Forty tracks from Bob Marley’s favourite singer, plus a live DVD.
Angus Taylor 2010
Getting to retrospective grips with the career of Bob Marley’s favourite singer Dennis Brown is slightly more difficult than with Bob himself. Fortunately, VP has put together an impressive two-disc spread of Brown’s pre-digital singles, with a bonus DVD of the great man live.
Dennis was the third Jamaican teenage singing sensation (after Delroy Wilson and Errol Dunkley), but this collection skips his earliest work. Disc one starts with his later recordings for Derrick Harriott (released on the Trojan LP Super Reggae and Soul Hits) – country and doo-wop covers Let Me Down Easy and Silhouette, and the hypnotic self-penned self-help anthem Concentration. From there we move to his crisp, scratchy sides for the underrated Phil Pratt, including one of the definitive revisits to Peter Green’s Black Magic Woman.
After the clattering, flute-swept At the Foot of the Mountain, and a spiky, eerie Heptones collaboration, Satisfaction Feeling (both bearing the sound blemishes of past 45 reissues), we travel through the rockers era to the early 1980s when Dennis was increasingly producing himself and visiting the UK. Results include the haunting anti-violence stepper (Don’t) Want to Be No General and his immortal pairing with Aswad, Promised Land – covered recently by Nas and Damian Marley.
Disc two jumps back to perhaps his most fruitful period, with Niney the Observer, engineer Errol Thompson and Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith’s Soul Syndicate band. This is the only weak spot as some of the greatest Niney productions (Westbound Train, Give a Helping Hand, Cassandra, Live After You) are absent – although the choices are still strong. The final act takes in his acclaimed association with Joe Gibbs (again with Thompson at the desk for the majestic Words of Wisdom), along with Sly & Robbie (the evergreen Revolution).
Meanwhile, the DVD is a rare chance to catch Dennis at the height of his powers at the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival, backed by the bouncing bass of Lloyd Parks and his We the People Band (featuring Chinna on guitar). Brown’s voice becomes a little hoarse as the show goes on, but energy and musicianship win through.
The sheer number of producers (each with their distinctive styles) for whom Dennis recorded – across roots, dancehall and lovers rock as the market demanded – can leave the casual listener unsure of where to begin. This collection, while inevitably missing the odd classic, should help.