40 Greatest Hits

by: John Holt

Sweet-voiced singer/songwriter John Holt has been working professionally in the Jamaican music business since 1958, and his recorded legacy is a long one, with several peaks and valleys, but when he is on his game, and when he is working with a producer who cares about quality as well as commercial viability, he is arguably the greatest of Jamaica's balladeers. This two-disc, 40-track box is made up of Bunny Lee-produced cuts -- Holt and Lee had what might be called an intermittent partnership, but it was an artistically fulfilling one, leading to five albums and some wonderful singles starting with the 1971 cover of Shep & the Limelites' "Stick by Me," which is included here. "Stick by Me" may be a love song, the kind of thing Holt has always been known for, but its proto-dread rhythm suggests a more ominous undercurrent, and the tension between the song's content, Holt's sweet vocal, and the weary march of the rhythm strikes a very delicate balance. This kind of production approach was markedly different from the string-drenched MOR-ish material produced by Tony Ashfield that brought Holt his greatest international success, so casual listeners should be aware that the material collected here has a relatively harder edge, although there are still plenty of smooth love songs in the mix. ~ Steve Leggett

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