On 25 October 2010, the music world lost legend Gregory Isaacs in physical form following a battle with liver cancer. A legend never really dies though, and Isaacs is testament to that as he lives on through a slew of classics. Isaacs’ career started out in the late 1960s, becoming one of the most highly touted reggae exports by the late ‘70s. Despite two major label record deals his mainstream career didn’t take off as some hoped, but he remained an elite reggae artist until his passing. And really, who judges music on mainstream success anyway?

Leading reggae and dancehall label VP collaborate with renowned saxophonist/producer Dean Fraser to spruce up many of the Cool Ruler’s anthems on We Remember Gregory Isaacs. Greg’ry (Jamaican pronunciation) isn’t unfamiliar to covers; his breakthrough hit (to the mainstream) “Night Nurse” received cover treatment by the ginger-locked Mick Hucknall from Simply Red in 1995, reaching #13 UK singles chart. Covers are no easy feat and often remind you how good the original is because the cover is dire. Mr. Fraser assembles an impressive line-up consisting of some of the biggest current reggae stars (Jah Cure, Gyptian, Tarrus Riley), rising talents (Romain Virgo, Chevaugn, Natel, D Major), a feminine touch (Etana, Cherine Anderson, Alaine), plus others.

First song to emerge from the album is “Number One” by Gyptian of “Hold You” fame, which has been a staple on pirate radio stations for the past month or so. Gyptian retains his own style, but that isn’t the only factor in differentiating this from the original.

Gyptian – “Number One”

Rhythm tracks have been updated to fit current reggae productions without losing the essence of the original. More of a lush sound with additional organ stabs and guitar as opposed to the minimal approach of predominant, earthy bass line accompanied by piano stabs and sparse horn sections interspersed on the original late ‘70s/mid-‘80s production. Older fans/fans of the originals may think it’s overproduced or complain about the lack of bass, but my mum doesn’t, so you’re all wrong, really. And if they like dislike these that much, they can always listen to the originals.

Alaine – “Tune In”:

Scanning through the tracklist, I see my two favourites “Soon Forward” and “Tune In” are both covered by females (Cherine Anderson and Alaine respectively). I listen with caution. Let me state that isn’t sexist: I say it because I’m used to a male vocal and two of three female tracks are my favourites. What are the chances? I’m pleasantly surprised as both bring a seductive almost whisper to the slow jams making them appear as a roles reversal scenario. In hindsight, female interpretations probably enhance it as I would have harshly critiqued the new male. Credit to Etana too for her cover of “My Only Lover.” Females put in a perfect shift.

J Boog – “Cool Down The Pace”:

Other stand-outs include Samoan reggae singer J Boog’s rousing cover of “Cool Down The Pace” which in my opinion betters the original, Chevaugn’s stripped down acoustic interpretation of “Red Rose For Gregory”, normal service by Tarrus Riley and Jah Cure who never fail to deliver (on “Front Door” and “Mr. Brown” respectively) and a solid “Top Ten” by Hezron – an artist I’d never heard of previously. Only relative downer is the big hit, “Night Nurse,” where I feel the extremely talented Romain Virgo turns what is essentially a sensual song into a power ballad.

And if a CD of solid covers isn’t enough, the legend Dean Fraser picks up the saxophone in place of lead vocalists and turns in a jazzy rendition of every song on the first disc. If you get the chance, revisit the originals too. The MOBO Awards didn’t but we will always remember Gregory Isaacs. RIPower Gregory Isaacs (15 July 1951 – 25 October 2010).

Various Artists – We Remember Gregory Isaacs
Released: August 12, 2011
Label: VP Records
Buy: iTunes UK / iTunes US / Amazon UK / Amazon US