War Ina Babylon (1976)
One Step Forward/Uptown Babies Don't Cry/Chase The Devil/War Ina Babylon/Norman/Stealing In The Name Of Jah/Tan And See/Smokey Room/Smile Out A Style
One of the great roots reggae albums. Previously a "slack" purveyor of "naughty" pop reggae such as Wet Dream, Max Romeo reinvented himself as a "conscious" roots artist, praising Jah instead of pum-pum and warning of the dire consequences of social deprivation. He teamed up with the already legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry and the result was a wonderful roots album, bristling with rhythm, heavy bass and righteous indignation. Perry's excellent "house band", The Upsetters, provide the outstanding backing.
Along with Junior Murvin's Police And Thieves and The Heptones' Party Time, this forms part of Perry's "holy trinity" of Black Ark studio-produced roots albums. Romeo released several more albums, but none had the hard-hitting, seismic effect of this one. It is a true reggae classic. Up there in the top ten reggae albums of all time, unquestionably. Classic cover too.
One Step Forward kicks off the album with a huge impact. Full of rootsy bass, intoxicating rhythm and a killer hook, it is one of roots reggae's most crucial tracks. Simply superb. The sound quality on the latest remaster is outstanding too - full, warm and beautifully bassy, as it should be. Uptown Babies Don't Cry has sumptuous horns, a melodic bass line and a yearning lyric about uptown, wealthy babies not knowing what it is like to go hungry. The light tuneful melody belies the song's message.
Chase The Devil is another roots stonking number that sees Max go all preacher-like and beseeching us to chase out Satan from our sinful lives. The backing has a deep bass and a Rastafarian, traditional drum sound as well as a lilting, infectious guitar riff. The title track, War Ina Babylon should be on any respectable roots reggae or punky reggae party playlist. It is a true classic of the roots genre, full of typical Perry rhythms, addictive chorus and backing vocals. Excellent dub versions were done both by Perry and "dub master" King Tubby. I never knew quite what the refrain "sipple out deh" meant though.
Norman is an evocative, atmospheric, almost soulful groove, with a bit of an urban funk/soul feel to it, despite the heavy roots beat. It is a bit of an equivalent to William DeVaughn's Be Thankful For What You Got. It cooks, big time. Massive track.
Stealing In The Name Of Jah is a catchy, singalong lively number with a lovely vocal from Romeo, but again it hides a darker message about religious hypocrisy. Tan And See has a captivating, rumbling bass line underpinning it, a great vocal from Romeo and impressive backing vocals. Smokey Room praises the "riddim" over a suitably quirky, upbeat groove, as it describes a room full of smoke from the weed. Smile Out A Style is a shortish anti-war number to end this solid, meaningful and highly recommended roots reggae album.
Photo by Todocoleccion.