Lee "Scratch" Perry has long been considered one of the most innovative minds in the history of Jamaican music. This collection of songs (though mostly obvious choices) are pretty good to back that notion up. All of these songs were recorded by Lee Perry during the 1970's at his legendary Black Ark studio, except the two Wailers tracks. Over all, the album is packed with the ecentric lunacy of sound that Scratch and his studio are known for. From spacey dub effects to rhythm that sound as though they were produced under water, nearly all of these songs are captivating pieces of history.
The record starts with a dubby instrumental track, "Enter The Dragon" with Lee Perry announcing that "This is Kung Fu! Takin' you on a musical view" before the rhythm explodes and Perry shouts random Karate sound effects. The song is very good, especially showing of the bass and drum of The Upsetters rhythm section at the time. The Upsetters return with two more instrumental tracks, "Three In One" with unknown singers singing about African Roots while a beautiful lead guitar is being played over the rhythm as well as an eerie flute solo, credited to Egbert Evans. And the foundation of the track is the nyambinghi drumming. This is a really great track and is one of the best Upsetter songs from the era in my opinion. The third Upsetter instrumental is "Dread Lion" with the always ominus melodica of Augustus Pablo and Lee Perry introducing the tune saying "dont call the lion". The song is just dubbed to infinity and also features the flute which blends really well with Pablos melodica. Another excellent Upsetters track.
Speaking of Augustus Pablo, he is credited to a track here called "Vibrate On" which starts with spacey echoing and then a dark spoken intro by Scratch "and eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" before opening up with the song. The rhythm is pretty good and Augustus and his melodica ride it really well, but compared to the rhythms Augustus Pablo would create himself, this one doesn't really do him too much justice.
The first vocal on the album is Max Romeos classic "War Ina Babylon". Everyone knows about this track, so I'm not going to say too much about it. It is a great song and a classic song though, unfortunantly its the only one by Romeo on this record.
The Wailers show up next with their classic "Small Axe" where Marley proclaims that "if you are a big tree, we are the small axe", a song that well represented both The Wailers and Scratch's positions on the musical scene at the time, as independants trying to chop down the heirarchy of Jamaican music. The track is an excellent song, done in fine style by the original Upsetter rhythm section, the Barrett brothers. The Wailers also show up with "Duppy Conqueror". This song is equally good, and it is no wonder that most people say they prefer the Upsetter era Wailers music to the Island era stuff.
Junior Murvin is on here twice as well. First with the nine minute long "Root's Train". The song wears a little thin after a while just because of the length. Though the highlight of the song is the toast by Dillinger who is one of my favorite deejays, as he chants about Babylon fallin' and Ethiopia callin'. He really saves the song from becoming too boring. The other Murvin track is the obvious one, "Police and Theives" which is his biggest hits also.
"To Be A Lover" provided Lee Perry with one of his most popular rhythms, and this version is voiced by George Faith. The song is really a heartfelt, beautiful song. The rhythm is flawless of course. Mr. Faiths vocal style is completly soulful sounding and he does this song very well.
Unfortunantly, Junior Byles only gets one song on this record also. The beautiful "Curly Locks" with the simple, slow organ melody leading the rhythm while Byles sings about his girlfriends parents not accepting his dread appearance. This is my favorite track on the album. I do wonder though why "Beat Down Babylon" is not on this.
The Congos, who are credited with releasing one of the greatest records in reggae history, are here with two songs, both of which re on their legenday album. The first of which is "Neckodeemus". One of the greatest things about this group is their dread harmonies. They dont sound soulful at all, instead sounding purley Jamaican with minor key harmonies. "Neckodeemus" shows this off very well (though "Fisherman" shows it off better). This song is a great song filled with spirituality and the Congos singing about "Jah Jah children". The second of their tracks is the title track of their album, "Congoman". This song is less spectacular in my opinion, just because its way too long and their isnt much going on in it, besides Perry's use of drum machine. But their album really is great and essential to any reggae fan.
The veterans, The Heptones are also here with one track, featuring the toasting of deejay Jah Lion. The song is called "Mr President" with the soulful Leroy Sibbles pleading to the president about the peoples poverty. The rhythm is extremly tight in the bass and drum, yet the "skank" part of the song is what gives it the great sound. Almost sounding like it was recorded under water with the unusual echo. This song is a great one and it would have been great to get another Heptones track on this.
Last but not least is Lee Perrys vocal about "Roast Fish and Corn Bread" and how its ital foods. The vocal isnt very impressive, though the rhythm is really good and it seems to put the listener into some kind of trance.
So this record would be good for beginners to Lee Perry's Black Ark productions, but if youre into something more hardcore, I would suggest the great Arkology set off Island records which will be reviewed here soon. This is a good album though. You can't really go wrong with the Wailers, Max Romeo, Junior Murvin, The Congos...
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