Various Artists

Mojo Rock Steady

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Clement "Coxsone" Dodd ruled the ska age, but as tempos slowed and the style downshifted into rocksteady, Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label came to the fore, pushing Studio One aside. Revenge was delivered by virtually every other producer on the isle, beginning in the mid- to late '70s as Studio One's gorgeous rocksteady melodies were resurrected in the new rockers style. With the demise of the Skatalites, Roland Alphonso and Jackie Mittoo set up shop at Studio One with the rhythm team of Joe Isaacs and Brian Atkinson. Under the Soul Brothers moniker, this unit laid down myriad scintillating instrumentals and phenomenal backings as ska evolved into rocksteady. As the new style took hold, the band's lineup shifted and was renamed the Soul Vendors, who, with Mittoo's arrangements, created some of the label's most enduring instrumentals and backings. The Heptones' Leroy Sibbles eventually took up bass and joined the group, guitarist Eric Frater enlisted, and under the moniker the Sound Dimension, helped lead Studio One into the reggae age. Mojo Rock Steady gives us a taste of all three of these seminal aggregates, and with them a clutch of classic riddims. The Soul Vendors' "Psychedelic Rock," incorrectly attributed to Sound Dimension, is today better known as the much versioned "Rockfort Rock" riddim, the Vendors' equally crucial "Death in the Arena" appears in its DJ version as "Whipping the Prince," while we get the original instrumental version of the title track and its DJ version. The instrumentals are magnificent, but the likes of the Gaylads, the Bassies, the Clarendonians, and the sublime Hortense Ellis easily hold up the vocal end of the set, while some of the best cuts come from virtual unknowns, like Hugh Godfrey's exciting "They Got to Go" and Denise Darlington's "Feel so Good." Unbelievably, beyond the instrumentals, few of these numbers were actually hits, with the set aimed more at the collector than the "best-of" crowds. But so strong was Studio One during this era that even this compilation of lesser lights shines bright. ~ Jo-Ann Greene, Rovi

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