CD Review of Ska Bonanza: The Studio One Ska Years by Various Artists

Music Home / Entertainment Channel / Bullz-Eye Home

Buy your copy from Various Artists:
Ska Bonanza: The Studio One Ska Years
starstarstarstarstar Label: Heartbeat Records
Released: 2006
Buy from

"Ska" means a lot of different things to different music fans: It could be skanky Desmond Dekker records of the legendarily fab 1960s Playboy Mansion parties. It could be the English Beat and Fine Young Cannibals to kiddies who came of age in the 1980s. It could be Gwen Stefani, Rancid, or any of a million punk bands who make the ska beat work for them.

But to people who understand the history of rock, reggae, soul, and how it all fused together on the shores of Jamaica, those abovementioned meanings of ska simply are evolutions of the real thing: Midtempo soul records with tight horn arrangements and delightful three- and four-part harmonies sung by groups whose names few recognize today, even though they were the dinosaurs who roamed the ska world back in the day.

Ska Bonanza anthologizes 44 of these seminal records, recorded at the epicenter of ska's origin: the Studio One label. Produced by Clement Seymour "Sir Coxsone" Dodd – a Kingstown legend who died at the Studio One in 2004 of a heart attack, two days after the city christened the road of the label's offices Studio One Boulevard – these records still stand up 40 years later every bit as much as the Memphis, Motown, and Muscle Shoals American soul records still do.

On the compilation, you get ska records from some names familiar to ska junkies: a pre-reggae Bob Marley and the Wailers (Rita Marley has a record of her own here, too), Toots and the Maytals, the Skatalites. But perhaps the real gems here are from Cornell Campbell, Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond, and Alton Ellis. Jazz-tainted instrumentals, sweet, smooth vocals, a little 1950s-style R&B, and even a smattering of the unique Caribbean take on gospel music can be heard on this record.

Whether you just want a little classy vintage music with which to make romance, or you're seriously interested in hearing how Jamaicans mixed and matched their native island rhythms with elements of classic soul, you just can't go wrong with this fine 2-CD set. It sounds a little lo-fi in spots; the reissue worker bees did the best they could to remaster the ancient original tapes. But don't let that stop you from getting into this rich chunk of music history that is not only enlightening, but an entertaining listen that will make your groove thang sway like few of today's ska practitioners can

~Mojo Flucke, Ph.D.