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V/A - Jammys from the Roots (1977-1985)

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Artist: V/A

Album: Jammys from the Roots (1977-1985)

Label: Greensleeves

Review date: May. 13, 2010

Lloyd James — Price Jammy, King Jammy — has been one of Jamaica’s most celebrated and successful record producers. His early brilliance in sound and engineering was proven in the sound system clashes, and he was thus the perfect choice to be King Tubby’s assistant. That experience ripened Jammy into a producer, and by the latter part of the 1970s he was making roots reggae hits with a fresh, powerful energy. Jammy’s 70’s productions were solidly rooted in the culturally conscious, socially relevant vibe of the era. What most often made them stand out was a certain propulsive energy; a unique combination of uplifting spiritual energy and edgy, street-wise urgency. Black Uhuru’s “Tonight is the Night to Unite” is a good example; clavinet, bass, drums, and percussion churning under Michael Rose’s tough, tender singing and singjay voice play.

Jammy had a knack for combining good material and compelling singers — as far as the latter goes, he consistently knew what would work with with artists — like Rose, Sugar Minott, Junior Reid — who brought DJ mannerisms to soulful, honest, vocal stylings. This was well-served by Jammy’s go-to backup band, the High Times Band , who, with the restless, insistent guitar and multi-layered musical direction of Earl “Chinna” Smith, pushed at times on the doors of funk and rock, while holding solid to roots rhythms.

Then there is Jammy’s sonic mastery to take into account. Jammy’s records were often dense with musical information, yet they were recorded, sculpted, and mixed with such skill and clarity that nothing ever seemed lost or muddy. Jammy’s drum sounds in particular could be a miracle: full-spectrum, thick, and punchy, coming across as if the listener were sitting in the drummer’s throne.

By the 80s things had changed. Dancehall was ruling, and a more stripped-down sound developed. Junior Reid’s bubbling, heart-grabbing storytelling on “Higgler Move” here is dancehall perfection; so, in a totally different way, is the foreboding dub-tinged mood of Frankie Paul’s “Foreign Mind.” Reid’s synth-drenched “Boom Shack a Lack” serves here as emblem of a new era: Jammy’s augmentation of a Casio preset rhythm pattern on Wayne Smith’s ‘Under Me Sleng Teng” (not, it should be noted, included on this two-disc collection) changed the sound of Jamaican popular music. This collection satisfies deeply by revealing the history and musical integrity that was bedrock to that seismic event.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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