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Various Artists Special Delivery Music: The First Decade Review

Compilation. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A lesson in consistency without compromise, from beginning to end.

Angus Taylor 2012

It's no coincidence that two of Europe's most respected reggae labels – Maximum Sound and Special Delivery Music – were founded by Frenchmen who admired the music coming out of nearby England. Special Delivery's 10-year retrospective collection reflects this desire to sound authentic yet contemporary in their choice of artists and rhythms alike.

Special Delivery is owned by Pierre Bost and JP Greve, with the majority of backings here built either by Pierre's brother Matthieu and Jérémie Dessus (Bost & Bim), or by fellow French production house T'NT. Inspired by the clean, no-frills approach of Fatis Burrell's Xterminator label, the label's signature feel is maintained whichever unit they choose.

Within just 12 months of business they were recording the wise words of former Black Uhuru member Michael Rose on Never Take It for Granted. Two years later, they were reviving the classic Rock Me rhythm for Perfect Combination, where Buju Banton teamed up with an uncharacteristically apologetic-sounding Queen Omega, a Trinidadian who promises Buju everything despite his confessing to "many sweethearts but only one main spouse".

But Special Delivery has always looked beyond the Caribbean. Hawaii-based Californian J Boog croons tenderly over T'NT's Long Time for So Far Gone. Britain is represented by Gappy Ranks and smooth Studio 1 graduate Alpheus; the latter fights the rough-edged deejay Kiprich for a girl during Tell Him the Truth. There's even a humorous bow to France via Gyptian's Pretty Darling on a reworking of Serge Gainsbourg's Je t'aime.

The SDM sound hasn't changed radically over the decade, yet neither has it fetishised the past. Drum-machined millennial "nu-roots" give way to a softer, increasingly organic one-drop style post-2004. More recently, they've dabbled in the dreaded Auto-Tune (Demarco's It's OK, on the Sugar backing) and championed the new generation with 19-year-old ChronnixX's Beat & A Mic.

Singles buyers will know most rhythms – but even if they prefer different cuts there are no faults amongst these selections, although more examples of strong female artists wouldn't have gone amiss. It’s a lesson in consistency without compromise, from beginning to end.

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