These are artists whose major recordings were made at Lee "Scratch" Perry's legendary Black Ark Studios. They are, in order - Junior Murvin; Max Romeo; The Congos; The Heptones; George Faith and Candy McKenzie...
War Ina Babylon, this album will make many "reggae top ten albums" lists, and with good reason. It is very representative of Perry's sound from the 1975-78 period. It never got better than this for Junior Murvin, however. This was his one classic album. Everything just came together.
** It is also worth getting hold of the deluxe edition which includes, among other things, the excellent alternative versions of the title track - Perry's Grumblin' Dub, Jah Lion's toasting Soldier And Police War and Glen DaCosta's saxophone instrumental version of it, entitled Magic Touch.
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.
Like the material from those artists, what we have here is unsurprisingly pious Rastafarian "conscious" fare - praising Jah and warning of dire consequences for ignoring the word of Jah. The vocals of Cedric Myton and Roy "Ashanti" Johnson are respectively high and low in pitch and beautifully harmonious. The musicians include Boris Gardiner on bass, Sly Dunbar on drums and Ernest Ranglin on guitar. Lest we forget, the production is the work of the mighty Lee "Scratch" Perry in his Black Ark studio. Surprisingly, Perry steps back from his trademark deep dub style and allows The Congos' lighter touch to prevail, their vocals taking centre stage, and the backing is also lighter, subtler and created to merge perfectly with the singers, as opposed to overwhelming them. Many heap praise on Perry for his production but maybe it is what he didn't do here that is the most important thing. He didn't bury it alive in dub and therein lies the album's strength. I guess it also showed Perry's instincts to be good ones and highlighted his versatility too.
Fisherman is an entrancing number, perhaps the group's best known offering. It is a song of religious praise, although this gives way at the end, during a dubby passage, to extol the virtues of "the best collie (marijuana) in Seaport Town...". Congoman utilises some typical Rastafarian drum-percussion backing and chanting-style vocals. It is intoxicating in its mysterious, deep, pounding rhythm. Excellent stuff. It is probably the most unusual, inventive track on the album, moving away from the traditional, steady skanking roots rhythm used on so much of the genre's material. Open Up The Gate is a lively song of praise, with a distinctive cowbell-driven rhythm and a mournful, sonorous vocal. Children Crying has a chugging but melodic skank and a killer, soulful, yearning vocal. It is indeed packed full of soul (and assorted animal noises too, something Perry liked using). A great track.
Original Black Ark Mix. The latter has mainly shorter versions of the tracks, they are enhanced by a loose, stripped back rawness that makes them well worth several listens. They suffer, however, from an understandably inferior sound quality. It is a mono-sounding mix, with hiss here and there and simply not containing the fabulous clarity of the current remaster, which are nearly all longer versions of the songs, with more of Perry's inventive sound effects abounding, a richer, deeper bass sound and an all-over sharpness that sounds superb. This is the definitive version of the album. Check out the rhythm, bass and strange sounds at the beginning of Congoman. Wonderful. This expanded edition is definitely the one to get hold of. I have the download which includes the material from all three CDs, but the vinyl, for some reason does not include the original black ark mixes, which must be frustrating for many.
is one of the album's deepest roots numbers. Road Of Life, on the other hand, is a lively, melodious Third World-esque delicious laid-back skank. Why Music I is very much in the same vein, with a lovely bass line underpinning it. The album's jewel in the crown is the glorious, uplifting gospel-influenced anthem that is Sufferers' Time. The vocals are superb, the rhythm infectious and it is a real high note on which to end this slightly different roots reggae album. By the way, the only way to seemingly get hold of the album at present is as part of the Nightfood Ina Party Time compilation.
George Faith has always been best known for the gorgeous number that is the sensual To Be A Lover (Have Mercy), where Perry perfectly merges skanking reggae with intuitively seductive soul. This is taking traditional pop reggae and pushing its boundaries. It is a true classic of its type. Unfortunately, the cover of Paul Anka's Diana veers to close to the "hotel bar" style of reggae covers of well-known pop hits. There was no real need to have done this one. So Fine returns to the feel of the previous numbers. There are, for the first time, a few typical Perry sound effects near the end. This album is an excellent forty minutes or so's listen. Anymore than that would probably be too much, but as the album gives us just the eight tracks, then that's fine. It is worth checking out.
Re-released here by the Trojan label, the sound is not as impressive as on those other albums, sounding a tiny bit muffled, less crystal clear and actually I am pretty sure it is a mono recording. It just doesn't have that percussion clarity of many of Perry's other productions strangely. I suspect that the only source Trojan had of the album was the original vinyl. This may well be a "needle drop", albeit a pretty good one.