Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra (1988)

Here's another one I picked out of a slush pile in a newspaper office back in the day. It makes the unusual mistake of leading with its worst track, an ill-advised cover of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." I'm hard put to think of very many other albums that have done that. Born in the U.S.A., I guess, which had a similar effect on me in terms of delaying my interest—it's just not that encouraging when the worst foot is put forward, is it? On the other hand, the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, which has some ties to Steel Pulse but whose players are otherwise mostly unknown to me and in general so obscure that it doesn't even merit a Wikipedia entry proper, was shrewd enough at least to follow that up with their best track, "Love and Hate" (listen), which in turn is so good they even knew to include a second version here (labeled an instrumental but actually with vocals). They call themselves an orchestra evidently because string players such as solo violinists are featured prominently, and also likely because the orchestral (or faux orchestral) sweetening is layered on with swooning abandon. It's reggae to the extent of the general structure and texture of the beats, which nonetheless tend to be well submerged in the mixes. The players, as shown on the cover, also appear to wear dreads, and if that doesn't make something reggae I don't know what does. As a vinyl product I relied mostly on its first side, which includes "Love and Hate" and then a few others nearly as good; the second side included another weird cover, "As Time Goes By" (which at least is better than the Calloway) along with an instrumental version of same, and also the second "Love and Hate." So it's reasonably skimpy business here, 10 songs, two repeated, and thus I suppose little surprise that they never hit big, or even hit little. But "Love and Hate" was one of those songs I adored and frequently included on tape mixes, partly for the surprise value derived from its obscurity but mostly just because I like it so much, and love it still, and thus remain willing to stump for it hard. Which raises the question: WHEN DOES THE COMEBACK TOUR START?

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