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World Music CD Reviews Reggae & Caribbean

THIS IS CRUCIAL REGGAE: ROCKSTEADY

By Derek Beres
Published September 8, 2005

Sanctuary

In the mid-’60s, while Rastas in the hills were dusting off their African roots with homegrown Nyabhingi drums, down in Kingston city folk recreated Motown. Rocksteady was the intermediary period between ska and classic reggae, and these 12 tracks feature the more famous of this inundated lot. The opening “Ba Ba Boom” by the Jamaicans, with its slow, liquid chorus and stuttered guitar, is nearly as catchy as its famous cousin “No No No.” Alton Ellis, to Jamaica as Marvin Gaye was to America, had a huge hit with “Cry Tough,” and his compatriot Desmond Dekker’s sweet tenor is all over “Intensified ’68 (Music Like Dirt).” While Berry Gordy ran his machine into the ground (likewise occurring in today’s hip-hop), rocksteady’s tenure was much more short-lived. It defined itself by imitation and appropriation; but within that narrow frame amazing material was recorded. This crucial set does a great job of weeding out filler to get to the heart of Jamaican soul.