Back in 1972, music-industry suit Michael Viner threw together Incredible Bongo Band to record a couple of songs for the soundtrack of The Thing With Two Heads, and when those went over well, he reconvened the band for two collections of instrumental covers. The polyrhythmic breaks to songs like "Apache" and "Lost Bongo In Belgium" later became staples of early hip-hop records, and they've developed enough of a cult that the entire recorded output of the makeshift band has now been released on a single disc, Bongo Rock (Mr. Bongo). A lot of the record consists of cheesy music for faux-swingers, but those bongo-fueled breakdowns remain as thrilling now as they were 30 years ago, and Incredible Bongo Band's opportunistic fusion of spy-movie themes, psychedelia, and Latin rhythms now sounds like the original "mash-up"… B

As part of the endlessly edifying "Jamaica To Toronto" series, Light In The Attic has reissued Noel Ellis' self-titled 1979 debut album, which features six extended reggae jams, highlighted by Ellis' engagingly affectless vocals and political sermonizing. In spite of the almost distracted feel of songs like "Dance With Me" and "Stop Your Fighting," Noel Ellis resonates with the joy of using music to respond to the pressures of the times… B+

Staying in the world of vintage reggae, Heartbeat Records finishes up its yearlong plundering of the Studio One vaults with the anthology Six The Hard Way, which contains rare tracks by the likes of The Cables, The Viceroys, and four other acts that helped give island music a pop core in the late '60s and early '70s. The set's highlight is three cuts by Willie Williams, a soulful crooner whose impassioned "Armagideon Time" inspired The Clash to cover the song and adopt its spacey approach to intoxicating rhythms… B+

To celebrate its 10th year of existence, ESL Music offers ESL Remixed: The 100th Release Of ESL Music, a collection of the label's computerized worldbeat as reimagined by friends and colleagues. ESL's output can run a little too close to Starbucks exotica, but its acts' musicality and spirit of technological invention belies the fact that they're essentially making lounge music for spaceports. When ESL's flagship act Thievery Corporation gets its hands on Ocote Soul Sounds' "Tamarindio," the light flute-piano-breakbeat sound gives richer meaning to the term "easy listening."… B+

Given the excitement of The Quantic Soul Orchestra's last retro-funk album, Pushin' On, and given the pedigree of veteran jazz-blues chanteuse Spanky Wilson, it's disappointing that Spanky Wilson & The Quantic Soul Orchestra's LP-length collaboration I'm Thankful (Ubiquity) sounds so rote, with each extended big-band workout settling into well-worn grooves. But the record is likeable enough on its own merits, and the disc is worth seeking out for Wilson's frazzled performance of the Bo Diddley chestnut "You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover," stoked by Quantic's breakneck pace and New Orleans horns… B-

No matter how often alt-folk and alt-country artists try to make smart, fun children's music—and it seems like there are at least half a dozen records in that vein each year—the musicians keep getting tripped up by the genre, and end up tossing out songs that are too simple to play to their songwriting strengths, and too creepy to appeal to kids. Animal Crackers (Bloodshot), by alt-country supergroup Wee Hairy Beasties, is by and large no exception, though while Jon Langford, Sally Timms and Devil In A Woodpile give their icky kiddie songs too much scruff, the album has a hidden ace in sweet-voiced Kelly Hogan, whose performances of "Housefly Blues" and "Cyril The Karaoke Squirrel" are every bit as bright and likeable as this kind of music is supposed to be… C+


It's been a good 2006 for Toronto roots-rock stalwarts The Sadies, between backing Neko Case on her watershed album Fox Confessor Brings The Flood and recording and releasing the career-defining album In Concert Volume One. The band wraps the year with a wild twang-and-roll instrumental soundtrack for Ron Mann's documentary about Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Tales Of The Rat Fink (Yep Roc). While bandleader brothers Dallas and Travis Good could probably knock out retro specials like "The Beach Land" and "The Borderline" on command, they songs still shimmer seductively… B.