Feelin' Skanky

Four new discs show that reggae is bigger than just one mon.

By all rights, Perry should have run out of moments a long time ago; he's lived enough lives for a dozen of his countrymen, plus their pot dealers. Nonetheless, Jamaican E.T. is an unexpectedly entertaining salvo from the grand old man of dub, largely because of its inveterate weirdness. The lead ditty, "10 Commandments," rolls out amid overlapping vocals and chirping birds; "Message From the Black Art Studios" is delivered by what sounds like a multitude of Perrys, all of them drenched in echo; "Congratulations" comes complete with a heaping helping of bar-band funk; and the title cut, during which Perry seems to be having a nonsensical conversation with himself, is truly otherworldly. He may be a nut, but he's our nut.

The variety of music in the Trojan vaults doesn't end there. The outfit's 2002 sampler spotlights efforts by comparatively prominent performers like Toots and the Maytals (54-46 Was My Number: Anthology 1964-2000), the Ethiopians (Train to Skaville: Anthology 1966-1975), and Dennis Brown (Money in My Pocket: Anthology 1970-1995). But also represented are folks whose legacies will probably be less familiar to non-Jamaicans -- among them, Ken Boothe (Everything I Own: Anthology 1963-1978), Bruce Ruffin (Rain: The Best of Bruce Ruffin 1967-1971) and John Holt. Granted, Holt's signature song, "The Tide Is High," was a worldwide hit -- but for Blondie, not for him.

This avalanche of material is apt to come as a revelation to those who realize they're reggae novices, and even to some who don't. After all, the music didn't begin with Marley -- and it didn't end with him, either.

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