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The best Nora Dean tracks are described on the Her Classic Recordings and The "Play Me A Love Song" LP pages. Her other recordings ran the gamut from very good to average, with a the rare substandard track. These are described chronologically below.
Man From Galilee / Jesus Is Mine
Pleasing, straightforward gospel material with little in the way of a reggae feel, released on Coxsone's gospel label, Tabernacle. Unlike her other outings with The Soul Sisters or The Ebony Sisters, rather than lead, on these tracks Nora sings in harmony with another (unknown) Soul Sister. Jesus Is Mine is especially plreasing.
A Studio One rhythm that is pleasing but a bit unremarkable. The same could
be said for the lyrics, that warn that
love can bring heartache. A rather conventional follow up to her Studio One and recording debut, Mojo Girl. But its
far from forgettable because of that voice. It makes the track sweet
and compelling. There are few tracks in all of reggae that are more overdue
for inclusion in a compilation.
A fast paced, constraining cover of the Motown hit that may or may not include Nora Dean.
The b-side of The Same Thing You Gave To Daddy, the liner notes of this collection describes Nora's involvement in this R&B tinged gospel outing, prefacing things to come: "a rousing spiritual with Dean alongside Busty Brown and Lee Perry in the congregation of singers." Although her bit is short, her voice is unmistakable.
Singer Dennis Walks puts Nora to good use on this single. On the fun A-side, Nora spices the track up, answering Walks with utterances, laughs and babble, all in her her trade-mark woman-child voice. Meanwhile, the band supplies a fast shuffle riddim in the style of the first records that were called reggae. Her contribution to the B-Side couldn't be more different. It's a love song with formal sounding riddim that has an old fashioned air. On it, Nora answers Walks with straight singing -- some of her most beautiful vocals to have ever been recorded. If only there was more of it.
With only one known copy known to have been pressed, you wont find this at your local record store, even if they still existed. Although the songs are different in theme (an anthem and a love song), they are clearly from the same session. Nora is shadowed by a backing vocal track, possibly her. The band plays a low-key reggae. Not great, but not deserving total obscurity either, considering the finite number of Nora Dean songs. So here is a sample that I was able to acquire.
Boy And Teacher (song credited to U-Roy)
U-Roy's fine cover of Chin's Calypso Sextet's mento hit Big Boy And Teacher is graced by backing vocals from Nora Dean.
This gospel influenced cover of the Beatles hit is Nora's only know recording as a member of the Rita Marley-led Soulettes. Though the group is a Rita Marley vehicle, the other members do also get a turn out front, and Nora can be heard singing lead briefly. And to my ears, Nora's voice and melodic approach are evident in the harmonies.
For more on Nora's stint as a member of The Soulettes, click here.
A chugging, soul influenced reggae track with a lot of backing vocals by the other Ebony Sisters. A murky distorted production adds rather than detracts from the song. Conventional vocals and lyrics, but a good track nonetheless. Nora would later remake this track.
In 1998, Nora Dean gave her recollections of this track to The Daily Gleaner. She recorded it with fellow Soulette Cecile Campbell and a friend named Dawn. (By this, it can be said that the Ebony Sisters spun-off of The Soulettes, perhaps because of lead singer Rita Marley's increasing involvement with The Wailers.) Recorded for Harry Mudie in Spanishtown, it was a massive hit, staying on the charts for 6 months. When Nora asked a DJ how it could have stayed in the number 2 position for 4 weeks without ever reaching number 1, he explained "no money, no drop". In other words, without payola, the record would not be played enough.
As described elsewhere on this page, Nora Dean's Ebony Sisters would record additional sides as would an Ebony Sisters line up that does not appear to include Nora Dean.
A slightly ragged chugging backing, of organ, bass,
guitar, drums and percussion as Nora proclaims her need for a man. A minor
song, with OK but unspecial lyrics and vocals. The melody comes from the
Jamaican folk song, "Mama We Want To Work". (To hear a recording of this
song from 1958 by The Frats Quintet, visit
most reggae fans would instead recognize the melody as the basis of a
different song, Peter Tosh's "Fire Fire".
A well sung song, but its is not clear that Nora Dean has
involvement with this pleasant but tame soul influenced reggae track.
With a perky reggae backing, Nora bemoans, "What make's
you so greedy boy? Why can't you be satisfied? " But Nora is not singing
about monetary greed: "every minute, every hour of the night, boy, you want
more". Fairly explicit sexy lyrics follow, and the song ends with some sexy
moaning. You wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but it's enjoyable adult fun.
An inoffensive reggae cover of a song by Carla Thomas.
(Thanks to Michael Turner for identifying this artist.) The vocal readily handles the song's unusual staccato
A very obscure single, as it never appears in
collector's discographies. It's an R&B ballad with Nora singing throughout in
close harmony with the mysterious Vern. Yet it's an unremarkable track. Nora's vocals are fine, but the undemanding material
wastes her talent.
Thanks to Olivier Albot of France for demystifying Ahmad Jamal. Although the title is the name of an influential jazz pianist, this track is a cover version of Miriam Makeba's "The Retreat Song". Nora's African language vocal is strong, including some free vocalization at the opening of the track, as in the original. Although the reggae instrumentation is unexceptional, Nora's vocals make this song exotic.
Love of A Boy wouldn't be
worth a second listen, if it wasn't for that voice.
Both sides of Nora's
only known calypso single. It's unknown whether this was her idea or that of
the producer. In either event, the arrangements crowd the vocals, the fast
tempo does not suit her vocal talent and the lyrics are nothing special.
I don't hear Nora
Dean's voice in this line up of The Ebony Sisters.
Thanks to Mark Gorney for providing a copy of this rare single and the following notes:
Love & Power To The People is a good song made better by Nora's voice, which is lovely throughout the track. She sings it straight, except for a "whaa" that sounds like it came from an infant's mouth, and a bonus "ohwah" at the end. There is a gospel element to this song that foreshadows her later career.
I Shall Be Free is pure R&B, not reggae. It's one of her better R&B tracks. The vocal is unhurried and very enjoyable.
A pretty good organ-led reggae track in which Nora sings
about her man who can not be satisfied in bed. The lyrics amongst the more
explicit that Nora has recorded, though somewhat mild by today's standards.
A reggae cover of the Chin's Calypso Quintet song Night Food, a big mento hit from 1955. Though this is a faithful cover, Nora have enough freedom to sound like she enjoying herself. After all, the song is about a woman who invites a man in and offers to feed him some "night food" (oral sex). He is slow to figure out the double entendre and then turns her down. She calls him "half a man" and sends him away.
In December 2005,
Nora Dean vehemently denied that this was her vocal. She is very unhappy
that this record bears her name, as she finds the lyrics to be highly
offensive. Upon further playing, it is possible that the singer is not
actually her, but someone who sounds similar.
There's not much to say about this unremarkable track.
This self-composed Nora Dean reggae track is winner from the lovely sax and trumpet refrain that opens and closes the track. Like in the old mento song, "Hog In Me Minty", Miss Annie is having trouble with her coco field. But unlike the mento song, where a hog destroys the sweet-potato-like coco, Nora spots a man stealing coco.
Most probably due to the fact that she wrote the song, it's melody and tempo are wholly suited to Nora's voice. She sounds great singing the verse, which is a rich example of Nora's unique way of owning a melody. The chorus contains her trademark "Aya, aya, aya"s. By the time the track is over, there is no doubt as to who the best female singer in reggae really is.
b-side, called "Annie Version " is an instrumental version, with Nora's
vocals faintly bleeding through.
There's not much to say about this unremarkable track, sung as a duet.
Nora is sweet, upbeat and seductive in this organ driven reggae track.
Originally a Shirley Bassey cha cha from the mid 1960s, the song describes a woman who wants her man to kiss her
and thrill her without stop. Musically, vocally and
lyrically, a giddy and very enjoyable Nora Dean song.
The instrumentation of Mama is reggae with a huge soul injection. Trevor Court of Brackley, U.K. reminded me that Mama is a cut of the Liquidator riddim by Harry J. and The Allstars. The lyrics reference several Nora Dean hits. The title refrain recalls Barbwire. The lyric, "mama said girl why wont you go to sleep" seems like a sequel to The Same Thing You Gave To Daddy. The excitement over an upcoming tryst is reminiscent of the carnality heard in Wreck A Buddy. Then comes the lyric that she has "something in my knickers for him" . This, of course, recalls Barbwire and Scorpion, as lyrics about things found in underwear must now be considered a Nora Dean specialty.
Man Walk and Talk is Nora Dean's third and final
reggae cover of a mento song, this
time of the Chin's Calypso
Quintet song Walk and Talk, from c. 1958. Thanks to Mark Gorney for providing a
copy of this rare track. It's an OK reggae cover
of an OK mento song, but it does not seem to suit the singer. Though her
vocal is good, Nora seems constrained, and her voice is slightly strident. Nora's
other two mento covers are superior.
You don't have to fret to deeply over the scarcity of the
above single. Not when, in 2011, an alternate take of Mama was released on
CD. The lyrics are a bit different, with no mention of knickers for example,
but the vocal and the instrumentation are both are both more pleasing.
The hard to find My Love For You turns out to be a cover
of the Minnie Riperton 1974 hit, Loving You. The instrumentation is similar
to the US original (complete with bird whistles) with a reggae beat. I am
not 100% convinced that this is -- or isn't -- Nora Dean.
An uphill battle
even for a voice as appealing as Nora's. First, if truth be told, the song
itself is a bit dull. Second, Bunny Lee's arrangement brings little
to the table. Third, the song is mastered at the wrong speed -- pitched fast
by at least 12%. Finally, Nora's vocal is okay, but it's not one of her best
Love' was originally recorded by, and a hit for, The Teen Queens (Betty and
Rosie Collins) on RPM in 1956. I actually like the song, and so apparently
did many West Indians, for it was reissued in Britain as late as 1965 on a
label (R&B Discs) which was aimed at our Caribbean community. Even later, in
the late 1970s, UK-based Jamaican vocal group The Marvels recorded it on an
LP, so its appeal must have been enduring.
A good, sunny, loopy reggae song with nice period instrumentation and arrangement. It suits Nora's voice, and the vocal is emphatic right from the spoken word section that open the song. The only problem is that I cannot explain the lyrics. Much to do about the "guard man" who sleeps with a donkey, complete with braying from a background vocalist. Then Nora sings the titular refrain. No wonder she includes so many "whoi"s! If someone could explain the symbolism of all this (it is symbolism, isn't it?!), I'd be much obliged. A song that is plenty good enough that it should have been included on one compilation or another at some point.
"Donkey Man" is a different song that covers the same lyrical ground. This
leads me to believe that there was an incident that was notorious enough to
provide the subject of these songs.
Sweet Dreams Of You
- The Soul Sisters
This Soul Sisters lineup is without Nora.
Musically unremarkable tracks. In a 1998 article in The Gleaner, Nora Dean
remembers recording "Album of My Life" for Jimmy Cliff. "I remember when I
wrote that song I was crying, because I remembered how I had to walk six
miles to school every day without shoes on my feet."
A cover of the Dusty Springfield hit. Nora Dean may or
may not be in the vocal harmony mix.
A piano-based gospel opening moves into a bubbly piano
dominated reggae track. But not before Nora's vocal begins. Its a straight
reading of the 1950s Doris Day hit, which Nora delivers without any
idiosyncrasies or backing vocals. Nora's unmistakable vocals shine, with
more than usual vibrato. I can't imagine any other voice in reggae that could
have imparted so much into this song.
A static soul backing with an OK vocal.
Not bad, but not Nora.
Take Warning / Warning of Dub
(Ralph Haughton and The Ebony Sisters)
If Nora Dean is present in this Ebony Sisters line up, I cannot detect her
in their backing role.
Let Me Tell You Boy is a remake of a song Nora recorded nearly a decade earlier. The production and arrangement are simplified from the original, except for Sly Dunbar's distinctive rhythm. The vocal version segues into a fair dub version. A good rendition, but perhaps not as distinctive as the original. It was also released as Let Me Tell You Something.
Caught In A Trap is a 12" disco mix of the
recording that would later turn up on her 1981 Play Me A Love Song
LP. As such, it's longer than the LP version, segueing into a dub version.
Sly and Robbie are at the helm as Nora covers Elvis' Suspicious
Minds. It's a pleasing track, but an unspectacular example of either a Nora
Dean vocal talent or of a 12" disco mix.
Must Be Dreaming (song credited to The Ebony Sisters)
One small and one large problem with this track. First, it's very brief at 1:47. Second, this is moot, as, to my ears, Nora Dean is not part of this Ebony Sisters lineup. The 12" single version addresses the first issue with a segue into a dub version, but not the second issue.
A nice vocal that seems mismatched with the drum machine, thumb-popping bass dancehall backing track. Perhaps an old vocal performance was haphazardly grafted to a later backing track. An a cappella version would have been better,
OK reggae, but if Nora Dean is in this Ebony Sisters lineup, I sure don't hear her.