Various Artists - Freedom To The People [Doctor Bird/ Cherry Red - 2022]
Freedom To The People is a compilation focusing on a selection of tracks helmed by Jamaican reggae producer Joe Gibbs. It’s a fifty-four-track / two-CD affair, which homes in on the years 1971 to 1972. It highlights both Mr Gibbs's skill as a producer, his ability to work within different types/pace of reggae, and his general creativity-at-times quirky flair.
The two-disc set appears Doctor Bird- which is part of the Cherry Red family of labels, and focuses on releasing album reissues and compilations within the reggae genre. The discs come present in a clear and slimline jewel case- this takes in a colourful and glossy sixteen-page inlay booklet, which features a new six-page write-up about Mr Gibbs, the artists he worked with, and of course the early 70’s period these tracks come from. We also get a good selection of artists' pictures, single labels, and a few cover reproductions. So another nicely presented and informative bit of packaging from Cherry Red.
Joe Gibbs was born in Salt Spring, St. James, Jamaica in the year 1942. He studied electronics in Cuba, going on to work as an electronic technician for Stone and Webster in Montego Bay. In time he decided to strike out on his own moving to Kingston where he set up an electrical repair shop, focusing on repairing and selling TV’s. Also, In the shop, he started selling records too. The local reggae scene was taking off, so in 1966 he started to record some artists in the back of the shop with a two-track tape machine, working with Lee Perry who had recently ended his association with Kingston born producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd. With the help of producer Bunny Lee, he launched the Amalgamated record label, with one of first successes being with early rocksteady track, "Hold Them" by Roy Shirley, which went up the charts in Jamaica.
The compilation features twenty-seven tracks per disc, so you get a lot of bang for your buck. Though over the collection unfortunately we do get a few versions of the same( often slightly different named) tracks, as they develop/ change- which is certainly interesting in charting Gibbs production talents, though it doesn’t work so well in creating a flowing and consistent compilation. Anyway that aside there are some great moments here.
On the first disc we move from the strutting guitars, wavering female chorus vocals, and subtle organ groove details of Judy Mowatt’s “The Gardener”. We have the haunting horn swing & almost church organ-like weaves and layers of Tommy McCook’s “Ah-so”. Moving deeper into the disc we have the slightly wonky stutt-meets almost rising gospel vibe of Keith Poppin’s “Running Back”. There’s a jerking organ meets rough ‘n’ ready percussive hits, and messy MC chant edged cover of “The Rivers Of Babylon” by Prince Student. Towards the end of the first disc, we have the sweet organ keys jive-meets- strutting groove and occasional reverbed MC calls of “Hot Dog” by Joe Gibbs And The Love Generation.
Over on disc two, we have the wailing falsetto meets Mc shouts and shifting around the groove gears of “The Dynamic Ken Park” By Ken Park. There’s the awkward guitar strum meets organ and slight blown-out bass throb of Junior Byles “Warieka Hill”. We have stripped back strutt with fleeting moments of horn wail & guitar detail of “Just Another Girl” by Errol Dunkley. There’s the tight-yet slugging groove & blunt male sing-song vocal of The Ethiopians “Bun Finger” which along its length features touches of classic wedding march music. With the disc been topped off with bass strutting, 3D organ-like darts, and heavily reverbed dub production of U Roy’s “Make Love Not War”.
Freedom To The People is certainly a worthy addition to Doctor Bird's catalogue, and if you have an interest in 1970’s Jamaican reggae- it goes without saying this is something you’ll be needing. I just wish there hadn’t been so many versions of the same/ similar tracks, as at times this does become a little wearing- but there are moments of flowing great-ness here.Roger Batty