Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Review: 'The Vinyl Series Volume One'

In the late fifties, rich kid Chris Blackwell was sailing his boat in the waters off Jamaica when he ran aground in a coral reef. His vessel wrecked, he ended up on shore where a Rastafarian good samaritan nursed him back to health and exposed him to a culture new to Blackwell. With funds provided by his privileged family and a newfound fascination with Jamaican music, Chris Blackwell founded Island Records. The label not only hosted such major Jamaican artists as Toots and the Maytals and Bob Marley, but it also moved into the vanguard of mainstream rock and roll with artists such as Traffic, U2, Roxy Music, John Cale, and King Crimson. Blackwell also produced the smash hits remake of Millie Small's "My Boy Lollypop", the record that introduced most people outside of Jamaica to the loping, joyful rhythms of ska when he leased it out to Fontana Records in 1964. 

So Chris Blackwell knows his music and is a pretty good choice to curate his own compilation series. Although Island's The Vinyl Series does not exclusively lean on choice cuts from the Island archives, the first volume does lean on choice cuts exclusively. Blackwell devotes the majority of the disc to the ska and reggae that first excited him with a couple of essentials later included on Island's The Harder They Come soundtrack, two each from superstars Toots and the Maytals and Desmond Dekker, and Millie Small's breakthrough. He also stretches out a bit with a smattering of soul classics (Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle", The Soul Sisters' "I Can't Stand It", and Inez & Charlie Foxx's "Mockingbird") as well as a pair from The Spencer Davis Group. If nothing else, The Vinyl Series Volume One would be a great soundtrack to a hot Mod party. 

It's also a well-produced piece of plastic. The vinyl is flat and quiet and the spindle hole is correctly centered. The music sound as rich and clear as if it had been produced last week. The heavy-grade inner sleeve features informative notes. All in all, The Vinyl Series Volume One is a rocksteady start to what promises to be an interesting series with future installments reportedly devoted to such Island subgenres as prog, folk, hard rock, glam, and singer-songwriter stuff.
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