I always look forward to a new release by the great grooving Jamaican keyboarist Monty Alexander, but Rocksteady, due out on March 23, is even more exciting than usual, for on it Alexander is paired with Jamaica's greatest guitarist, Ernest Ranglin, on jazzy versions of some of the "rocksteady" era's ( late-'60s and early-'70s) greatest hits, in particular the sweet and dandy output of fabled producers Clement "Coxone" Dodd and Leslie Kong.
Alexander, 59, and Ranglin, 71, played together or separately on the original version of many of the songs they address here: Dave and Ansel Collins' infectious "Double Barrel" and "Stalag 17," the Skatellites' "Confucius," Augustus Pablo's "East of the River Nile" (with Alexander on melodica on the latter three), the Congos' "Fisherman's Row" and "At the Feast," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites," Ken Booth's "Freedom Street," and Burning Spear's "Marcus Garvey." The set ends with Bob Marley's beautiful, contemplative "Redemption Song," which is addressed with quiet grace and reverence.
In addition to loose, instrumental jams highlighting Alexander and Ranglin's mastery of blues, R&B, straight ahead jazz, and sophisticated pop - all set to a rocksteady Jamaican backbeat - the incomparable Toots Hibbert, of Toots and the Maytals, joins the spry old farts on vocals for an update of his classic "Pressure Drop."
Coupled with last year's reissue of The Harder They Come soundtrack (which also includes the Crucial Reggae 1968-72 collection), Jamaican music's Golden Era lives and thrives.