That the Reggae volume of the "100 essential CDs" series needed two authors gives a clue to the difficulty in reducing Jamaican music to one simple list. While it begins and ends with Bob Marley's Legend for most listeners, Reggae music has grown so large in scope, variety and artistic motive that one term really isn't big enough to encompass it all. Frequent, sweeping changes in form, content, technology and public perception have resulted in sincere fans that see the music as something totally different than the next (equally devoted) enthusiast. What one loves about Reggae (and thinks it is for that matter) can often depend on when one was first exposed to it, and what was big at that moment. Take a 20 year old, 30 year old and 40 year old Reggae "fan" and ask them for a list of 100 "essential" discs; the results will likely have nothing in common.
Authors Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton make the best of a difficult task, explaining in their introduction that a lot of what could be considered for their book isn't even currently obtainable. Long the preserve of small, provincial, shoestring operations, when Reggae records go out of print, they go way out. From the start it's been a Dj - based form, with records and even master tapes recycled or even just discarded the moment a particular tune lost local popularity. The last few decades have seen valiant rescue efforts by labels big and small, but some things are simply lost forever to time, shortsightedness and regional economics. Taken in this light, the authors' decision to stick with what's readily available is laudable - they obviously hope that people will go get the stuff they love and have little interest in bragging about all the cool stuff they've heard that no one else can get.
Additionally hampered by Reggae's heavy dance/singles orientation, Dalton and Barrow do the best they can. On first viewing, their volume seems heavy on Dancehall and Ska while being desperately light on Dub, Roots and Lovers Rock. More careful thought reveals that most of the best stuff consists of singles found only on compilations, not all in print: Listing 75 compilation discs might not play for a modern audience raised on 75 minute cds all by one artist. Barrow and Dalton make up for the rough ride by cramming as much history into each review as possible, giving the beginning listener as well as the seasoned expert a larger view of Reggae music and culture that inspired it. The wealth of names, dates and places makes the Reggae volume well worth the time.