Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Various Artists, Funky Nassau The Compass Point Story 1980 – 1986

The Compass Point recording studio was built near Nassau on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas in the late 1970s by Chris Blackwell the founder of Island Records.  In 1979 a stellar house band coalesced in the studio that included Mickey Chung and Barry Reynolds on guitars, Wally Badarou on keybaords, percussionist Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, drummer Sly Dunbar, and Robbie Shakespeare on bass.  Funky Nassau contains 13 tracks recorded by a number of artists with this house band during the first half of the ’80s.

Funky Nassau opens with the 12″ version of Grace Jones’s “My Jamaican Guy” and the listener is immediately introduced to the rhythm and groove that were the band’s defining characteristic.  Dunbar and Shakespeare would go on to become well known as one of the preminent production teams of their day based on their signature combination of funk, soul and reggae, and you can hear the sound that made them famous all over these sessions. 

The most well known tracks on Funky Nassau are the Talking Heads’ “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” which still sounds good and the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” which gets less interesting every time I hear it.  Two of the tracks are mixes by giants of the New York underground dance scene of the ’70s and ’80s.  Set the Tone’s “Dance Sucker” mixed by Francois Kevorkian is a solid dance club workout while Gwen Guthrie’s “Padlock” mixed by Larry Levan is a fairly run of the mill disco diva track and a bit of a disapointment. 

By and large that dichotomy characterizes much of the music on Funky Nassau.  There are some outstanding tracks like Dunbar’s “River Niger” and the dub mix of Will Powers’ “Adventures in Success” that are offset by some fairly straghtforward and uninteresting disco and club music like Guy Cuevas’ “Obsession” and Cristina’s “You Rented a Space”.  The CD also contains a very nice mix of Bits & Pieces overly familiar “Don’t Stop the Music” and a version of Ian Drury and The Seven Seas Players’s “Spasticus Autisticus” that features terrific instrumental breaks and vocals that are so annoying the song gets skipped more often than heard in our rotation.

The real star of this collection is sound engineer Alex Sadkin.  Every track on the CD sounds brilliant.  With a band anchored by Dunbar, Shakespeare and Thompson you have to know how to record drums and the bottom end and Sadkin was more than up to the task.  Drums are especially difficult to record well and Sadkin was a master.  Cymbals ring and decay naturally, snares and hand percussion have the fast attack and snap of live drums, and toms have their natural full bodied sound.  It’s exceptionally well done and it’s too bad the booklet doesn’t go into detail about how he did it.  Overall, the sound stage is wide and the placement of each instrument in space is clear and distinct.  Sadkin had the reputation of being a perfectionist in the studio and the results can be clearly heard in this gloriously recorded music.  Funky Nassau is one of the best sounding CDs I’ve heard in a long time.

Musically Funky Nassau is a mixed bag with a combination of memorable and forgettable tunes.  It all sounds terrific however, and if you like the funk, soul, reggae hybrid that Shakespeare and Dunbar were known for, you’ll find much to like here.


07/02/2008 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , ,

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