July 11, 2012, at 10:45 pm

The Bass Culture Four

Bass Culture is a series of four double CD releases covering Jamaican music from the mid 60’s to the mid 80’s. Subtitled This Town Is Too Hot! for ska and rocksteady, Boss Sounds for early reggae up to 1972, When Reggae Was King for roots and Mash You Down for early dancehall up to 1985.

This series is a remarkable undertaking in that it has included productions from all the major players; Coxsone, Treasure Isle, Prince Buster, Bunny Lee, Winston Riley, Channel One, Prince Jammy and many more, the selections don’t cover the usual suspects either, there are plenty of more less obvious selections here and whilst there may be no undiscovered gems the man behind these, Jim Layne, has dug a bit deeper and managed to put together selections that will keep even the most jaded chin scratchers entertained.

Sugar Minott – The People Got To Know

Is this all too good to be true? Whilst Nascente/Demon may be a legitimate company the sleeve notes credit Culture Press as one of the companies that tracks have been licensed from. Culture Press don’t seem to crop up so much these days but suffice to say they used to be notorious bootleggers who were responsible for a whole series of unlicensed reggae CD’s. Jim Layne has assured me that the credits are wrong, that they will ultimately be corrected and that all tracks are properly licensed.

Ronald Wilson – Lonely Man

Each of the four volumes come with extensive sleeve notes. These are based on Lloyd Bradley’s book from which this series takes it’s name; Bass Culture. But there is plenty more than just a book reproduction with the text referencing the tracks on the CD’s. The only real complaint, and it is a genuine one, is the text is far too small and very difficult to read comfortably.

This Town Is Too Hot! CD one is all about ska with 20 cuts covering the earlier part of the 60’s with tunes like Clancy Eccles- Freedom and Derrick Morgan – Miss Lulu right through to the end of the era with Free Man by the Ethiopians. Other notables include Ronald Wilson’s superb Lonely Man and the fine Four Seasons from Sir Lord Comic. Prince Buster remains less than forthcoming when licensing his material so he is under represented with the solitary inclusion of Al Capone.

The Hamlins – I Don’t Care At All

The rocksteady side starts of with Buster’s Too Hot (like Al Capone taken from the Fabulous Greatest Hits LP which was apparently the only Buster material available). It then gets serious with the inclusion of a few real gems such as The Overtakers – Beware, Keith Blake – Musically and the quite superb I Don’t Care At All by the Hamlins.

The Creations – Qua Kue Shut

Boss Sounds serves up 40 tracks over two CD’s covering the period from 1968 to 1972. Again there are no major discoveries here but the selection shows a real attempt to go beyond the obvious with the inclusion of the likes of Lord Creator’s Come Down ’68 and Such Is Life, The Creations – Qua Kue Shut and Just One Kiss by Cornell Campbell alongside the more obvious crowd pleasers such as Pressure Drop by The Maytals and Night Doctor by The Upsetters.

Cornell Campbell – Just One Kiss

When Reggae Was King. This selection overlaps with the Boss Sounds one as the earliest tracks date from 1970. The roots vibe is apparent from the very earliest selections such as Horace Andy’s Studio One classic Every Tongue Shall Tell and one of the Wailers finest moments (though they had a few!) – Caution. There are 40 tracks once again, other artists featured include Joe Higgs, Cornell Campbell, Pablo Moses, I Roy, Israel Vibration and the Abysinnians.

Sweeny & The Wailers – Won’t Come Easy

Mash You Down. The last CD is subtitled The Birth Of Dancehall 1978-1985. and it covers this era ably enough though it’s a shame that it didn’t delve further into the later 80’s as this would have given a more rounded summary of the early dancehall period. The selection is strong once again with some killer 80’s rootsier selections such as Don Carlos – Ababa John I, Wayne Wade – Poor And Humble and Noel Phillips – Youth Man alongside the more Rub A Dub side of things represented by tunes like Yellowman – Mr Chin, Michael Palmer – Pull It Up Now and Pad Anthony – See Them A Come.

Wayne Wade – Poor And Humble

The only significant nod to the way the music was to progress is the inclusion of the masterful Run Down The World by Nitty Gritty. Minor criticisms aside any compilation that features the wonderful Argument by Jah Batta and the classical History Of Jamaica by Early B can only be described as great.

Early B – History Of Jamaica

Assuming the licensing issues are properly sorted these CD’s are recommended on every level. Jim Layne certainly knows his stuff and has provided a fine overview of the different eras of Jamaican music, what’s more he’s managed to do this whilst at the same time putting together selections that will have many seasoned reggae fans hunting down copies as well, and that’s no mean feat.

The four volumes of Bass Culture are released on July 30th.

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