August 05, 2014

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Various Artists - Front Line: Sounds of Reality

Pop quiz, kids. What sort of label were Virgin? What artists/genres spring to mind when you hear their name? Mike Oldfield? Sure, to set the label up in the first place, Oldfield's invaluable. The Sex Pistols? Well, if you want to realign an album that's viewed as a hippy enclave then signing THE punk band is the way to do it. The Human League? All conquering electro pop for the early 80s. But you don't think of reggae do you? In March '78, Virgin launched an imprint which in the space of two years, 46 albums and 26 singles would give Mr Branson one of the most credible and influential reggae labels of the era. The fact that your chief talent scout was a certain Mr J. Lydon, late of those Pistols and now incorporating his love of roots and dub reggae in the rhythm tracks of Public Image and present here on the essay that introduces the box set, certainly helps in both credibility and expertise. A 5 disc box set covering 92 tracks of roots, dub, lovers' rock and DJ sounds from the late 70s, 31 tracks new to CD, 10 of those previously unissued, contributions from such giants as The Mighty Diamonds, The Abyssinians, Culture, Prince Far I, U Roy, Culture and Big Youth alongside less likely revelations (admit it, you'd never heard anything else by Althea and Donna other than 'Uptown Top Ranking' had you? 'Going To Negril' has similarities to their one big hit, mostly in the fact that it's just as bloody marvellous). As a tribute to an influential label, this is an utterly flawless collection. As a box set for anybody with even the briefest interest in reggae, it's an absolute joy.

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