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Jamaica to Toronto 

Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974

Flying well below most radars -- but thriving, nonetheless, on an underground level -- was the West Indian music scene of Canada some three-four decades ago. As essayed on Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974 (Light In The Attic), that expatriate scene is recast as an astonishingly fertile breeding ground deeply influenced by American soul while proving a wellspring for musical hybrids.

Initiated in 2003 by Vancouver journalist Sipreano (aka Kevin Howes), the project picked up steam when Seattle's Light In The Attic Records came on board, ultimately yielding an exhaustively researched, gorgeously presented collection. The graphics alone are award-winning stuff: a 36-page booklet brings together essays, first-hand remembrances, in-depth artist bios and reproductions of memorabilia and original vinyl; the packaging is a mini-double LP sleeve designed to look like an old record crate.

"However these tunes reach you," urges Sipreano in his introduction, "remember that the messages contained within remain as pertinent today as during their conception. Togetherness, faith and celebration abound."

Indeed, the power of love is a frequent theme of these 16 tunes, notably the Sheiks' doo-wop flavored "Eternal Love," Bob and Wisdom's Donny Hathaway-inspired cover of Mac Davis' "I Believe In Music" and Ram's War-meets-Kool & the Gang "Love Is The Answer." Ram was fronted by Wayne McGhie, whose presence is felt as a performer or songwriter on several cuts; Jo-Jo and the Fugitives' "Chips-Chicken-Banana Split" is Stax/Volt having a studio food fight, while McGhie solo number "Fire (She Need Water)" is a shotgun wedding of bongos, horns and lusty Jamaican toasting.

And don't miss Jackie Mittoo: the prolific Kingston keyboardist submits "Grand Funk," an uplifting mélange simultaneously evoking Santana, Funkadelic and some of the great Blaxploitation film orchestrations. Damn, that funk is definitely grand -- as is every note on this collection.

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