Various Greensleeves Reggae Sampler 21

Greensleeves has been one of the premier reggae labels since the mid-'70s. It practically defined early '80s dancehall, then was the first reggae label to embrace breakbeat culture with a series of vital early '90s jungle releases. When Greensleeves puts out a compilation, it's assured to be a good survey of what's happening in reggae right now. As chronicled here, dancehall production is becoming sparser by the minute; few of the top hits have bass lines anymore. As with hip-hop and drum & bass, exactingly EQ'd kick drums drill through sound systems with precision. Ward 21's "Shake It" takes a power-sanded vocal to Toni Basil's "Mickey" refrain in the best, bizarre, Jamaican cover tradition. Capleton weighs in with the massive "Who Dem" and the frantic "Bun Dun Dreadie." Red Rat, today's most off-the-wall DJ in the Eek-A-Mouse tradition, contributes the hilarious "Bad Boy" and "Little Miss Buffett." Sampler 21 is judiciously paced so that the fuller, rootsier tracks leaven the hardcore riddims. Singers Sizzla ("The Vision") and Luciano ("Jah Is My Only") are every bit as talented as the great vocalists of the past. The top roots track, though, is the thoughtfully written and melodic "Love of the Heart," by Bushman. This compilation doesn't have any "crossover" vibes to appeal to a wider audience - it won't appeal at all to many old-time reggae fans or curiosity seekers. It's the shit right now, until Sampler 22 comes out. (Greensleeves)