VP Records has just released volumes four and five of Joe Gibbs' 12" Reggae Disco mix Showcase. Like the first three volumes, released last November, these two CDs each contain eleven 12" singles originally released in the seventies, when producer Joe Gibbs was at the height of his powers. The tracks all clock in between six and seven minutes long, with the first half being the original version, which transitions to a deejay or dub version for the second half.
Having the original and deejay version back to back demonstrates how versatile and resourceful the Jamaican musicians were. They could take the same riddim and rework it into dozens and sometimes hundreds of different versions, each offering a different take on the backing track. The deejay versions give legs to good songs, and sharp-tongued toaster can redeem a weak song.
Volume 4 opens up with Junior Byles' "Dreadlooks Time," backed with Kojak and Liza's take, "Fist to Fist." It's a classic riddim, and one of the standout tracks of the compilation. Other highlights include Dennis Brown's sublime "Your Man," presented here with an extended dub version, and Wade Brammer's "My Love," backed with Lui Lepkie's "Can't Take My Landlord."
There are several covers, some of which aren't entirely successful. The reggae takes on Michael Jackson's "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground" and "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" pale in comparison to the originals. Covers of "I Can't Stand the Rain" and "Working My Way Back to You" are better, owing mostly to the deejay versions, in which Prince Weedy and Trinity offer different takes. The disc closes out with two songs full of heartache, "Why Girl/Did We Have to Part" and "After You/Love Me Forever."
Volume 5 has its share of love songs, but also has more roots subject matter. It starts off with Earth and Stone's "Ring Graft," here paired with Snuffy and Wally's superior version, "Dreader Mafia." This is followed by "Su Su Pon Rasta/Stop Su Su Pon the Dread," and "Burn Babylon/Don't Trouble Natty Dread." The dread theme continued on Sammy Dread's "Dreadlocks Girl," backed here by Tappa Zukie's "She Never Love Me So," which is a highlight of the set. Another highlight is Junior Murvin's "Time Stiff," which is complimented by Trinity's equally powerful "Time So Rough."
There is ample evidence on this set that the deejay was much more than someone who talked over records. Prince Mohammaed's "Give I Power" shows the true strength of the deejay. The original, case Carl Brown's "Let the Power Fall," is well-meaning but repetitive. Prince Mohammed expands on the theme of the original, fleshing it out and adding much-needed variety. Ruddy Thomas's "Being With You" is a pleasant but inconsequential take on the Smokey Robinson original, but Joe Tex and U-Black gives it an injection of adrenaline. Even in cases where the original version is strong, the deejay version offers a unique twist, like Delroy Jones frantic take on Home T. Four's "Playmate."
As with volumes 1-3, the deejay versions make the 12" Reggae Discomix Showcase Vol. 4 and 5 must-haves. Each disc provides over 70 minutes of smooth, soulful reggae, and having the 12" version of the song is the closest you are going to get to being in a sweaty Kingston dancehall in 1979.
This article was first published at Blogcritics.org.
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