Snakier and spookier than anything on the recent Trojan or Studio One compilations, Down Santic Way boasts incredible focus where the others offer breadth. There's a reason for this: Where the former labels enjoyed a decades-long life span, Leonard Chin's Santic Records hammered out its legacy within a concentrated period of time. All of the songs on Santic were recorded between 1973 and 1975, just as the city of Kingston was reaching its creative peak. And while Santic features contributions from reggae mainstays like King Tubby and Augustus Pablo, the record's structure makes it better suited for studying than for stepping. Different readings of the same groove are lined up consecutively, which effectively bars purely recreational listening. What it does offer is a chance for the curious to contrast the styles of various producers. Freddie McKay's "I'm a Free Man" is offered in three different iterations -- the original vocal version and two dub readings. Hearing all three, back-to-back-to-back, is ear-opening: Where McKay's original is a laid-back sufferah's lament, Pablo's bass-heavy dub two songs later accentuates the song's sinister soul. Such strict sequencing makes Santic a nightmare for the beginner -- but a necessity for the expert.
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