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Music Review – Various Artists: Jammys From The Roots

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This two-disc set from VP/Greensleeves collects 32 tracks produced by Prince Jammy from 1977-1985. Jammy, born Lloyd James, was an apprentice to King Tubby in the 1970s, and soon began producing albums on his own. He's worked with Sugar Minott, Black Uhuru, Dennis Brown, Junior Ried, and Half Pint, all of whom are featured on this compilation, as well as Noel Phillips, Barry Brown, the Fantails, Lacksley Castell, Natrual Vibes, Prince Alla, and the Jays.

Jammy started out producing dub, but also worked with roots musicians and pioneered dancehall production in the 80s. All of the tracks on Jammys From The Roots pre-date Jammy's production on the pivotal "Under Me Sleng Teng," which is considered one of the first dancehall songs. The compilation offers an insight into reggae's transition from analog to digital production, and how the new digital production methods influenced the music.

As is fitting for a disciple of King Tubby, Jammy's production work sounds crisp and clean, with none of the muddiness or craziness of Lee Perry. Disc one contains several dub tracks, and Jammy proves himself a worthy successor to King Tubby. Earl Zero's seven-minute "Please Officer" is followed by Augustus Pablo's instrumental version. The Travellers "Jah Fire Gave Us This World" is followed by a dub version with U Black toasting, "Natty Dread At the Controls." Jammy keeps just the right mix of melody, echo, and reverb so that the track still remains its groove and doesn't feel totally deconstructed. There are also several songs that maintain the bass-heavy, slow burn of dub in more concise vocal versions, like Johnny Osbourne's "Jah Ovah," Hugh Mundell's "Jah Fire Will Be Burning," and Wayne Smith's "Time Is A Moment In Space." Jammy also proves himself adept with more uptempo, upbeat songs like Black Crucial's "Conscience Speaks" and Frankie Jones' "Collie George."

As the 80s progressed, digital production became more and more prominent in Jammy's work, for better and worse. The machine-made drums aren't as versatile or interesting as a live drummer, but the clear sound makes up for of some of the loss of warmth in the switch from analog recording. Dennis Brown's "Africa We Want To Go" and Half Pint's "Mr. Landlord" are successful at translating roots music to the digital age, but songs like Junior Delgado's "Liberation" and Half Pint's "One Big Ghetto" lose some of their soul in exchange for the mechanical exactness of drum machines and synthesizers. As a result, the more heavily digital disc two is less satisfying than the dub-centric disc one, but still provides its share of high points, including Dennis Brown's "They Fight I."

The subject matter is classic roots: praising Jah, praising the herb, preaching enlightenment, and singing about the Motherland. The more base concerns of dancehall were still a few years off, and the singers on this compilation are more concerned with living righteously than with sex and violence. Jammys From The Roots is an excellent overview of Jammy's pre-dancehall production, as well as nice example of late-period roots music.

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