Jordan (Heartbeat, 1988 [orig. released 1976])
There's not a whole lot to say about this album except "don't bother." Those who enjoyed either of Byles' greatest hits collections, Curly Locks or Beat Down Babylon, will certainly be disappointed by this bland set. These songs, recorded after his sessions with the Upsetters, don't benefit from the magic wand of Lee "Scratch" Perry; only "Lorna Banana" was mixed by him. The "Beat Down Babylon/Curly Locks" medley is not as good as you would think, and only the title track and the remake of the Folks Brothers' hit "Oh Carolina" (later made into another hit by Shaggy) are of any value.
1. A Place Called Africa
2. Medley: Beat Down Babylon/Curly Locks
3. Mystic Revelation
5. Burrie Boy
6. Lorna Banana
7. I Ain't Got It
8. Oh Carolina
9. Ain't Too Proud to Beg
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Curly Locks: Best of Junior Byles & The Upsetters 1970-1976 (Heartbeat, 1997)
It's amazing that there was not a "best of" Junior Byles' sessions at Lee Perry's Black Ark Studios before 1997; there is that much great material here. Containing tracks from the dynamic years of 1970 to 1976, the music on this set ranges from rock steady to roots, with the latter certainly being the better. Lee Perry puts together some of his best productions in songs like "Fever," "Long Way," and "Thanks We Get," each with his typically slow, funky, heavy-bass style (and "Thanks We Get" featuring backing vocals by Lee Perry's sons!). Anyone who doubts that reggae can be funky need only listen to tracks like "Fun and Games," whose guitar dares you not to shake what yo' mama gave ya. And Byles makes great use of these fabulous rhythms, particularly in the slower, softer tunes, like "A Matter of Time" -- a minimalist version of "Fun and Games" -- and his biggest hit "Curly Locks" -- in which Byles' soft tone makes the song sound like a Simon & Garfunkel track. The rest are more or less rock steady cuts, the only one of which that truly holds its own with the other songs is the irresistibly fun "Da Da." This album contains several rare alternate versions of Byles' tunes, making it a great deal for collectors and fans, but those new to Byles may not appreciate all of the alternate mixes. Still, you can't pick and choose with underexposed artists like this, since there is little opportunity to get these great songs -- in one form or another -- elsewhere.
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Beat Down Babylon: The Upsetter Years (Trojan, 1997)
If you thought that there wasn't enough material for two compilations of Junior Byles/Lee Perry collaborations...well, you were right. While this one has several tunes not on Heartbeat's Curly Locks collection, the basic core of requisite songs is the same on both: "Curley Locks" (AKA "Curly Locks"), "A Matter of Time," "Fun and Games," "The Long Way," "The Thanks We Get," "Fever," and "(Festival) Da Da." The only tune noticeably missing from Curly Locks and included on Beat Down Babylon is "Beat Down Babylon" itself. This is actually not one of my favorite Byles songs, but it is fairly popular, so it's a noticeable difference. The other tracks on Beat Down Babylon aren't particularly special, with "Poor Chubby" being the best. A dub of "Curly Locks" is also included here, but Curly Locks has 3 different versions of the song (and two of "Da Da"), so it depends on where your priorities lie. Otherwise, there's little material difference between the two albums, and there's certainly no reason to buy both, unless you're a completist Byles fan.
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129 Beat Street: Ja-Man Special 75-78 (Blood and Fire, 1998)
This collection is credited to Junior Byles partly because he has the most songs on it (four) and partly because he is a big-name draw, but it would more accurately be attributed to little-known producer Dudley "Manzie" Swaby, who produced all of the tracks. Swaby had a short and underexposed producing career at the Ja-Man label he set up with Leroy "Bunny" Hollett at 129 Orange Street (AKA "Beat Street") in Kingston, Jamaica, but as the material contained here shows, he released some gems while he was there. Swaby's songs are raw roots without a hint of pretension. The rhythms are understated enough to allow the artists to shine but assertive enough to stand on their own. Byles contributes perhaps the best tune here, "Remember Me," with its funky bass and hymn-like melody showing that he can put out good stuff without Lee Perry's magic touch. His other 3 cuts -- "Pitchy-Patchy," "Know Where You're Going," and "Chant Down Babylon" (not to be confused with his "Beat Down Babylon," which, although more famous, is inferior in my opinion) -- are just about as strong, however. The "friends" in the title hold their own, highlighted by Robert Reid's rocking "See the Dread Deh," Neville Tate's rendition of Horace Andy's "See a Man's Face," Bim Sherman's funky "Mighty Ruler," and Pablo Moses' "One People," which is good enough to fit on either of his first two excellent albums.
1. Chant Down Babylon [Extended] -- Junior Byles & Rupert Reid
2. Know Where You're Going -- Junior Byles
3. Pitchy-Patchy -- Junior Byles
4. Remember Me [Extended] -- Junior Byles & Rupert Reid
5. See the Dread Deh [Extended] -- Rupert Reid
6. One People [Extended] -- Pablo Moses
7. Mighty Ruler [Extended] -- Bim Sherman
8. My Homeland [Extended] -- Dave Robinson
9. Wild Goose Race -- Brigadier Jerry
10. See a Man's Face [Extended] -- Neville Tate
11. So Long -- U Brown