Percussionist Sly Dunbar is probably one of the best known reggae musicians, having played with just about everyone in the reggae world at one time or another and also alongside mainstream pop and rock artists from Bob Dylan to Herbie Hancock to the Rolling Stones. Paired with long-time collaborator and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, the two are arguably the most famous rhythm section in reggae, a genre driven by rhythm. In short, he’s good.
I’ve picked up a few other Sly & Robbie records over the last few years and never come away disappointed, so when I came across a reasonably priced copy of 1982s Sly-go-ville I figured why not. Turns out this is a sort of hybrid record. Yes, reggae is at the core. But there’s also plenty of funk and soul influence, and even a hint of dub. The opening track, “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” opens with a straight up copy of the riff from “Get Up, Stand Up” before moving off into funky territory that sounded like it belonged in a 1970s blaxploitation movie. Meanwhile on the flip side “If You Want It” is like some kind of weird techno funk with it’s heavily modulated vocal, almost a reggae version of Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do.” The last track, “Unmetered Taxi,” is a pure dub number and a good intro to the genre for newbies.
Sly-go-ville is probably a good pick for the person who claims not to be a reggae fan – there are a lot of other more familiar popular music elements present, but still recognizable reggae rhythms and even dub. Very approachable and enjoyable.