Alan Greenspan will probably never weigh in on it, but it's generally understood that the economy for reggae music can bear about one good boxed set per holiday season. Recent years have yielded the excellent Bob Marley set Songs of Freedom, the almost-as-excellent Peter Tosh set Honorary Citizen and the similarly worthy Lee "Scratch" Perry set Arkology. This year, RAS Records has compiled Power of the Trinity, a beautifully crafted three-disc set from label mainstay Israel Vibration. Although I lack a seat on the Federal Reserve -- and in fact have struggled with finances since my milk-money days -- I'm going to predict that reggae's bull market will continue and rate Trinity a strong buy.
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For the uninitiated, Israel Vibration is one of reggae's earliest and best harmony trios; the members met as children in a rehabilitation center when they were stricken with polio. Homeless, the group sang its lush harmonies on the street until they recorded the classic Same Song in 1977 and soon rose to stardom. They went on to record seventeen albums and continue to release top-flight recordings every year or so. As a measure of their talent, Israel Vibration was said to be Bob Marley's favorite band; Trinity provides ample rationale. The set is fittingly divided into three discs: Since the group has traditionally rotated lead singing duties, there is one each for members Apple, Wiss and Skelly. (If you're partial to one and hard up for cash, each disc is also sold separately.) The selections span the band's 23 years and include such classics as "On the Rock," "Why Worry," "Reggae on the River" and many others. Most are backed by the able brass section of longtime collaborators the Roots Radics. For true fans, there is plenty of arcana: a booklet of paeans from various reggae luminaries, photographic memorabilia (including a shot of the Fox Theatre), song lyrics and in-their-own-words history from each member. If there's a flaw in this collection, it's the inclusion of interview snippets from the bandmembers between songs. Taken together, they're mildly interesting, but they'd have been better suited to their own disc. Their placement renders it damn near impossible to listen to the music uninterrupted, unless one has the patience to program out all the interviews. But that's a minor nuisance in an otherwise estimable collection. As holiday gifts go, Power of the Trinity is this year's Furby for the reggae lover in your life.