In the late '60s, shortly before reggae music exploded in popularity, a large number of Jamaican musicians migrated to Toronto, where jobs were plentiful and the culture diverse. They brought the sounds of the island with them, but the music quickly crossbred with what was coming across the radio from Detroit, down the Great Lakes waterway. The songs on Jamaica To Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974 bear only traces of West Indian influence, in their woozy horns and organ and generally shaggy lo-fi tone. Mostly, the vintage soul from "Little Jamaica" sounds like Motown hits and blaxploitation soundtracks, bounced around the atmosphere until they picked up a hint of the alien.
Jamaica To Toronto kicks off with Jo-Jo And The Fugitives' "Fugitive Song," a semi-improvised monologue about dislocation, set to a James Brown-style slow burn. Jo-Jo And The Fugitives' other song on the compilation, "Chips-Chicken-Banana Split," is even looser and funkier, and only island-inflected in the singers' accents. More common are songs like Eddie Spencer's "If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely)," a string-pumped Detroit leftover that Spencer claims as his own with a growly, commanding lead vocal, and Jackie Mittoo's "Grand Funk," a cinematic acid-soul instrumental peppered with chanting and scatting. Jamaica To Toronto features a few telling covers, like Cougars' abstract, beat-driven version of The Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," and Bob And Wisdom's dreamy take on Mac Davis' AM Gold standard "I Believe In Music." Both songs explore the spaces between the notes, in no particular hurry. But the star of the collection is Wayne McGhie, who wrote a handful of the songs for the other acts, and scores with his own quirky pop-soul track "Here We Go Again," which recalls Cody Chesnutt in its offhanded originality.