Quincy Jones is said to have remarked of his bond with Ray Charles, "Friendship is really just good air."
On this, their umpteenth album collaboration since the scatologically titled 1974 LP Rass! (a Jamaican expletive), Monty Alexander and Ernest Ranglin fill their own good air with some gems from their country's late '60s to late '70s pop-music canon. Most compelling of the lot are the Congos' "Fisherman," with Ranglin's guitar approximating the eerie falsetto of Cedric Myton on the original, Burning Spear's "Marcus Garvey" and Toots and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop" (best known from the breakthrough Harder They Come soundtrack), on which the gravelly voiced maestro guests. Ranglin consistently supplies that unique combination of skittering rhythmic touch and weighty grooves that made the originals so memorable. The rhythm section, including drummer Quentin Baxter, percussionist Courtney Panton, rhythm guitarist Jr. Jazz and particularly bassist Hassan Shakur, demonstrate affinity for the uncomplicated sensuality of the material. On Desmond Dekker's working stiff's anthem "Israelites," for example, Shakur provides resolute yet unobtrusive counterpoint to the more lighthearted stylings of the two leads.
Whether a commercial nod or deeply felt tribute, the inclusion of an impromptu version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is welcome. The duo lean convincingly toward the latter description, beginning their rendition in the adagio the Tuff Gong himself favored in his live renditions, before ascending ever so gradually to a intermediate tempo. While essentially anachronous to the album's other songs, it's really not a stretch given that Marley spent his formative years as part of the late ska period and came into his superstar own during the '70s.
Recorded live in the studio with a minimum of bells and whistles, Rocksteady is emblematic of the pioneer spirit that propelled Jamaican recordings into the international spotlight three decades ago. One can't resist the feeling that recently departed Studio One mastermind Clement Dodd is smiling at all this.