Graded on a Curve:
V/A, Soul Jazz Records Presents: Studio One Women Vol. 2

As a label based around the musical activities of Jamaican producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, Studio One’s output is almost comically immense. By extension, the Soul Jazz label’s extensive reissue dive into the Studio One vaults, which has been underway since the early 2000s, is showing no signs of running thin on quality. The latest offering in the series, Studio One Women Volume 2, is a model of consistency as it offers a variety of island reggae styles. It’s expected May 27 on double vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with a download code, and on a single compact disc.

To drive home the enduring vitality of Soul Jazz’s Studio One endeavor, it’s stated by the label that many of the tracks on Vol. 2 are impossibly rare, and in some cases, are being reissued for the first time. This only heightens the set’s thematic focus as the quality and the scarcity of the contents are primed to satisfy reggae newcomers and seasoned fans alike.

Numerous high-profile artists are featured, however. By my count, seven artists are reprised from Volume One, which Soul Jazz released in 2005, also on 2LP and CD. Of the returning singers, Marcia Griffiths is the most prominent, and on two of her three tracks she’s backed by Sound Dimension, Studio One’s house band, led by bassist-vocalist Leroy Sibbles with contributions from such heavyweights as guitarist Ernest Ranglin, keyboardist Jackie Mitoo, and saxophonists “Deadly” Headley Bennett and Cedric Brooks.

Both “Melody Life” and “Shimmering Star” are pop-savvy rocksteady groovers amply spotlighting Griffiths’ vocal prowess. Likewise, the set’s concluding number, the flip side to Griffiths’ recording debut from 1966 (“Wall of Love”), a nifty version of the oft-covered “You’re No Good.” First cut by Dee Dee Warwick and a chart hit shortly thereafter for Betty Everett and the Swinging Blue Jeans (long prior to Linda Ronstadt’s ’74 version hitting #1), Griffiths’ reading of “You’re No Good” is the nearest Vol. 2 comes to straight-up R&B (notably, the style that was Dodd’s primary early inspiration).

Also returning from Vol. 1, Hortense Ellis is heard on two selections, “Can I Change My Mind” a late ’60s rocksteady cut seemingly unreleased until the early ‘90s, when it was included on an eponymous LP shared with her brother Alton, and the more roots-inclined “Secretly” from ’74. And speaking of Alton, he appears on Vol. 2 in duet, not with his younger sis but with Doreen Schaeffer on “I’m Still In Love.” Alton’s counterpart also goes it alone here with confidence on “Sugar Sugar” before duetting once again, this time with Jackie Opel on the ska-flavored nugget “Welcome You Back Home.”

Turning to more recent reggae developments, Jennifer Lara, featured on Vol. 1 with four selections, is limited to a solitary track on this follow-up, but it’s one of the set’s highlights, a gorgeous version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn!” done in the early ’80s rub-a-dub style. Also enjoyable is Myrna Hague’s funky R&B/ disco-tinged “New World” (a cover of “New World Coming,” a Mann-Weil composition popularized by Cass Elliot and Nina Simone).

But even better is the dub-infused but still decidedly catchy “Buck Town Corner” from sister duo the Jay Tees (yet another repeat act from Vol. 1). And on the subject of dub, Nana McLean’s version of the Everly Brothers’ “Till I Kissed You” is Vol. 2’s other significant excursion into the form. Elsewhere, Angela Prince’s “My Man Is Gone,” imbued with sweet guitar leads and splashes of organ, and Denise Darlington’s “Feel So Good,” a trombone-spiked party mover, swing the pendulum back toward roots reggae with sturdy results.

Rita Marley, heard on Vol. 1 as a member of the Soulettes, brings a soulful boost to side four with the rocksteady-era “Friends and Lovers.” Nora Dean, who delivers her own solid rocksteady number with “Heartaches,” was also a later member of the Soulettes, and she also recorded as Nina Soul, scoring a sizable Jamaican hit in 1970 with the somewhat saucily themed “Barb Wire.” Sample lyric: “he’s got barb wire in his underpants.” Like, yow!

“Barb Wire” is included Volume Two, as is the more roots-angled Nina Soul cut “Sleeping Trees.” They complete a set that glides forth without a stumble and benefits further from the multi-decade span of the contents, scoring yet another winner for Soul Jazz in their continued mining of Studio One’s riches.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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