Without wanting to fall into a journalistic tic of once again selling this track as so distinctive, so different etc (a tic I can’t kick even if I felt so inclined) this song stands out among other reggae songs, as it does within Campbell’s oeuvre for the expressive quality of his voice.
Campbell is well-known for the sweetness of his singing, with some suggesting he is the greatest among his contemporaries, many of whom similarly sang in a soft style. On this track there is something so exposed, so plaintive it’s closer to the delivery of a Soul singer it seems to me. This impression comes from the song’s dramatic opening and then reinforced by the way he sings certain words, adding a syllable almost (“dread” and “yeah”), thereby making the words sound fragile. It’s almost as if you can hear his breath within them. Note too the way his voice is at the very start, of everything. The song begins with his voice, as I wrote about the other C.S. “Coxsone” Dodd production for Carlton and the Shoes, starting a song with the singer enmeshed in the music is atypical in terms of most songs that came out of Jamaica at that time. Most often the band would begin for the singer to come in later.
The music by the Brentford Rockers provides the perfect foundations: the highly sibilant drums, the bass line deep in the mix, before the guitars come in changing the mood, allowing for an upbeat feel. Even Campbell’s vocals become jaunty one minute in, moving away from the previously introspective nature of it.
Here’s the extremely simple, even basic dub version that came out under the name “Natty Rub A Dub” on the b-side (as Campbell and the Brentford Rockers, elsewhere they recorded under the name Brentford All Stars) - and another version, which is just-about music only. Check out this other version, which sounds like an entirely different recording, much sharper and with a bouncy, almost Flamenco-style guitar.
Compare the song with this similarly stunning Campbell-penned song featuring Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare from 1985. No better pick-you-up, burst of optimism and faith than this music and then the final section is one more example of how superb the musicianship of artists from that era was, generally.
Here on this song the mood is completely different from the poetic excursions in the track from one decade earlier. From Jo-Ann Greene’s (typically) good AllMusic review:
“Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare provide the steaming rhythm, Roy Cousins the excellent production, and Cornell Campbell the superb vocals for this rousing and inspirational number from 1985.
Ragga was about to engulf the reggae world, but "Jah Jah Give Us Love" was one final, brilliant reminder of the cultural age it was about to bury. Like a shooting star, the riddim rockets across the grooves, its core Dunbar's solid beats and Shakespeare's fast padding bass line. Trailing in their incendiary wake is the sharp rhythm guitar, glorious keyboards, ebullient organ, and the haunting lead guitar flourishes so beloved in the roots age.
Campbell is almost physically propelled along this magnificent riddim, giving way to its propulsive power, and giving himself over to Jah. Part prayer, part affirmation, the singer reaches an epiphany, delivering up one of his best performances to date along the way. "Love" couldn't hold back the tidal way of DJs and synthesized sounds breaking over the island, but with this song pure roots rockers blinked out in a blaze of glory.”