Under Observation

Dennis Brown
The Best Of Dennis Brown: The Niney Years
Dennis Brown

The Best Of Dennis Brown: The Niney Years (Heartbeat, 2008)

While Bob Marley is considered the King of Reggae, Dennis Brown (who Marley singled out as his favorite singer) came to be considered its Crown Prince. Brown was only 42 at the time of his death a decade ago, though his career, which began when he hadn’t yet hit his teenage years, was a long and varied one that saw him working for a number of noted Jamaican producers including Clement Dodd, Derrick Harriot and Joe Gibbs.

It’s arguable as to who brought out the best in Brown, but you could make a pretty strong case for Winston Holness, better known as Niney the Observer, who produced a number of mid-‘70s hits for Brown when both the singer and the music were at something of a crossroads. Brown possessed a seasoned voice that belied his youth, and his pipes served him well on the love songs, ballads and cover versions that marked his early phase.

As more Rasta-centric material came to the fore and reggae music was entering the roots era, Brown rolled with the change. Niney’s militantly quirky production style proved to be a superb backdrop for the soaring flexibility of Brown’s vocals, as shown by this sampling of some of their finest moments. Songs of consciousness like “Tenement Yard,” “Africa,” “Give a Helping Hand” and “Created by the Father” abound along with a few offerings for lovers and a pair of previously unreleased extended mixes featuring the nimble deejaying of I Roy, another late great.

Providing the majority of the riddims is the Soul Syndicate band, one of Jamaica’s finest and hardest. The last two songs suffer a bit from computerized beats that mark them as being from a later period, but even there, Brown’s vocals are topflight. Whether you consider it Brown’s best or not, this CD is packed full of classic tracks from a time when one of reggae’s greatest singers was on the rise and well on his way to legendary status. Terrific stuff.

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