Various artists

Strictly the Best 35/36 (VP)

Since its inception back in the late Eighties, this series has embodied the state of dancehall reggae and launched emerging artists. Casual listeners learn about the year in dancehall while dedicated enthusiasts appreciate the CD-length collections of all the hot seven-inches in recent months. Core audiences in Kingston and Brooklyn pretested and approved the songs, so quality control is assured. As usual, the double-disc set is divided into categories: Volume 35 features DJs (Jamaican rappers), and Volume 36 features singers. In addition to established stars like Bounty Killer, Capleton, Buju Banton, and Sean Paul (who revisits his yardie past with "All Out"), new favorites like Tony Matterhorn, Movado, and Mr. Peppa keep the energy level high and the vibes red on the first disc. The second disc occasionally lacks the consistency of its companion, but with instant classics by Richie Spice ("Brown Skin"), Gyptian ("Beautiful Lady"), and Jah Cure ("What Will It Take") leading the way, the combination of smooth lovers' rock and mellow roots pulls off a rare upset. The riddims on both discs are fantastic, ranging from hip-hoppish neo-funk to soothing acoustic melodies. Taken together, they validate the historic genre's current health and richness of talent. Eric K. Arnold

 
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