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Oh, Caroline!

The Gladiators – The Virgin Collection (CAROLR047CD)

Ernest Ranglin – Below the Bassline/Memories of Barber Mack (CAROLR048CD)

Rico – Man from Wareika/Wareika Dub (CAROLR049CD)

Millie Small – The Best of Millie Small (CAROLR058)

Released just in time to round off what has been another extremely good year for reggae re-issues comes this latest batch of double CDs, drawn from the vaults of Island and Virgin records, via Caroline International.

Following on from the earlier Caroline CD that collated Culture’s four Virgin albums, the sweet country reggae harmonies of The Gladiators albums for the same company now receive similar treatment. Spread over a double CD set, including the classic ‘Mix Up’ along with ‘Proverbial Reggae’, ‘Naturality’ and ‘Sweet So Till’, and a couple of bonus tracks that only appeared on single release. Any subsequent release was always going to struggle when compared with the sublime ‘Mix Up’ featuring, as it did, a number of Studio One do-overs and recorded at Channel One with the studio and players in absolute top form. Though the material and performance of the later albums is extremely high the diminishing sales of each release reflected a change in taste of the reggae audience rather than a decline in standards. Great to have these albums available again, especially at this bargain price, with at least one making its debut on CD.

Millie Small is another whose career was overshadowed by the phenomenal success of one outstanding release. Hopefully this anthology will go some way to acknowledging that she was a very capable singer who was able to adapt and develop her vocal style in order to incorporate several type of music. The two albums, ‘The Best of Millie Small’ and ‘More Millie’ are complimented by over thirty additional bonus tracks and account for all her mid-60s UK releases, many appearing on CD for the first time.

Over his two heavily jazz influenced albums presented here the sublime guitarist Ernest Ranglin ably demonstrates his willingness to avoid the more predictable selections and instead take on some of the more challenging material of the day, notably The Congos – ‘Congo Man’, The Abbysinians – ‘Satta Massagana’, a re-lick of ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ along with his own Studio one classic ‘Surfin’ among many others that would perhaps not be the obvious choice for a jazz guitarist.

As with so many of the Alpha School alumni Rico is another performer whose first love was Be-Bop jazz, so it should come as no surprise to find Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder, included among the bonus tracks on his ‘Man From Wareika’/’Wareika Dub’ set. Listening to both albums again it might be easy to overlook how good both albums are. Yet with a very strong selection of material, some virtuoso playing, and high quality production values both albums still reward repeated playing. However, for me, the 14 bonus tracks more than live up to the billing. Collated from 12” singles, a couple of Ijahman Levi vocals and some previously un-released tracks, and they alone make this a worthwhile purchase, even for those who already have both albums. My personal favourite is ‘Night of the Bongo Man’, as it features Count Ossie.

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