The first music I ever heard from Light in the Attic was the Jamaica to Toronto compilation. This was around 2006, when I was music editor at an alt-weekly newspaper in Ft. Lauderdale. At the time, I was innundated with promotional CDs from labels all over the US, and though the LITA comp looked interesting and sounded fine, I didn't pay much heed to it. I was a dumbass.
A month ago I was driving a rental car back to Seattle from a backpacking trip in the North Cascades. I'd brought a grip of CDs with me, discs dug out of a box from under my bed that I hadn't looked at in years. The Jamaica to Toronto comp was among them.
On the road that day, I played the CD twice in a row. Every song on Jamaica to Toronto—literally all 16 of them—is an absolute classic.
As the title suggests, the compilation features songs by Jamaican artists living in Toronto in the '60s and '70s. According to the liner notes by Canadian musicologist Kevin "Sipreano" Howe, there was a northern migration from the West Indies to Toronto at that time, and the songs he included in the compilation represent a cross-section of the sounds brought from the islands to the Great White North: classic soul, hard funk, deep dub, Nyabinghi-style reggae, Billy Preston-style pop, James Brown-style R&B.
The songs below are only a glimpse of the brilliance contained on this album; the totality is indescribably good. Jamaica to Toronto CDs and MP3s are readily available online, but vinyl, now out of print, goes for $60-$100 on collector websites.
Cougars, "I Wish it Would Rain"
Studio One has been called "the Motown of Jamaica," a factory from which countless archetypal hits have been produced and career musicians have been nurtured. This cover of the Temptations' 1967 hit pushed Motown into Studio One in a musical sense—the beat and slinky guitar are dubwise in their minimalist sound. Unlike the Temptations version, which is almost almost unbearably sad, Cougars inject righteous hope into the song, mainly through the copacetic pairing of male and female vocals.
Noel Ellis, "Memories"
This dub epic delves deep into the sadness that the Cougars cast aside. Noel Ellis, son of rocksteady innovator Alton Ellis, laments not only lost love but lost youth in general, the inevitable passing of time mirrored in the song's cavernous reverb. This song feels good to get lost in. Somewhere behind my eyes/Memories of days gone by...
Johnny Osbourne, "African Wake"
Irresistible. Turn it the fuck up.