Anyone stateside who owned a TV and had cable television in the summer of 1988 was aware of the Birmingham reggae band, UB40 and their ubiquitous MTV smash 'Red, Red Wine'. For my money, the Neil Diamond song may be the oddest chart topping pop single in the history of American music (although it had been covered decades before by a whole host of performers) but in those halcyon days it was everywhere.

Curiously, that track was sourced from 'Labour Of Love', an album that had been released four years prior in the UK, a collection of cover songs by the band whose roots and musical experience are as rich as any in popular music. If nothing else, the numbers serve as a testament to its staying power, reaching top ten in both the US and UK and lasting more than a hundred weeks on the Billboard chart. 'Labour of Love' sold scores of records back in a time when decent records could actually sell in gaudy numbers.

The tribute album (tribute in that the band is covering an assortment of their heroes, including Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Winston Tucker) is a landmark recording, the fourth for a band (and the first of their four covers albums, 'Labour Of Love II', 'III' and 'IV') demonstrating a full-hearted embrace that would go on to become one of the most widely respected and well-regarded acts in the Western Hemisphere.

The new re-release of 'Labour Of Love' gathers the original re-mastered record alongside two discs, one filled with single versions and another with early BBC performances. Single and remixes of the original material really capture the multi-cultural band’s deeply held roots in reggae, especially dub versions 'Cherry Oh Baby' and a few other, non-'Labour of Love' tracks like 'Sufferin', 'Frilla' and 'Dubmobile'. On the BBC disc side, the collection becomes an even more interesting artifact, re-releasing archived radio performances from April of 1983 and July of 1984. These versions tend to be a little hotter, a little steamier, seizing the band at it the peak of power in its live performances.

The time is always right when it comes to appreciating good music. Whatever your reggae threshold might be, or your MTV video based perception, the re-release of 'Labour Of Love' really places UB40 in its proper context, a band formed of stunningly diverse approaches and a mastery of form that is practically unparalleled.

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