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World Music CD Reviews Reggae & Caribbean

GREGORY ISAACS

By TOM PRYOR
Published January 25, 2006

20th Century Masters: The Best Of Gregory Isaacs, The Millennium Collection
Hip-O/ Island/Universal

PETER TOSH
20th Century Masters: The Best Of Peter Tosh, The Millennium Collection

Hip-O/ JAD/Universal

These new two reggae compilations are part of a Universal imprint Hip-O’s ongoing 20th Century Masters series Other collections in this latest batch focus on the work of Lee Perry, Steel Pulse, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley and the Wailers (in their pre-Island Records days). But the most interesting volumes here shine a light on two of reggae’s most underappreciated superstars: Peter Tosh and Gregory Isaacs. Since his murder in 1987, Tosh’s once-bright star seems to have dimmed in the reggae firmament, a real tragedy considering how crucial Tosh’s contributions were to putting the steel in the spine of early reggae. This collection eschews his marquee work for lesser-known gems and singles. Casual fans looking for “Legalize It” and “Equal Rights” may be pleased to discover the same political resolve in scorchers like “Black Dignity” and “Arise Blackman.” But the real treat here is Tosh’s remarkable, yet often-overlooked take on George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” Unfortunately, crooner Gregory Isaacs doesn’t fare nearly so well here. Instead of mining the cool ruler’s prodigious 1970s catalog for any number of lost roots classics, the producers go for big, crowd-pleasing ’80s dancefloor hits like “Night Nurse,” “Stranger In Town” and “Hot Stepper.” To be fair, reggae comps are often held hostage by byzantine licensing agreements; but one can’t help but wish that artist of Isaacs’ caliber and achievement had been better served.