Various Studio One Groups

This compilation answers the question: what’s so special about Studio One? The vocal groups and song arrangements on this album represent the foundational template of reggae as we know it. Bringing together the obscure and the popular, Studio One Groups features many bands that have never gotten their due from international audiences (the Wailing Souls and the Gaylads, for instance), once massive names locally now relegated to little more than footnotes in the Marley-centric reggae history taught on this side of the Atlantic (propagated, no doubt, by compilation album covers like this one that only features the Wailers). The Clarendonians’ buoyant "You Can’t Be Happy,” with a ten-year-old Freddie McGregor(!) on vocals, is only one example. Other noteworthy tracks include the largely unknown Consummates offering the relaxed "What is it” with a rhythm track that is an ingenious reworking of "Train to Skaville.” It’s worth picking up the disc alone to hear the Righteous Flames jam out a version of Burning Spear’s "They Prayed” (here called "Solid Foundation”) and to check out the first pass at the Abyssinians’ timeless classic "Satta Massa Gana” (here recorded as the rather innocuous "Happy Land” by a previous incarnation called Carlton and the Shoes). And the Maytals’ bracing 1963 version of "Never Grow Old,” backed by the Skatalites, always has more immediacy and passion than later cracks at the song, partly because the band were still acting as trio at this time and not just a platform for Toots (brilliant though he is). (Soul Jazz)