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Rolling Steady: The 1983 Music Mountain Sessions

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Album Review

As Skatalites fans are well aware, in 1983, the entire band re-formed for the second time, with Calvin Cameron taking the place of the late Don Drummond. The excitement was palpable, with their appearance at that year's Reggae Sunsplash supporting Peter Tosh greeted by exultant delight. But before the Skatalites climbed onto the stage, they entered Music Mountain studio for a rehearsal cum recording session with promoter/producer Tony Owens at the sound board. Further recording sessions took place after Sunsplash, resulting in the Skatalites with Sly & Robbie & the Taxi Gang album, but soon after the group's members fell out once again and went their separate ways. The tapes from the Owens sessions, however, remained with Jackie Mittoo, who eventually returned them to the producer. Two decades later, Owens passed them on to Motion Records which, after painstaking restoration of the deteriorated tapes and remastering, finally made these recordings available as Rolling Steady.

And what an album this is! Let's start with "Big Trombone," an upbeat tribute to Don Drummond awash in nostalgia, with the band's original singer, Lord Tanamo, adding a further fabulous blast from the past. "Who could forget his pulsating beat?" Tanamo poignantly asks. And who could forget the excitement the band's dueling brass elicited? and how those battles led to the Skatalites' continual demise? This time, though, the hornmen seem determined to keep the peace, so much so that at points on "Contention," they're all so politely standing aside that none of them steps up to take the required solo! One presumes Mittoo then began more tightly scripting the arrangements. The pianist himself never takes a solo spin, but he left an indelible mark on this set nonetheless. On "Idler's Rest," a jubilant version of his own "Death in the Arena," Mittoo's absolutely ebullient, while the brass can barely contain their own delight. He's positively unstoppable on "Away from Home," a version of his "Drum Song," while the brass pay their own respects to this classic. The set's superb sound highlights not just Mittoo's too often lost-in-the-musical-clutter contributions, but the rhythm section and Jah Jerry's stunning work. Invariably, though, the hornmen steal the show. Their gliding trade-offs and smoothest work are featured on "We Nah Sleep"; "Rolling Steady" captures their moodiest sound of yore in regal fashion; "Devil's Triangle," in contrast, conjures up their original joie de vivre, while "The Master's Call" boasts an incredible tightness the group rarely exhibited in the past. Fans have long awaited this set with expectations building ever higher around it over the years, but so grand a set is this, that few will be disappointed.


Formed: 1963

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

More than a band, the Skatalites were and are an institution, an aggregation of top-notch musicians who didn't merely define the sound of Jamaica, they were the sound of Jamaica across the '50s and '60s. Although the group existed in its original incarnation for less than 18 months, members brought their signature styles to hundreds upon hundreds of the island's releases. The Skatalites officially lined up as guitarist Jerome "Jah Jerry" Hinds, bassist Lloyd Brevett, teenaged pianist Donat Roy "Jackie"...
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