Island Records Presents Lovers Rock – 30 Romantic Reggae Classics
Spectrum Music / Island Records
March 18, 2014
from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)|
|Vocals : 4||Backing : 4||Production : 4/5||Sound quality : 4||Sleeve : 4|
Lovers Rock is a subgenre created in Britain as an answer to the steady flow of roots reggae music coming from Jamaica. At first strictly recorded by a string of local and national talents and after it proved to be highly successful, artistically and in selling-figures, soon a lot of roots singers and bands jumped on the lovers rock bandwagon too. The genre got its name from the Lovers Rock label set-up by Dennis Harris in South-East London. Soon it was not strictly a hype in Britain but in Jamaica as well, Island Records amongst others saw the potential and they quickly signed artists to record lovers rock music. After the Virgin Records label folded the focus in Jamaica was on dancehall music with emphasis mainly on domestic topics and the aim in the UK was mainly to hit the charts with solid reggae riddims with an smooth edge.
This 2014 compilation contains romantic music from the period 1976-1988 issued by Island Records and presents those songs in chronological order, which gives a good insight of the development of the sound in these 13 years. The set opens with the single “Crying Over You” by the Heptones, the original is from 1966 produced by Ken Lack, this Lee Perry version is really big time. Backed by the Upsetters band and recorded in Black Ark studio in 1976 the music is great and together with the singing skills of the Heptones trio it is a masterpiece. Same goes for George Faith’s cover of the Bee Gee’s “To Be A Lover”, but in my opinion it featured too often in recent compilations as well on the re-release of his own album.
Alton Ellis’ voice is perfectly suited for any kind of romantic genre as the balladeer displays on 1977-recorded “It’s Hard To Be A Lover”. His sweet voice and musical backing, that reminisces somewhat of the rocksteady days of the previous decade, create a nice and very comfortable vibe. The Jamaica born but prominent UK Sound man Lloydie Coxsone produced “Easy” by Jimmy Landsay, the reggae version of the Commodores classic is a very strong effort, plus this discomix is tight and sounds real adventurous. A heartfelt version, a powerful delivery, strong bass-line, simply this is what lovers rock was all about.
In 2014 the reggae world lost one of the artists who helped to bring reggae music to a wider audience. Junior Murvin’s work with Lee Perry, especially the landmark "Police and Thieves", made him a spearhead of the critically acclaimed roots genre. “Closer Together” comes from this Black Ark period, his falsetto voice might not appeal to everyone but that’s the only criticism you can have of this version (and to the Impressions original). Lee Perry’s productions are always highly creative, just listen to the way this song transcends to the Impressions’ "Gypsy Woman" sung in a playful kind of way on the same but constantly changing riddim.
“Stop Breaking My Heart” by Inner Circle is a Gaylads cover from a group that was famous for their roots output and later in the 90’s for their pop-flavoured and chart-topping songs. With this song they proof to handle lovers rock just as fine. Influenced by funk and disco music, with a funk bass guitar and piano, and a different vocal approach compared to all other songs included on this compilation. Same can be said about Third World, that was actually formed after the original Inner Circle formation split up. They had their share of chart-success, but with their charismatic singer Bunny Rugs also created reggae classics like "96 Degrees in the Shade", "Roots with Quality" and "Reggae Ambassadors". They till recently toured all over the world, but sadly Bunny Rugs died this year. “Tonight For Me” is from 1979 and like most Third World songs it is a team effort with guitars, bass and drum on the forefront, a up-tempo riddim and a vocal approach that would also appeal to fans outside of the reggae market.
UK’s Vivian Weathers is featured with “Married Woman”, a lesser known singer than most featured artists on this disc. The song though is sublime, wicked drum and bass and perfect vocal timing, UK lovers rock in fine form. The next song has a hard bass-line, creative guitar play, an organ shuffle and the vocals wonderful recorded, Sugar Minott could adapt to any style, as he shows with “Two Time Loser”. Jacob Miller also recorded as a solo artist, he will mainly be remembered for his roots and sufferers classics, but recorded a heart breaking version of the Motown duet “Once Upon A Time” in 1980. Immediately recognizable is David Hinds’ voice in “Caught You Dancing”, Birmingham’s Steel Pulse is featured with a 12 inch mix that has some irie guitar riffs and playful overdubs with bells and a steam horn. Overall not an adventurous mix but with its deep bass surely a solid and enjoyable one.
Tony Tuff shows how stunningly hard a romantic song can sound. “Sweet Maureen” has a wicked bass-line, his vocals sound so convincing and the song is mixed masterfully. Arguably the outstanding track, but definitely one of the highlights. From the then youthful Junior Tucker the disco-like “Spinning Around” is included, amidst all these great songs this one comes somewhat short. British band The Police scored worldwide hits, some clearly influenced by reggae music. Jamaican producer Harry Johnson in 1980 voiced Sheila Hylton to cover their song “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” in great fahion, another showcase how appealing smooth music could sound. A tune so nice it should be played twice! Paragon’s 80’s version of “Only A Smile” is really stripped down compared to the 60’s version, but still is pure solid gold. The extended mix is a great way to end the first disc.
The fact that Alton Ellis adapted easily to the lovers rock genre can be heard on the Beatles song “And I love Her”. Enough opportunity for the musicians to shine on this second disc opener as well. The ultimate love song is Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. Jimmy Riley versioned it solidly for producers duo Sly & Robbie, who produced 10 out of 15 songs on this disc. “We’re In This Love Together” is George Nooks’ version of the Al Jarreau hit. Donovan Germain produced it, on sax the legendary Dean Fraser featured, the quality is there but overall it’s too middle of the road to make a real impression. Classic lovers rock by Derrick Lara follows, who manages to give the Stylistics “Peek A Boo” a wonderful reggae do-over. The dreadlocked singer blends perfectly with the rhythm and his falsetto voice is surely suited for this romantic song. Another Tony Tuff classic, the Lou Rawls original “You’ll Never Find” is maybe less adventurous than "Sweet Maureen", but the sublime combination of good singing, tight harmony, bouncy bass-line and also the quality of the other musicians creates pure magic until the very last end of this extended mix.
Jimmy Riley was successful with different harmony trios in the 60’s and 70’s, and as a solo artist he continued his winning streak. “Hey Love” is a nicely sung tune with a remarkable guitar riff. Next up is “Night Nurse” by the Cool Ruler himself, in 1982 he recorded this classic and although stylistic is differs from most of the songs included on this set it is hard to deny it’s not a genuine masterpiece.
After Sly & Robbie set up the Taxi label they recorded a lot of lovers rock. The Delphonic’s “Break Your Promise” was covered by crooner Barry Biggs, another solid effort. Furher examples are the Tamlins cover of the Chi-Lites “Go Away Dream” and “Show And Tell” (originally by Al Wilson) by the legendary Ken Boothe. The inspiration and probably admiration of these soul hits are exemplary for the output on the label, which Island Records was of course very willing to release in the UK in the eighties. London band Aswad recorded extensive roots material, but have always been regarded more pop-orientated than their Birmingham contemporaries Steel Pulse. In later years that may have been the case but certainly not (before and) in the period they recorded “Gave You My Love”. Brinsley Forde’s strong voice sounds convincing on this song, the music as always the case with ‘early Aswad’ is very tight, mind the vibrant horn-section and bubbling bass, and production-wise it can match any song.
“My Baby” is a nice tune by group The Struggle, decent vocals and harmony, quality backing, maybe not one of the best known of all songs but a damn good one. 1986’s released “Long Lost Lover” by Ruddy Thomas has a good vibe, apparently aimed to attract a wide audience. The disc ends with two decent covers, Smokey Robinson’s “Oo Baby Baby” and Petula Clark’s hit “Oh Me Oh My” respectively sung by Kotch and Karen Smith. The first is a decent song, the latter more edgier and a great song. Hearing both songs it’s clear the direction Sly & Robbie were heading, less conservative roots riddims and more room for experiment.
Lovers rock was massive back in the days and still has a solid fan-base right now. It certainly was not the passing phase like many critics predicted in the 70’s. This collection of Island Records songs released between 1976-1988 has a good mixture of singers and bands, established and lesser known artists and surely gives a nice hint of the depth of the catalogue and the quality of the releases from this label in this era.