Just last year I picked David Hillyard and the Rocksteady Seven‘s The Giver as my favorite album of 2018. This LP released by ORG Music introduced me to a completely new genre, rocksteady, which was the bridge between ska and reggae back in the mid 1960s. I responded to The Giver so favorably because it took the best of both worlds and congealed it into one accessible, exciting genre. As I wrote in my review for Positive Feedback, “I’m not sure why I was so immediately smitten with The Giver, other than the fact that it so perfectly captured a wonderful time and place in musical history while still possessing sound quality any contemporary audiophile would adore.”
A year later, we have Playtime. This isn’t a new album like The Giver, but a re-release from ORG Music that celebrates the twentieth anniversary of this landmark album. David Hillyard and the Rocksteady Seven have been playing this raucous, joyful music since 1992, and Playtime chronicles Hillyard’s “fourteen year love affair with the Jamaican music known as the Ska, the Rocksteady and the Reggae.” David Hillyard, who plays a mean saxophone, was inspired to learn his instrument after listening to records from Tommy McCook, Lester Stirling and Roland Alphonse. Playtime is a tribute from Hillyard, an “attempt” to recreate the blending and eventual evolution of those three musical genres.
David Hillyard went to New York City and found musicians who shared his enthusiasm for rocksteady. This includes many of the same guys who played on The Giver–drummer Eddie Ocampo, percussionist Larry McDonald, bassist Mike Bitz and more. This sound quality, despite the excellent pressing from the Pallas Group in Germany (you can read more about their pressings in my Furnace Records article in the Spring Issue of The Occasional), is minimalist in comparison. This doesn’t have the same clarity, weight and stunning imaging of the newer album. But if you loved The Giver like I did, Playtime offers a compelling comparison of the band’s origins to the precision machine that now exists twenty years later.
Playtime finds David Hillyard and his crew sticking to tradition, playing signature tunes such as “Ugly Man Blues,” and “Angry Lady” with a distinct nod to the pioneers of rocksteady. You still get that mean horn section, so dynamic on The Giver, but it’s slightly more distant. At the same time there’s a purity involved, something that might prompt Hillyard fans to state that this is the “early stuff, back when they were great.” Both albums have their places, obviously, and will appeal to you for different reasons. They are vital as a tandem statement–if you have one of these albums, you must get the other.
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