ago - is still not only a producer but a singer as well who should get the acclaim he deserves, even if only (but that shouldn't be the case) because of this album, ranking alongside the earlier mentioned Peckings, Cou$ins and Blackstones albums, being a must buy for anyone who was as impressed by those efforts as I was. It's almost impossible to understand why this album hasn't gained much more attention when it was released two years ago, but this is your chance to buy it and then spread the word!