Jimmy London – Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Released 8 January 2020
Expanded reissue of the ex-Inspirations singer Jimmy London’s 1972 debut album, which included some very popular singles including the title track. It was the first long player released on Randy’s Records and the second disc of this set mines the label’s best work in the aftermath of original reggae era…Ian Canty finds the whole thing capital…
Trevor Shaw, alias Jimmy London, already had a reasonably successful career on the Jamaican music scene behind him by the early 1970s. He had been part of the Inspirations, a duo with Billy Shaw who are probably best known for working with Lee Perry on Tighten Up, the Archie Bell number that gave its name to the famous compilation series. Later they also recorded with Joe Gibbs, which although not really connecting with the JA record buying public, resulted in their sole album Reggae Fever. Whilst dabbling with other vocal group set ups intermittently, the main thrust of his work was as a solo artist from 1970s onwards.
Around this time he linked up with Randy’s Records, run by Vincent Chin aka Randy. Like most studios, it had its own regular backing outfit known as either Randy’s/The Impact All Stars, which included such luminaries as Sly Dunbar and Augustus Pablo. Chin funded his Randy’s Record Shop with the proceeds of his jukebox business and began producing records with the advent of ska. Moving his shop to 16-17 North Parade in Kingston in the early 1960’s, upstairs with his wife he set up the Studio 17 recording facility.
Bridge Over Troubled Water is simply a world class example of romantic reggae. It ensues logically enough with the hit title track Simon and Garfunkel cover. The song is given a cool lilting pace and neat brass accoutrements, something which suits it well. It is a fine line that Jimmy treads on this album, on occasion going tantalisingly close to pure cheese without ever toppling headfirst into cheddar. He skates pretty darn close to the “supper club” edge on hoary oldie It’s Now Or Never, but he just about manages to get away with it. In fact Jimmy manages to keep things satisfyingly fresh and his top notch vocal talents were easily good enough to do justice to the material on display here.
He reveals that he is very much a soul singer at heart on this LP and applies an expert Jamaican touch to the Motown/r&b covers included. His version of Fritz Rother’s That’s All I Want Know, retitled A Little Love, was another very good single which became Jimmy’s keynote cut and a touching version of The Temptations’ recent hit Just My Imagination marries up soul and reggae, arriving at a joyful amalgam.
Jamboree shows Jimmy could cut it in a tougher style, but his self-penned set closer They Don’t Know is a gem and shows he didn’t have to rely totally on other people’s tunes. The full horn section on display shows the skilful touch of The Impact All Stars and helps to give the song true pop appeal.
With the Bridge Over Troubled Water album complete, we get four bonus Jimmy London sides from his singles over the same period. Another self-written number Hip Hip Hooray is a late boss reggae treat and Jamaican Festival ’72 is cut on the same rhythm, but with keys and brass enhancements that make it positively shine.
After these bonus Jimmy efforts, the remainder of the disc is given over to the unreleased A Little Love LP. Featuring such talents as Tommy McCook, DJ Dennis Alcapone and the mighty Dennis Brown, it is a bit of a headscratcher as to why it never saw the light of day at the time. Nonetheless this is a prime selection of reggae just after the boss/skinhead boom had subsided.
Dennis Brown’s two contributions depict a young man clearly on the rise, with the uptempo roots sound of chiding song Cheater showing what lay ahead for Jamaican music as the 1970s went on. The other Dennis, Alcapone, offers a typically cool toast in Stars Version. This is cut to the rhythm of Lloyd Parks’ Stars, which starts A Little Love on a very groovy note. The Freedom Group’s folk-tinged Sing A Song Of Freedom is great and has a meaty hook and Jimmy London is back as part of Rocking Horse. They offer up the very danceable Hard Time, which is perhaps the pick of their brace.
Moving on to disc two of this set, we have a compilation of the best of Vincent Chin’s Randy’s Records label from 1971 to 1973. This features another raft of well-known names in reggae circles with a few more obscure artists, plus DJ/dub versions on the same rhythms. That Randy’s had access to top names during the time period is confirmed here. Beginning with the upbeat and lively Free Man by one of reggae’s premier vocal groups The Ethiopians, this is immediately followed by Max Romeo’s very catchy Chi Chi-Bud.
The Ethiopians also score with the dynamic sound of Mr Tom, an infectious Me Want Gal and the enchanting Rim Bim Bam. Winston Prince, better known as Dr Alimantado, turns in a couple of solid toasting offerings in Go Back Version 3 (cut to the rhythm of The Vibrators’ Go Back, also included) and Dandy Shandy Version 4. The marked r&b tinge helps make Something On My Mind by Hubert Lee (who also performed with The Clarendonians) stand out too.
Augustus Pablo steps out with the trademark melodica sound of his classic Java, which is immediately and coolly versioned by The Impact All Stars as Java 2 and Dennis Alcapone’ DJ cut Mava. King of rocksteady Alton Ellis shows his vocal prowess was undiminished five years later on a fine Too Late To Turn Back Now and Errol Dunkley, still a way off OK Fred conquering the UK charts, supplies a deep reggae soul marvel Created By The Father and also plugs into gospel on his later offering O Lord.
Further big names crop up in the shape of The Heptones and Cool Ruler Gregory Isaacs. The former offer heartfelt pearl in Soul Sister and Lonely Soldier is endowed with Gregory’s silky vocal touches. The set ends with The Impact All Stars versioning Gregory’s tune with some subtle proto-dub moves.
All things considered this is a fine dip into Randy’s catalogue 1971 – 1973. Jimmy London’s album, which forms its basis, is a hugely enjoyable entry into the annals of romantic reggae and it is no real surprise that it made waves and sold well at the time. There’s plenty of life on the unissued compilation set A Little Love and the second disc is marked by the DJ and dub that would increasingly become dominant as the 1970s went on, as well as showcasing some fine, rarely heard material.
Although Bridge Over Troubled Water marked Jimmy’ highpoint commercially, he still has recorded and performed over the years. His vocal talents, as displayed on the LP that gives structure to this set, are well worth catching up with even at this late stage. A terrific collection.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here