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V/A - Joe Gibbs Productions

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Artist: V/A

Album: Joe Gibbs Productions

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Sep. 22, 2003

A lightning-crack of snare drum locks in with the thunder-rumble of dub-wise bass; funky organ bubbles along under the strictly-for-rockers groove; then the high and piercing chorus chimes in, electrifying things further, setting the song in motion for Joseph Hill’s pungently poetic and powerful pronouncements of the strange and dread things that will happen in this year of 1977, “…when the Two Sevens Clash…” It’s the Jamaican group Culture’s masterpiece of Rasta dread, pride, and power; just one of many stunning and essential recordings collected on this new Soul Jazz anthology, Joe Gibbs Productions.

The production team of Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson, known as the Mighty Two, were responsible for plenty of hits in Jamaica and London during the latter half of the ’70s and into the early ’80s. Often building their records on re-cut and re-channeled rocksteady rhythms, they refined and streamlined the militant, socio-politically aware roots and rockers styles in ways that expatriate Caribbean youth and young white punks alike could take as manifesto. While many other reggae producers produced a thick stew of bass-heavy, cloudy, bubbling dread, the Mighty Two, with no sacrifice of essential bass culture, found a way to sharpen the edges, brighten the high-end. The results kept plenty of crucial island vibe, while capturing the ears of a younger generation raised on rock and funky soul.

At the same time that Bob Marley was moving toward the rock mainstream with long guitar solos and the gospel-soul harmonies of the I-Threes, Mighty Two productions were finding their own new ground while treading what was perhaps a slightly more roots-covered path. Ultimately, the clear and sharp-edged ethos of the DJ versions and dubs produced by the team became a blueprint for the dancehall and rub-a-dub styles that soon became dominant.

Joe Gibbs Productions showcases just how good these records were: the sweet lover’s rock of Dennis Brown on the soulful “I’m Coming Home“; the shiver-inducing trio harmonies of the Mighty Diamonds on the sublime and righteous “Identity”, the exultant spirituality of Culture’s “Jah Jah See Them a Come”. Gibbs and Thompson productions seemed to bring out the very best in singers.

As for dub and dancehall, check out the cool, party-girl elegance of Althea’s smooth toasting on “Downtown Thing” (“ I drink up the ’eineken…), the satirical wordplay of Joe Tex and U Black as, tag-team style, they poke some fun at Jamaican TV on “Standardization“. (1970s television seems to be a sub-theme of many tracks here: there’s an artist named Nigger Kojak, there’s a song about Starsky and Hutch. Even Errol Thompson’s remarkable and creative dubs, credited mostly to Joe Gibbs and the Professionals, are filled with Saturday morning cartoon sound-effect boings and bongs, ricocheting gunshots from old western movies.)

There are a lot of worthwhile anthologies of vintage reggae on the market nowadays, but this one should go to the very top of the list. The music selected and collected here is crucial; every bit as fresh and powerful as it was in the days right after the two sevens clashed.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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