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Various Artists – MOJO: Studio One Selector

MOJO Magazine, March 2005

I don’t know what I was reading in 2005, but I certainly missed out on a couple of great months for MOJO compilations. I already reviewed this disc that I got for a dollar in a bin somewhere and now I’m reviewing the compilation that preceded it on the newsstands.  Despite my previous assertion that most MOJO compilations are sketchy at best, this will be the third compilation that I’m actually fond of.  I still think they put out a lot of hit or miss stuff, especially this past year’s collection, but when they go with a genre that can be enjoyed by anyone who doesn’t mind a little relaxation then they really can’t fail.  I didn’t think I could either, so I made sure to snag this undoubtedly appealing MOJO compilation of early reggae tunes.

I will confess that although I have recently enjoyed everything reggae, I don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about its origins, its various sub-genres, or really any of the artists aside from the usual popular ones.  I suppose that is why anyone picks up a compilation, which by definition is a smattering of tracks that some producer thought might interest a casual listener to consider following up on an artist or two.  I’m not sure if that was in my future, but I did know that Studio One was one of the earliest and most influential reggae record labels that made the genre as big as it is today.

There are a few of the mainstays like Bob Marley and the Skatalites on here, but the compilation also contains some names that don’t necessarily jump out but just sound good.  The first track by Johnny Osbourne, entitled “We Need Love”, is just the kind of light, simple reggae that permeates a very easy feeling right at the start.  The gentle, steady guitar riff that is evident in most reggae tracks slips behind the high crooning of Osbourne’s voice.  It’s definitely got everything one would expect from reggae in the sixties and seventies, and it certainly sets the listener up for what the rest of the record pretty much sounds like.  Ernest Ranglin’s “Surfin” doesn’t sound like anyone’s soundtrack for barreling under the curve of a wave.  Instead, its quiet pace and solo guitar instrumental makes me think of surfers just bobbing up and down the water waiting for the next big one.  The echoed group vocals of the Eternals on “Queen of the Minstrels” is utterly soothing when combined with the song’s lazy, relaxed sound.  One is further smoothed out when the foggy horns enter and exit from the haze.   There are many other tracks that this record that I could go on about, but each sentence would pretty much say the same thing.  This is a good, solid reggae compilation.

Honestly, I really can’t find anything on this compilation that I don’t like.  That’s the way it is with reggae and me in that unless the vocalist is terribly annoying I almost never have a problem with the musicianship and can listen to reggae for hours.  I like this compilation a lot because it is primarily the older reggae sound that I like.  Even though the new stuff coming out these days is a little louder, brasher, and certainly more produced, it still contains many of the same elements that the artists on the Studio One label helped cultivate.  Looking inside the liner notes, it seems that a slew of Studio One-themed compilations came out at the time of this release, so it may be difficult for the casual reggae listener to pick just one.  If you find this compilation somewhere like I did, trust me that this is a great starter for new fans and an excellent party mood-setter for those looking for something to keep things chill.

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