While at first sight this could be a thrown together compilation of Elvis reggae covers, there is no doubt that a great deal of thought & care has gone into the track selection. All types of reggae are featured from laid-back lovers-rock to 1960’s ska and even dub-reggae! Running 74 minutes with 23 tracks there are too many highlights to mention them all.
Chaka Demus & Pliers relatively recent 'Don't Be Cruel' is a hoot and a perfect starter with its wonderful Jordanaires "Bop-bop" backing-vocals fitting amazingly within the up-tempo reggae beat. Chaka Demus' smooth delivery of the lyrics will bring a smile to your face and Pliers added rap lyrics are a clever counterpoint.
In their search for reggae-originals the producers have unearthed some astonishing early 1960's Jamiacan classics like Jackie Brown's 'One Night' or Jimmy London's 'Suspicion'. Indeed some tracks sound as if they have been copied off rare acetates. To be honest if I had heard one of these playing on a Caribbean beach I would have paid the price of this CD for just one of these vinyl originals, they are so much fun.
With a laid-back sunset vibe you easily can imagine a Jamaican Tin-Sheds dance ending with the lovers-rock slow grooves of Cornel Campbell's 'It's Now Or Never', the delightful Barbara Jones' 'Always on My Mind', or Lloyd Chamber's pleading 'For The Good Times.'
A standout, Jackie Edwards 'All Shook Up' is a gem with a sensational bass-rich slow groove especially when it goes to the dub version halfway through.
Other real highlights are Lloyd Parks' charming 'The Wonder Of You', Susan Cadogan's (who had the international smash 'Hurt So Good') 'In The Ghetto' & Barbara Jones' 'Always On My Mind'. Ken Boothe had a worldwide smash hit in 1969 with 'I Can See Clearly Now' and here his 'The Impossible Dream' is another vocal stunner.
There is often a tendency for reggae artists to only know a few of the original lyrics which can sometimes make the cover versions very amusing (Slim Smith - 'Love Me Tender') or sometimes irritating (Keeling Beckford - 'Kiss Me Quick'). Although you have to give them kudos for finding a reggae version of ‘Kiss Me Quick’!
(Cover insert, catchin' the reggae vibe Elvis-style)
Perhaps the fast ska of The Dragonaires ' How Great Thou Art' and the mess of 'Kiss Me Quick' really don't work but amazingly tracks like Pat Kelly's 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' (sounding very much like million-seller Gregory Isaacs) including the faultless soliloquy make up for these.
And although you may never want to hear Elvis' 'Wooden Heart' again, if you add a throbbing bass-line and mix it up with a minimal dub-style backing Hortense Ellis's version blasts Elvis' nursery-rhyme out of the window and it's sensational! Her version of 'Suspicious Minds', which rightly also features the pleading spoken break, also works very well. (see note below about Hortense Ellis)
A couple of tracks are not completely '"Elvis" since 'You'll Never Walk Alone' is more like Gerry & The Pacemakers version and 'Love Letters' an early take of the original, but they are still fascinating versions with amazing vocals.
For Elvis purists there are several factual mistakes for instance 'How Great Thou Art' is incorrectly listed as by Elvis in 1969, and 'Fever' is featured as being from 1973! However Junior Byles early 60's version of 'Fever' comes on like a good Bob Marley skank and is yet another highlight.
In the reggae field artists are often less important than the producers & studios and here famous producers like Sly & Robbie, Bunny Lee, and Lee Perry are a real guarantee of quality reggae product.
The final track of reggae superstar John Holt's 'Pledging My Love' is a delight and a perfect ending that makes one want to Crank-Up-The-Bass and start dancing all over again from the beginning!
Verdict - Well researched by Stephen Nye and with expansive sleeve notes, any CD that makes me want to play 'Wooden Heart' again has got to be really good! Get those bass sub-woofers rattling & get skanking for an unbelievably different Elvis experience. If you have any appreciation for reggae then this is an essential purchase.
Review by Piers Beagley, copyright EIN - December 2005.
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