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Dennis Brown - sleevenotes

Posted by The man 
The man
Dennis Brown - sleevenotes
February 16, 2006 06:23PM
Among his own Jamaican people, Dennis Brown was simply the most popular reggae artist of them all. From his emergence as a child star billed as the Boy Wonder to his sudden death some 30 years later, Dennis Brown won and kept the affection of this famously critical audience like no other singer before him or since. Others may have achieved greater international success but at the grass roots of reggae it was the Crown Prince whose music was heard constantly in the dancehalls and the homes not only of those living on the island but among the expatriate West Indian communities of England, Canada and the US too. His voice as the backdrop to the runnings of these everyday folk is without peer and still five years after his death, Dennis Brown remains a popular dancehall favourite.

Born in central Kingston on February 1, 1957, he grew up in the heart of its downtown area and his first public performance was at the age of nine when invited to sing at a local girl’s school. Fronting the Fabulous Falcons at a political conference held in the National Arena a couple of years later, Dennis Brown caught the attention of local bandleader and impresario Byron Lee, who began booking him on the prestigious package shows that he promoted on the island with visiting US artists, backed by his own group Byron Lee And The Dragonaires, and billed as the Boy Wonder.

It was Lee who introduced Dennis Brown to fellow singer and record producer Derrick Harriott. A studio session with the latter produced a song written by Dennis entitled ‘Lips Of Wine’, though this was not immediately released. Impatient at the delay, Dennis then took up the offer from Coxsone Dodd of an audition at Studio One and during a number of sessions over the next year or so voiced some 30 sides at the company’s Brentford Road studio. His first record release ‘No Man Is An Island’ issued in the latter part of 1969 was a slow burner from a new name that excited little interest for several months but then within the year went on to become a big hit throughout the island. Several other singles from these sessions were also released, including ‘Love Grows’, ‘Never Fall In Love’ and ‘Your Love Is Amazing’, and the bulk were eventually compiled on two albums, ‘No Man Is An Island’ and ‘If I Follow My Heart’, though by the time of their release he had already long moved on.

Contracted by record label owner Joe Gibbs to work on an album, Dennis Brown was introduced to in house producer Niney and the pair came up with a recording entitled ‘Money In My Pocket’, which was a big hit. Follow ups ‘Westbound Train’, Cassandra’ and ‘No More Will I Roam’ were among the most popular records on the reggae circuit during 1973 and cemented Dennis Brown’s reputation as the island’s favourite musical son.

In 1974, he arrived in Britain as part of a prestigious Jamaican showcase national tour also featuring the likes of the Maytals and Cynthia Richards. Following the reception he received during its rounds, Dennis was persuaded to stay on in England for a further three months to play the more low key West Indian clubs backed by local band the Cimarons. Back in Jamaica throughout the summer of 1975, Dennis resumed his collaboration with Niney, cutting powerful tracks like ‘So Long Rastafari’, ‘Why Seek More’, ‘Say Mama Say’, ‘Boasting’ and ‘Tribulation’.

In 1976, ‘Wolf And Leopard, went on to prove one of the cornerstones of the singer’s repertoire and also signalled the beginning of an especially creative period for him. A month later, ‘Whip Them Jah’ for producer Ossie Hibbert riding another Niney rhythm likewise made its presence felt, while ‘Have No Fear’ for Observer a few months later was a further dancehall smash that went on to become a much requested Dennis Brown classic, though by now the singer had severed his musical association with Niney and was recording again for Joe Gibbs. In March came an LP for Joe Gibbs entitled ‘Visions’ that was to be his best known and most successful album of all. Available only on Jamaican import and consequently more expensive than the standard retail price, the record nevertheless held its place on the UK reggae chart for a remarkable 15 months and then six months further after that following its general release. Another album released on the singer’s own DEB Records label in the UK a couple of months later collected various DEB and Observer singles from the past year or so under the title ‘Wolf And Leopard’ and was also hugely successful. Like ‘Visions’, it too had an extended run of nearly a year on the UK reggae chart. No subsequent Dennis Brown album would ever again have the popularity and longevity of this pair.

In 1978, a new version of ‘Money In My Pocket’ began arriving in UK pre-release outlets and made an immediate impact. Licensed to Lightning Records in England, ‘Money In My Pocket’ went on to become a British chart hit a full decade after the commencement of Dennis Brown’s recording career. However, the success of the tune never led to the breakthrough that Dennis Brown had anticipated and he was never again able to regain its impetus. Instead, the hit seemed to mark the beginning of a long, slow decline in the singer’s career and powers both, even if it did not quite seem that way at the time. Following the release of a couple of reasonably well regarded LPs ‘Words Of Wisdom’ and ‘Joseph’s Coat Of Many Colours’, Dennis then signed a deal with A&M Records in 1982 that resulted in the albums ‘Love Has Found Its Way’ and ‘The Prophet Rides Again’, though neither sold particularly well. Throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, Dennis Brown continued to record at a prodigious rate and toured the world as a reggae superstar.

The majority of the material on this present album was originally released shortly after Dennis Brown’s death in 1999 on two albums, ‘Sings Reggae Hits’ and ‘Sings Hits From Studio One’, and basically features Brown’s interpretations of well known reggae songs. We hear him tackle Winston Francis’ ‘Mr Fix It’, Monty Morris’ ‘Say What You Say’, Lloyd Charmers’ ‘Lost Without You’, Bob Marley’s ‘Rainbow Country’ and a whole set of songs made famous by John Holt, including ‘Love I Can Feel’, ‘Why Can't I Touch You’, ‘Do You Love Me’ and ‘Stranger In Love’, here retitled ‘Take My Hand’. Both ‘Lost Without You’ and ‘You Bring Me Joy’ are Striker Lee productions released on 7” in 1984, while ‘Moving Away’ and ‘Africa We Want To Go’ were recorded for Niney in the mid-1970s. The album ends with one of Brown’s rarest recordings for Eddie Wong, ‘At The Foot Of The Mountain’.

Penny Reel – June 2003
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