Various Artists – Treasure Isle Presents Soul Power ’68: Album Review

Soul Power ’68 is a genuine time capsule packed with 42 gems from Rocksteady’s Golden Year of ’68.

Release Date:  12th March 2021

Label: Doctor Bird Records (A division of Cherry Red records)

Formats: 2CD

The folks at Cherry Red have done it again!  Soul Power ’68 is a collection of 42 absolute gems from the studio of Arthur “Duke” Reid at 33 Bond Street, Kingston, Jamaica, many of which appear for the first time on CD, for the first time in the UK, and, in a couple of cases, for the first time anywhere.

The inspiration for this collection came about when a Treasure Isle Records tape of an unissued compilation was discovered.  The compilation had been allocated the Soul Power ’68 title. It comprised twelve tracks, all of which had previously been released as Treasure Isle singles during 1968.  The tape had been mastered but, for reasons that will probably never be known, was never released.  Until now, that is….  The first twelve tracks on this excellent new collection are those that were allocated space on the rediscovered tape, and the remainder of the collection are songs from Treasure Isle that also came about during 1968.

Arthur “Duke” Reid

Why 1968? I hear you ask…  Well, to answer that question, it’s probably worth giving a brief background to “Duke” Reid and his various musical enterprises.  Former policeman Reid was the proprietor of the Treasure Isle liquor store in Kingston.  As a means of attracting customers to his store, he arranged a sponsorship deal to start his own radio show, Treasure Isle Time, on which he would play R&B hits from the US, interspersed with adverts for his liquor store wares.  His involvement with music developed further when acquired a Sound System which he would transport to local dances at which he would also sell his liquor products. 

The sound system was such a success that, in 1958, he founded a recording studio, Treasure Isle Recording which was located above his store at 33 Bond Street.  By the early 1960s, Reid was the dominant figure on the Jamaican music scene, the owner of numerous record labels (including Trojan, Duke Reid’s, Dutchess and Treasure Isle) and the architect behind lucrative UK licensing deals, including the UK Trojan Records deal with Chris Blackwell and Lee Gopthal from Island Records.  Reid’s preferred musical styles were primarily jazz and blues but, as the 60’s progressed, his studio became best known for producing Ska hits for the likes of Justin Hinds and the Dominoes and The Skatalites and, as 1968 dawned, it earned a reputation as the home of Rocksteady.

The title, Soul Power ’68, is something of a misnomer. The tracks on this album are, with a few marginal exceptions, prime Rocksteady cuts, from the year when the genre was at its peak, just before it morphed into the faster, shuffling groove that had yet to be designated as Reggay.

And there’s some splendid stuff on here.  Kicking off with The Silvertones’ version of Wilson Pickett’s In The Midnight Hour, the album is a refreshing delight from start to finish. The production standard is excellent throughout and every song sounds fresh and fun.  Treasure Isle house band, Tommy McCook And The Supersonics provide the backing to most of the vocal tracks, and they’re spot-on.  Whilst nearly every track has been previously released as a Jamaican 45 RPM single (either an “A” or a “B” side) over half the tracks have never before been issued in the UK, so there’s plenty here to excite the dedicated collector, including a couple of marvelous tunes from the enigmatic Joya Landis, and songs from Hopeton Lewis, The Paragons, Winston Wright and The Gladiators. 

Tommy McCook and the Supersonics

Jamaican music would, of course, achieve mainstream success in the UK during 1969, once Desmond Dekker had exposed the record-buying public to reggae with his patois-drenched Israelites. The uninitiated will certainly marvel at the levels of maturity and even sophistication already being achieved and which are showcased by this collection.  Sadly, 1968 was to represent something of a peak in the career of Duke Reid.  By the early 1970s, the preferred taste in Jamaican music had moved on to roots reggae, a genre that Reid disliked hugely, and Reid was also starting to suffer health problems.  He died from cancer on new year’s day, 1975, leaving a rich legacy that has already been extensively plundered and repackaged over the years.  Soul Power ’68 is a veritable trove of Treasure Isle goodies that have somehow slipped under the radar, and are presented here in a sympathetic, informative, and most importantly, highly enjoyable package.

Make no mistake – this is a wonderful compilation, packed with great tunes and a true time capsule of a period when reggae was about to burst into life but hadn’t yet lost its innocence.  Highly recommended.

Listen to The Silvertones’ version of In The Midnight Hour – the opening track on Soul Power’68 – here:

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