If you’re still clinging to that outdated notion that disco is a shallow relic better left in decades past, it’s time to move on, and there’s no better way than with the expanded rerelease of Soul Jazz compilation Hustle! Reggae Disco. Originally released in 2002 with a scanty (but still worthwhile) eight tracks, this reissue brings us into the double digits with a total of 13 soulful tunes that traverse the dance floors from Kingston to London to New York and back.
The dub is strong from the start as the Blood Sisters croon a mellow cover of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell”. It lasts a slow, sweet eight minutes, and sets the tone for the album: a little sensual with a lot of chill. The levels of hot and cold vary over the album, but the soul is always there, whether the aim of each track is to have a good time or to belt out some deeper emotion. It’s constant, and it makes even the rougher tracks enjoyable.
Most of the strongest moments come from the ladies featured on Hustle!. Black Harmony’s appropriately harmonious cover of Jean Carne’s “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” has a honeylike weight to it; Latisha’s stripped-down version of “I’m Every Woman” trades the speed, volume, and exuberance of Chaka Khan’s or Whitney Houston’s for a more low-key sincerity that is every bit as heartfelt. At the peak of slow-burning passion is Carol Cool’s smoky cover of Diana Ross disco classic “Upside Down”, dotted with electronic blips and swaying with a smooth groove.
There are other highlights, too, songs that could slip into any quiet storm-style radio show. Guitarist Ernest Ranglin throws a little blues onto his beautiful, understated cover of “In the Rain”, and One Blood’s cover of “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” adds extra vocal flourishes and a little bounce to the jazzy classic - and nothing kicks like those hi-hats. Risco Connection goes simultaneously full disco and full reggae in a triumphant cover of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”, and it makes for a truly life-affirming moment.
Some miss the mark. Derrick Laro and Trinity rob Michael Jackson’s seminal dance hit “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” of the energetic glee that makes it such an infectious song by replacing the speed with a slow, unremarkable reggae beat and straining to hit notes that are simply out of reach, and should be left there. Xanadu and Sweet Lady at least sound like they’re having fun for all 11 minutes of “Rapper’s Delight”. They recite the lyrics nearly word-for-word, though, and it’s hard to believe that all that separates Sweet Lady from Wonder Mike is a stage name. Onward they go, though, swapping a few gender pronouns along the way and not doing much else to make it their own.
There’s something about early reggae records that always feels like the right choice to perk up a dull day, and Hustle! has the warmth, the soul, and the spirit that makes that the case. The missteps are head-scratchers (why would anyone want to slow down “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”?), but when a song works, it really works. Even questionable choices come with good intentions, and Hustle! is true, classic comfort food for the ear and tailor-made for collectors who cherish a little vintage soul.
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