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Ultimate Collection: Sly & Robbie - In Good Company

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Album Review

No rhythm section in history has impacted across the world's music scene as has Sly & Robbie. Their innovative playing style, studio experimentation, and pure production genius has propelled music to a whole new level, and their influence remains undiminished both in their homeland and abroad. In fact, it's virtually impossible to imagine modern music without them. Attempting to encapsulate their career on one disc defies logic, yet Ultimate Collection: In Good Company does not belie its series' title and can indeed be considered the ultimate collection. With excellent sleeve notes by Brian Chin, expert sequencing, and a keen attention to detail, this compilation presents the Riddim Twins in all their glory. Across 17 songs, the album brings to light the breadth of their accomplishments on both sides of the recording desk, all fired by the duo's unmistakable rhythms. And it's this very distinctiveness, even as Dunbar deserted his drum kit for syndrums and then synths, that skyrocketed the pair to superstardom. Already heroes at home, it was their work with Black Uhuru in the late '70s that brought them international acclaim. The pair estimated their rhythms have fired over 200,000 tracks, not including dubs or remixes, providing the fulcrum for songs across the musical spectrum, while their productions, too, brought them into contact with an ever-expanding segment of the international scene. Much of this set is drawn from the pair's seminal work during the 1980s. Their rhythms for Grace Jones were nothing short of shocking, for Gwen Guthrie stunning, and for Joan Armatrading, sublime. Even so, their rhythms were as accessible as they were innovative, yet the pair continued to push the envelope, and their own productions were oftentimes highly experimental. Bits & Pieces' cover of "Don't Stop the Music," for example, transmutes from a high-stepping, stealthy monster into an ominously threatening beast before emerging as a gala party piece, its studio wizardry at its most creative. However, Sly & Robbie weren't all musical twists and studio trickery; they were equally adept at laying down seductive rhythms, like the gently rocking pulses of Gregory Isaacs' "Soon Forward," the slowly percolating beats that underpin Joe Cocker's "So Good So Right," the bouncy rhythm that fueled Dennis Brown's infectious "Sitting & Watching," and the throbbing pulse of Prince Jammy's seminal "Rub-A Dub Version." Equally influential was their rhythm and production for Chaka Demus & Pliers' international smash "Murder She Wrote," the song that launched the bhangra craze. That cut from 1992 is the latest included here. Of course, that wasn't the end of the story, just this album's chapter. There's more to be told, but this remains the perfect excerpt.

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