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Album Review: Gregory Isaacs - Rebirth Of The Cool Ruler


by Steve Topple

Album Review: Gregory Isaacs - Rebirth Of The Cool Ruler

Nearly 13 years after his untimely passing, some of Gregory ‘The Cool Ruler’ Isaacs’ classic tracks have been given new life – in the form of an album headed-up by long-time collaborator King Jammy and featuring a host of stars lending their voices to Isaacs’ original recordings.

Rebirth Of The Cool Ruler, released via Jammy Music and Greensleeves Records, is a follow-up to a series of albums that legendary producer Jammy began with Black Uhuru’s New Sounds Of Freedom and Dennis Brown’s Tracks Of Life – where modern artists combine their vocals with original recordings by Reggae legends.

Rebirth… sees Jammy reimagine some of Isaacs’ classic tracks – bringing a host of modern Reggae artists on board to perform alongside the Cool Ruler. An exciting project in itself – even more so when you look at the detail of what’s been done.

To start with, some of the tracks’ instrumentals have either been re-recorded or re-engineered – some even in their entirety - which is no mean feat. However, Jammy and his team have done this with skill, a sympathetic ear to the originals, as well as imagination. The quality of the finished product is excellent, maintaining an authentic 80s/90s sound.

Then, Jammy has enhanced Isaacs’ performances, too – making them sound fresh, as if they were recorded this year. Again, the quality is such that none of the singer’s complex inflections across tone and interpretation are lost – while ensuring they marry with 2020’s digitally-recorded music and the performances of the guest artists. And what a roll call of performers it is.

Rebirth… opens with Shaggy stepping in on It Go So from 1999. It’s a good example of Jammy reworking the original instrumentals – as here, the horn opening has been re-recorded with the harmonic focus being slightly different to the original. Shaggy delivers two well-executed verses, where he’s married his rhythmic and melodic arrangement perfectly to the brooding composition and Isaac’s laid-back yet sultry vocal – and overall, It Go So is the perfect opening.

Sean Paul comes on board for Another Try – a reworking of Isaac’s 1988 hit Let’s Give It A Try, across the Bye Bye Love Riddim. Here, the original instrumental recording sounds like it’s been used, but the engineering and mastering has been enhanced – bringing the skanking guitar to the fore and levelling off the bass slightly. Paul’s vocal builds to fit well with the crescendo of the music – and overall, this reimagining is excellently done.

Jesse Royal features on Don't Take Your Love From Me. Here, the entire track has been re-recorded to create a suitably different sound to the 1994 Midnight Confidential version (not the Mek Me Prosper one) – or so it sounds. For example, the horn line follows the exact same melody, but on this new version there are slight but noticeable difference in note length and quality. The keys are similar: check the riff on beat four, bar four, of its bubble rhythm. Moreover, the engineering has given the track more depth – and additional Dub production techniques like the use of decay and reverb make for a very different experience. Royal is on point, and the whole thing works brilliantly.

Aza Lineage joins the Cool Ruler for 1988’s First Class Lover – again, a track that’s been substantially reworked, with a warm, rich sound at its heart and slight pitch alteration. The first thing that stands out is the new inclusion of a whining electric guitar line that flows around the basic composition perfectly. Lineage’s contribution is wonderful – creating a perfect response to Isaacs’ vocal and matching it too. Her performance is measured, dynamically interesting, and tonally complementary – meaning the 2023 First Class Lover is first class.

Ras Demo features on Dance With Me, taking us back to 2000 and the Back At One Riddim. Once more, the track has been embellished – this time with additional string lines. The track is offset perfectly with Demo’s singjay – rapid, well-enunciated and rhythmically complex – making it a perfect, feel-good party track.

Brandon The Messenjah takes us to 1988 with You're Like An Angel – once more with additional instrumentation, including a rasping electric guitar line and vibrato’d electric organ, plus a focus on expanding the depth of sound. Messenjah gives a great, resonant performance, completely contrasting with Issacs’ high tenor – and the result is something thoroughly modern feeling.

Alborosie takes on a classic in Dreadlocks Bridge – originally the 1996 cut Over The Bridge. Here, Jammy has stayed faithful to the original – except to bring in a gorgeous sax line that winds around firstly Isaacs’ vocal, and then Albo’s. The latter provides his gruff, forthright singjay across a pleasing musical ‘bridge’ and the whole thing works well. Then, Bounty Killer delivers Another Warning (the update to 1997’s Coke Seller) – and what an update it is. Jammy has completely reworked the music – taking it from a minor to major key and creating a whole new instrumental line which stands in complete contrast to the original. It has to be heard to be believed; Killer slides his contribution in perfectly, and overall, Another Warning is one of Rebirth’s… most impressive tracks.

1995 comes in the form of Never Give Your Love featuring Junior Reid. It’s been tidied, enhanced, and filled out with some lovely use of synths and an increased richness of sound. There are additional breaks, too, which work well – and Reid is top-draw, here, his rich tenor sitting perfectly with Isaacs’ urgent performance. Ras Shiloh does similarly deft things with Counterfeit Lover from 1990’s Heartbreaker album (not the 1989 version). Like Don’t Take Your Love From Me, Jammy has completely reworked the track – including additional synths, strings, and guitars. The Dancehall beat is still strong, and Shiloh plays to this – delivering a smooth vocal to contrast with the hard, grimy instrumentals. It’s perhaps the freshest track of Rebirth… and works brilliantly.

Then, Projexx takes on You Can Have The Bits – a smooth, lilting cut from 1987 made even better with more instrumentation, including whining guitars and extremely attractive piano line which runs riffs up and down in the background – coupled with a church organ running chords. Projexx is perfect for this track, and it admittedly sounds better than the original. Claire Angel is Flirting Around, from 1999. Here, not so much has changed from the modern original – except the wonderful female backing vocals enhance proceedings perfectly, and the horn line has been extended out. Angel brings a much-needed response to Isaacs’ main narrative call, with a vexed and snarky singjay that ties in perfectly. Great work.

The legendary Chaka Demus joins Isaacs on Lost My Happiness – originally released in 1989, but across the Coxsone/ Studio One Rockfort Rock Riddim from 1968. The sound still feels fresh even after all these years, with Jammy cleaning and enhancing the instrumentals here well. Demus provides a versatile performance, offsetting Isaacs’ urgency with his slick, winding singjay. Lovely stuff.

Flinix enters Rebirth… with Don’t Go – based around the 1974 version (as Isaacs did multiple tracks with the same title, for multiple producers). Here, it is a completely different track to the original, both musically and with Isaacs’ vocal (he might have recorded a different version elsewhere) but it works perfectly. Flinix offsets the Cool Ruler well – and the track is swaying, forward-moving, and compelling.

Rebirth… closes with Bunny General and My Pride Won’t Let Me, again from 1990’s Heartbreaker album. It’s a faithful reimagining of the original, complete with that signature synth flute line and the stark, synth horns which coupled with the pointed claps make the track sway and bounce along nicely. General takes us back to the '90s with an authentic and expertly pitched singjay performance that encapusaltes the spirit of the song – and the whole things is infinitely pleasing.

Overall, Rebirth Of The Cool Ruler is a complex, deeply thought-through piece of work from Jammy. The attention to detail in terms of what has been reworked and what hasn’t is quite remarkable – and requires a keen ear and multiple listens to fully appreciate just what has been created. The selection of artists is inspired – and as a sum of its parts, Rebirth… is quite brilliant, offering a glimpse of the potential that could have been had Isaacs still been alive.

Release details

Gregory Isaacs - Rebirth Of The Cool Ruler

Gregory Isaacs - Rebirth Of The Cool Ruler


Release date: 10/06/2023


01. Gregory Isaacs feat. Shaggy - It Go So
02. Gregory Isaacs feat. Sean Paul - Another Try
03. Gregory Isaacs feat. Jesse Royal - Don't Take Your Love From Me
04. Gregory Isaacs feat. Aza Lineage- First Class Lover
05. Gregory Isaacs feat. Ras Demo - Dance With Me
06. Gregory Isaacs feat. Brandon The Messenjah - You're Like An Angel
07. Gregory Isaacs feat. Alborosie - Dreadlocks Bridge
08. Gregory Isaacs feat. Bounty Killer - Another Warning 
09. Gregory Isaacs feat. Junior Reid - Never Give Your Love
10. Gregory Isaacs feat. Ras Shiloh - Counterfeit Lover 
11. Gregory Isaacs feat. Projexx - You Can Have The Bits
12. Gregory Isaacs feat. Claire Angel - Flirting Around
13. Gregory Isaacs feat. Chaka Demus - Lost My Happiness
14. Gregory Isaacs feat. Flinix - Don’t Go 
15. Gregory Isaacs feat. Bunny General - My Pride Won’t Let Me 

Produced by

King Jammy