Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lee Perry - Produced and Directed by the Upsetter

Lee Perry - Produced And Directed By The Upsetter
Pressure Sounds PSCD19

Second in the Pressure Sounds label's series of compilations of Lee Perry productions from the Black Ark era, "Produced and Directed by the Upsetter" brings together 10 previously rare 7" singles and their B-side dubs.

"Produced and Directed" opens with Watty "King" Burnett's "Free Man", a joyous tune with deep, funky trombone, in which the "King" proclaims that he is safe from all the dangers of corrupt Jamaican society. Whether his boast is true or not, it captures a powerful vibe of the Black Ark as magical sphere of protection. The dub emphasises the lazy, celebratory bone refrain, while deploying Scratch's trademark echoed vocal snippets to head-nodding effect.

"Zion" by The Flames (probably Winston Jarrett's band of that name, although with the sometimes arbitrary names often given by Scratch to ad hoc vocal groups, it's hard to know for sure) is a mellow tune declaring love to Africa as holy land of Rastafari, with (like many of the tunes on this set) a curiously "old-fashioned" skank and a mannered, soul-influenced vocal. Nice but at only 2 1/2 minutes (and its dub the same length) it doesn't really get the time to leave much of a lasting impression.

Easton Clarke's "Bike No Licence" is a wryly ironic tale of mishaps resulting from a JA traffic curfew, with a sense of humour but a deep testament of injustice beneath. The dub brings to the forefront the jauntily off-key Upsetter keyboards which are a key element of the early to mid Black Ark signature sound, although (like most of the dubs on this set) it isn't a particularly radical departure from the vocal side.

"Crying Over You" by the Heptones, from the same sessions which produced their magnificent "Party time" album, is one of the highlights of this set - an impassioned lyric of lost love, delivered in Leroy's justly celebrated soulful voice. The swirling, tension-filled Black Ark sound is in full effect, with a powerful, majestic horn riff reminiscent of (although not quite the same as) the Studio One classic "Unchained". "Crying Dub" takes it deeper into head-swimming dub gnosticism, vocal snippets and channel-swapping in force again, one of the few dubs here to really display the Upsetter's awesome talent of deconstruction.

The Silvertones' "Financial Crisis" is another tune with a warm, comforting "old-time" feel; despite the darkness of the reality of its subject matter, it portrays a quintessentially Jamaican brand of irrepressible optimism, its chorus exhorting the sufferers to "have a little faith" in divine deliverance from the tribulations of capitalism. However unrealistic the message is, this is a tune that cannot fail to induce happiness, even when stripped of its vocals.

Junior Murvin's "False Teachings" has a fairly stripped-down, basic riddim, but is nonetheless powerfully hypnotic, Murvin's startling falsetto reaching possibly even higher notes usual here, yet still feeling effortless. While blaming alcohol, as he seems to do, for all the hypocrisies of Babylon seems a little odd, it is in fact consistent with the lyrics of several other Black Ark tunes. The tiny snippets of his vocal in the dub seem almost otherworldly.

Winston Heywood and the Hombres' "Backbiting" is another easy-going good time skank, despite its deceptively hard-hitting lyric denouncing exploitative capitalists and warmongers: "Not one will escape this great fire". The dub again doesn't do anything massively interesting, but still nicely showcases the riddim.

"Houses of Parliament" by the Meditations is a percussion-heavy, almost Nyabinghi-style track which stomps along aided by call-and-response vocal (sung primarily in unison rather than harmony) and tinkling piano - very different from, but just as rootsy as, their better-known tunes on the "Arkology" box set. The percussion is even more to the forefront in the dub. "Where will you run to, where will you hide?"

George Faith's "Guide Line" is one of the heaviest and rootsiest tunes here, deep and swirling with a passionate soulful vocal counterpointed by a sweet female chorus - a far cry from George's more typical lovers fare. "We need some love and I-nity". Trippy, layered sound effects make this an exemplary Black Ark tune that could have come from nowhere else. Sampled conversational voices haunt the background in the dub along with more playful effects reminiscent of a classic Looney Tunes cartoon.

Junior Murvin's "Philistines On The Land" is yet another cut to the instantly familiar riddim over which he also voiced "Police and Thieves" and "Bad Weed" (in fact even retaining the "oh yeah" background vocal from the former), but this time the lyric is broader-reaching, extending the message of "Police and Thieves" to condemn the whole of the Western political and economic system through eschatological metaphor. The very randomly titled "Bingo Kid" is in fact a fairly straight dub of the same riddim, with added staccato yet blissed-out keyboard.

While "Crying Over You" and "Guide Line" are IMO the standout tracks, the whole of this compilation is solid, showing perhaps (for the most part) a mellower side of Scratch's Black Ark period, but still with moments of his inimitable wild inventiveness. While not quite on the same level overall as "Arkology" or "Open The Gate", still a very worthwhile set, particularly for connoisseurs of the one and only Jesus Pipecock Perry.

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