It's a safe bet that one of the most anticipated days of the year for reggae fans is when the annual retrospective Strictly the Best CDs drop. There are no surprises here, as one CD focuses mainly on up-tempo dance songs with some of the past year's most popular riddims, while the other is much more mellow and devoted to the lovers. Both CDs are 18 tracks deep and feature reggae at its most diverse. We get something for conscious folk, songs of love and devotion, mindless party music, homophobic references, covers of American pop songs and even a touch of jungle.
Nearly every reggae star on the charts today is represented, including Beenie Man, Zebra, Lady Saw, Glen Washington, Ghost and Marcia Griffiths. The wildly popular "Badda Badda" riddim is represented on Volume 23 by Mr. Vegas' "Di Position," while the "All Purpose" riddim gets play via the duet "Weh Dem Woulda Do" from Buccaneer & Mr. Vegas. A couple of medleys are also included, but the inclusion of some lackluster attempts to cross over hurt the CD, especially the woeful "Leggo Di Bwoy."
Although it's a stronger CD, the more soulful Volume 24 also suffers from some throwaway tracks, including Razah's rendition of Aaliyah's "One in a Million." The CD is full of cover tracks, which makes it very accessible to Americans, with Whitney Houston, Cher, Tyrese and Luther Vandross all receiving the sincerest form of flattery.
With this diversity, hardcore fans are sure to find 'nuf tunes to satisfy their sonic cravings and newcomers can quickly catch up with what's hot. These CDs won't make you a reggae expert overnight, but they're a fairly accurate reflection of what's being played at your local bashment — both the good and bad.
Dan Zarazua writes about music for Metro Times. E-Mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.