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It is almost impossible to reduce the work of such a prolific artist as Dennis Brown to one 'Best of' compilation and so this cd 'Love and Hate - The Best of Dennis Brown' is bound to fall short of its ambitious remit. However this compilation does at least attempt to be diverse in its choice of tracks not simply picking the obvious best known hits. Let's get things into a little bit of context, Brown started recording in the late 1960's when only eleven and when he died in 1999 aged only 42 he had recorded 75 albums, he was a mainstay of Jamaican reggae through the 70's and 80's and was even cited by Bob Marley as his favourite singer. If Marley was the King of Reggae then Brown was the Crown Prince.
"MONEY IN MY POCKET BUT I JUST CAN'T GET NO LOVE"
Brown's style of reggae differed from many of his roots reggae contemporaries managing to great spirituality and a softer edge to his politically charged and socially conscious songs. Some may say that his brand of reggae was too soft and tended on the side of Lover's Rock but that is really to simply judge him by the mellowness and smoothness of his music ignoring his often powerful lyrics.
This compilation if anything concentrates on more of his harder edged songs omitting his very early recording at Studio One in the early 70's. It doesn't really follow any chronology through the track listing. The songs included are from the time after Studio One where Brown began to work with independent producers such as Derrick Harriot responsible for 'Silhouette' and Joe Gibbs on 'Money in My Pocket'. The songs where Brown is at his most reflective and spiritual include some of his best known songs like 'Promised Land' with one of the most famous backing rhythms in reggae plundered from Aswad's 'Love Fire' song off their 1981 album 'New Chapter'. The inclusion of the riff on 'Promised Land' did a lot to bring Aswad to a wider audience. Along with the first track the sublime 'Here I come' and 'Revolution', 'Promised Land' provides a gutsy introduction to the compilation. We certainly hit the ground running and the very high standard doesn't drop off with perhaps Brown's most famous song and a UK chart hit 'Money in My Pocket' as the fifth track. This is as close to a perfect reggae ballad of unrequited love as you will ever hear. From the very first catchy riff on the electric keyboards to the Brown's wailing vocals the song hooks you and doesn't release you, you'd have to be made of stone not to surrender to the compelling rhythm and start rocking to and fro to this one.
The most compelling aspect of Dennis Browns music is his wonderfully melodic and silky vocals which are fully exploited in most of his compositions. The quality his voice was recognised beyond the Reggae genre when in a 2010 poll he was voted in the top 50 vocalist of all time alongside other singer like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, Sandy Denny and Jackie Wilson.
"GOT TO FIGHT THE RIGHT FIGHT IN THIS TIME"
The majority of the tracks on this cd also benefit from his long time collaboration with legendary Drum and Bass geniuses Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Sly and Robbie as producers and musicians had the alchemist touch in the 1980's and 1990's turning 'drum and bass' metal into reggae gold. Their talents are especially exemplified on such huge hits as 'Revolution', Sitting and watching and 'Have You Ever'.
Lyrically the songs are also of a very high standard especially when compared to much of the contemporary reggae of the time, which more often than not relied on very simple words often repeated of chanted to a bass heavy beat. Nothing wrong with that but it is nice to see a true wordsmith also at work in this musical genre. A little variety is provided by the Ska/Rocksteady influenced 'Westbound Train', this is quirky track and not one that I knew before listening to this cd but it's growing to be one of my favourites. More standard lover's rock love ballads such as 'Silhouette' and 'Have you Ever' are also included but really the tone of the record is more 'Roots' than anything else. With such a huge back catalogue to choose from you could quite easily make a compilation which could concentrate on love ballads or even the later dance hall hits and still make a claim to be a best of compilation, that is the joy and also the dilemma for anyone attempting to constrict Dennis Brown's output to simply 15 tracks. On reflection concentrating primarily on one aspect of his music rather than using a more scatter gun approach is a good thing otherwise the resulting album would have sounded disjointed and lacked musical cohesion which is always a danger in compilation records.
"WHILE LIFE GOES ON EVERYONE'S GOT TO STAND STRONG"
Despite its strong beginning the quality of the album is maintained throughout with immense tracks and some of my personal favourites such as 'Wolves and Leopards', 'Stop Your Fighting' and 'Cassandra'.
In the 1980's Brown signed for A& M Records and his music became more commercial with elements of Pop and R&B being mixed with his more lover Rock tinged compositions. This experiment did produce some worthwhile material but overall wasn't a huge success and nothing of that period is included on this cd. When the reggae market moved towards the new 'Dancehall' style in the late 1980's Brown adapted his music much more successfully and this led to a sting of collaboration with other reggae great such as Gregory Isaacs and (again) Sly and Robbie. This 'Dancehall' period which lasted a number of years into the 1990's is only really touched upon on this compilation by 'Hold on to What You've Got', which is a fine example and representative of Brown's output at the time. To round things off another favourite 'Wildfire' an upbeat jaunty track that should leave you with a nice feeling inside when the album ends, which is how it should be. In essence this is what Dennis brown is all about, feeling good, his voice and delivery is so warm and smooth that it's like audio sunshine coming through the speakers. Even when he's speaking about injustice and oppression it's still a nice sound. With such a huge output of music it is strange to say that he could have been so much more prolific but dying in his early 40's this is very much the case. Towards the end of his life in the mid 90's his failing health prevented him from making much music and his best year were sadly behind him but his legacy still lives on in many of today's reggae music.
Overall this compilation is well put together and very accessible to those who are unfamiliar with his music or with reggae in general. Obviously with so many songs to chose from for a 'Best of' cd some great songs were necessarily left out but some of his best are included and certainly this cd is fairly representative of his best work in his 70's and 80's period.
1. Here I Come
2. Promised Land
3. Get Myself Together
5. Money in My Pocket
7. Sitting and Watching
8. Should I
9. Westbound Train
10. Wolves and Leopards
11. Have You Ever Been in Love
12. Stop Your Fighting
13. Hold on to What You've Got
'Love & Hate - The Best of Dennis Brown' can be bought from Amazon uk for £7.47 delivered free in the UK, at the time this review was written.
© Mauri 2012
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Here I Come
2 Promised Land
3 Get Myself Together
5 Money in My Pocket
7 Sitting and Watching
8 Should I
9 Westbound Train
10 Wolves and Leopards
11 Have You Ever Been in Love
12 Stop Your Fighting
13 Hold on to What You've Got