Marcia Griffiths and Friends

by: Marcia Griffiths

In a decades-long career, Marcia Griffiths has become one of the best-known female reggae artists of all time, scoring hit after hit in a wide range of styles. Griffiths has covered dancehall, doo wop, rocksteady, and a variety of other subgenres of reggae over the years, and part of her versatile nature has always been how open she's been to collaboration and working with guests. Marcia Griffiths and Friends is an almost overwhelming testament to that fact, with 38 duets culled from her enormous discography and featuring a who's who of Jamaican music. Highlights are plentiful, and the songs are all over the spectrum. Griffiths' work with iconic reggae hall-of-famers is some of the most exciting material here, including duets with John Holt, Beres Hammond, and the gorgeous digital rocksteady groove of "Number One" featuring Gregory Isaacs. Dancehall stars like Cutty Ranks, Annette Brissett, Assassin, and Beenie Man make appearances on some of the more fired-up tracks. Buju Banton shows up on no less than five tracks, adding his gruff dancehall character in contrast to Griffiths' smooth and reflective vocals. Busy Signal guests on the inspired "Automatic," a slice of slinky soul-reggae that shows the artists complementing one another's disparate styles with seamless fluidity. Clocking in at well over two hours, this collection is a lot to digest in one sitting, and it's not without a few duds here and there. Half-hearted stabs at '80s soundtrack pop singles like "Knew You Were Waiting for Me" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" sound especially hollow and plastic compared to her burning versions of soul tracks like "Oh No Not My Baby" and the more party-starting dancehall tracks. Her duet with Bob Andy on Stevie Wonder's "Ebony & Ivory" sounds especially dated and saccharine as well. Marcia Griffiths and Friends is also absent of any of her late-'60s and early-'70s material, focusing on the higher-fidelity production and more R&B-tinged later recordings. Fans of contemporary reggae will find much to love in this weighty collection, but those enamored with Griffiths' stormier early work might miss the moody production and more organic rhythm tracks. Despite that, the collection is brimming over with more than enough strong selections to make it worthwhile to even the casual reggae fan. ~ Fred Thomas

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