All Hail Rockism

Reggaephiles rediscover the slow jam, and women

By the mid-'70s, almost three decades after the arrival of the Empire Windrush's migrant workers, Jamaican music had become an intrinsic part of British culture. No longer content with an imported playlist of hits from "back a Yard," a new generation of U.K.-born Caribbean youth asserted its identity with a fresh and idiosyncratically homegrown style. Reacting against the then-dominant Rastafarian consciousness of Burning Spear and Bob Marley, lovers rock (named for a small South London record label synonymous with the sound) harked back to an earlier and better-established part of island heritage: the slow jam.

Drawing in equal measure from roots, Philly soul, and contemporary English pop, this frequently overlooked movement documents a pivotal point in British social history. However, Greensleeves' latest archival compilation—mostly comprising tracks from the label's own offshoots, Cool Rockers and UK Bubblers, but also taking in sides from the Fashion and Ariwa imprints—reveals a more obvious distinguishing feature. In all its many varieties, reggae was, and still remains, a predominantly masculine field, but here such highlights as Donna Rhoden's "It's True," Carrol Thompson's "I'm So Sorry," and Deborahe Glasgow's "Knight in Shining Armour" detail an unprecedented and seductive period of feminine pressure.

That's not to say the guys don't get their turn, though. Keith Douglas's "I Specialise in Good Girls" is a charming montage of calypso horns, supple bass licks, and lyrics so deliciously naive they could've been written by a grade-school kid; meanwhile, Peter Spence's "Don't Leave Me Lonely" plays honeyed vocals full of yearning off against a rich steppers' rhythm. Still, the women win out with Alpha's "Can't Get Over You": Simple, sultry, and universally relevant, it's the kind of breakup song that's almost sweet enough to heal a wounded heart.

 
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