Liner Note Author: Peter G. Lalime.
Recording information: Federal Record Mfg. Co Studios, Kingston, Jamaica.
Photographers: Richard Khouri; Karl Whitbourne.
Arranger: Ken Lazarus.
By the time Boss Reggae was released in 1969 by Ken Khouri's Federal Records, guitarist Ernest Ranglin was already an instrumental star in Jamaica and England. In his twenties during the '50s and early '60s, he helped pioneer ska as a session guitarist at Studio One. As the latter decade moved toward its middle, he held down a nine-month headlining role at Ronnie Scott's Club in London. Ranglin cut a slew of "themed" records for Federal, all of which have seen reissue in the 21st century. Like many recordings of the era, the other studio players are uncredited. They are all aces however, and they had to be: Ranglin's playing, rhythm, and production approaches (there are several kinds of each here) are always from the jazz side of the equation. Opener "Grandfather's Clock" offers a rocksteady take on a British dance band classic, while the very next tune, "Soulful I," reflects Lee Perry & the Upsetters' instrumental cover of a David Issacs' "Since You Are Gone." The latter cut is wild sonically -- the guitarist's jazzy chords and solos are framed in early dubwise grooves and a production style that recalls Les Paul's '50s style. Ranglin proves his pop savvy with a cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" (though it's based on the hit Nilsson version) with ample wah-wah behind multiple layers of single-string playing, all above a rocksteady-cum-county rhythm section vamp. A sense of humor is evidenced by "Dr. No-Go" with its seamless meld of surf, Northern soul, and reggae. The cover of the Melodians' "Sweet Sensation" is compelling because it's the only cut here dominated by an organ (and also contains a vocal chorus), but Ranglin guides the rhythm section expertly. The set closer is a cover of the Curly Putman and Billy Sherrill countrypolitan classic "My Elusive Dreams." Ranglin and company up the tempo and he delivers otherworldly jazz chord voicings that flow underneath his leads while the rhythm section choogles beside him until the fade. If there's a drawback to this set, it's the length -- it clocks in at under half-an-hour. That said, every single track is a winner. Boss Reggae fleshes out Ranglin's profile as a studio leader and innovator during a pivotal era for reggae. ~ Thom Jurek
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