Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Twinkle Brothers - Countrymen

The Twinkle Brothers - Countrymen
Virgin Frontline CD CDFL29

Despite having a name sounding like children's entertainers or a cheesy cabaret act, the Twinkle Brothers (led by brothers Norman and Ralston Grant) are in fact one of the heaviest and most principled roots bands of the 70s right up to the present day. Similarly, despite the tourist brochure looking artwork of their 1979 "Countrymen" album, it is a lyrically wide-ranging, yet totally musically uncompromised, album of bass-heavy steppers sure to please any fan of late 70s roots.

"I Don't Want To Be Lonely Any More" sets the scene with its heavy, intense intro and deep bass riddim. The lovers lyric is delivered by Norman with a passionate intensity rarely seen in reggae, reminiscent of 60s US soul singers, but entirely Jamaican. The foreboding horn riff and heavy drumbeats make this a riddim that would be perfectly suited for an apocalyptic roots lyric.

"Patoo", while lyrically somewhat cryptic, rides a similarly insistent riddim, with prominent syndrums and bird call effects, and the trademark Twinkle bass sound that gives the tune a feeling of floating in deep space. While nice enough in itself, however, it effectively serves as an intro for the undisputed sound system killer that is "Never Get Burn", a deadly steppers anthem which opens with a thunderous rewind sound effect. This tune is simply epic - a Biblically inspired anthem proclaiming transcendence of death with testimonies of the Old Testament prophets surviving captivity in Babylon. "Jah protect I and I bassline!"

"Free Us" is equally transcendent and anthemic, with a majestic, soaring horn line courtesy of the great Dave Madden, and lyrics of deep eco/theological mysticism. "Set us free from the garbage of decay to enjoy the liberty of today". Ralston, his voice more fragile than his bother's, takes lead vocal here, delivering a particularly moving, ethereal performance. The dub, with its deep, swirling echo and emphasis on the horns, extends the mystical journey still further into an intensely gnostic soundscape, with percussion, guitar and keyboards fracturing and reflecting off one another until the bass overwhelms them. A truly heavy musical experience.

"Jah Kingdom Come" is more minimal, with Norman back on militant, righteous form, chanting judgement on false preachers and deceitful politicians, and a fairly minimal, almost Nyabinghi style backing, leavened by judicious application of horns and keyboards, but clearly showing the Brothers' uncompromising Rasta worldview and refusal to deal with "politricks".

"Since I Threw The Comb Away" is a passionate testimony of the social rejection of Rastas by everyone from parents to employers. The riddim is as intense and charged with fiery energy as the vocals, making this another classic, rousing steppers anthem, fuelled by the same deep faith in the face of adversity as "Never Get Burn". "Go away with your victimisation, your discrimination!"

"One Head" warns piously against intoxicants, in particular alcohol, a common if somewhat strange theme among particularly religious devotees of Rastafari. The springy, slightly Lee Perry-ish sounding keyboards and clattering percussion interweave nicely for a mellow vibe despite the rather stern message. The strangely titled "Bite Me" is actually a rather moving, bittersweet love song, with particularly nice harmonies and plaintive guitar work, perhaps harking back to the group's origins in the rocksteady era. Another mellow tune, evoking the rural vibe alluded to in the title.

The album closes, arguably too soon, with another heavy roots tune, the apocalyptic "Babylon Falling", on which Norman sounds almost tortured in his proclamation of the coming fall of urban civilisation. "I and I sit upon the mountaintop and watch how Babylon falling"; a deeply prescient vision of economic and ecological disaster which rural, agricultural communities will survive, but which will leave cities as wastelands - a message which, albeit somewhat hidden under theological metaphor, is there in the whole album for those who have ears to hear it, explaining the significance of its title.

Like all Virgin Frontline reissues, this comes exactly as it did on the original LP. It would have been nice to have a few bonus tracks in the form of more dubs or (particularly) DJ versions (which definitely exist of several tracks here). However, the sound quality is excellent, and this is still a very strong album of hard yet soulful roots - one of the relatively few reggae LPs which are solid from beginning to end. May it never get burn, nor get eaten by no worm.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Prince Jammy/Various: The Crowning Of Prince Jammy

The Crowning Of Prince Jammy
Pressure Sounds CD PSCD25

"The Crowning Of Prince Jammy" is a collection of some of the man born Lloyd James's greatest productions from the late 70s and early 80s, while he was emerging from his "Prince" status as King Tubby's protégé and establishing his own identity as a producer alongside contemporaries such as Jah Thomas and Junjo Lawes, but before the digital revolution of 1985 allowed him to undisputedly claim his position as "King".

The set opens with Black Uhuru's " King Selassie I" (aka "I Love King Selassie"), taken from their Jammy-produced first LP "Love Crisis"; this appears to be the original 1977 version, rather than the overdubbed 1979 version, and is a classic example of the early Uhuru, and Waterhouse, sound. (It can also be found on the Greensleeves re-release of both versions of "Love Crisis"/"Black Sounds Of Freedom").

Next up is Wayne Smith's evocative "Time Is A Moment In Space", a mournful song of lost love which in fact originates from an old country and western tune. A wonky, spooky keyboard is reminiscent of some of Lee Perry's later Black Ark work (eg. Danny Hensworth's "Mr Money Man"), but the heavier, more monotone bass vibe of early dancehall is already evident. The dub has the classic Tubby's echo techniques, but in a pared-down, strong yet subtle context.

Johnny Osbourne's rousing steppers anthem of theological devotion, "Jahovia" was, oddly, not released as a single at the time, but only on the "Fally Ranking" LP. "The Earth is the Lord and the fullness thereof, but it's heating like a melting pot", and the riddim is suitably hot and unrelenting. The version is a particularly bass-heavy, echo-laden workout, "warrior style".

Half Pint's "Puchie Lou" is a completely different vibe, breaking the chronological sequence by skipping forward to 1983; it's a bouncy, melodic love song in an uptempo yet mellow dancehall style, Half Pint showing the lighter side of the Waterhouse singing style. Mighty Rudo's "Waterhouse", a joyful tribute to both the studio and district, is on a similar riddim, despite being from after the birth of digital reggae in 1985. The lyrics resonate with localism of a wholly positive kind and a loved yet never idealised community, while at the same time pleading for an end to violent "political" rivalries conducted on a petty parochial basis: "I'm not here to build no strife, I just want to see everyone staying alive... I don't want to live in the sophisticated kind of cities..."

Earl Zero's "Please Officer", however, takes it straight back to the dark side with another rumbling, bass-heavy steppers riddim and a strident lyric of police brutality which pulls no punches in its condemnation of the whole Babylonian system. This 12" version is extended with a full-length dub to over 7 minutes, and is followed by its equally long and equally heavy B-side instrumental "Pablo In Moonlight City", one of Augustus Pablo's dreadest melodica pieces.

Half Pint returns with "Mr Landlord", over the classic "Hypocrites" riddim, its strong reality lyrics attacking exploitative ghetto landlords leavened by an irrepressibly funky horn riff. The following dub is the one which gives this compilation its title, a thunderous version to Junior Reid's classic "Jailhouse". Why the vocal of this is not included here, I don't know; however, enough snippets of it remain to make the tale of unjust imprisonment and torture comprehensible, adding an extra layer of paranoia to the spine-chillingly dread, wild and multi-layered dub mix; a true classic of "versioning" reminiscent in feel of Black Uhuru at their darkest and most industrial.

"Mr Vincent" by the fairly unknown group Black Crucial is another anti-landlord testimony of poverty, again lightened by the major key sweetness of its riddim, with a particularly nice piece of piano floating in the mix. Johnny Osbourne's "Mr Marshall", however, is another relentlessly heavy steppers tune, opening with powerful crashing of guitars and cymbals and propelled by militant double drumming, the stridently passionate lyric chanting down all warmongers and hypocritical authority figures, making no distinction between state and gangland hierarchies; another of Osbourne's most crucial tunes from the "Fally Ranking" album.

"Return of Jammy's Hi-Fi" is a masterful dub deconstruction of Horace Andy's classic Tubby/Harry J produced "Pure Ranking", showcasing the heaviness and inventiveness of Jammy's mixing, with the blissful keyboard melody melted down and echoed into wild, tantalising swirls of percussion, without even needing to retain any of the vocal. Sugar Minott's "Give The People What They Want" is probably the least memorable track here, due to its relatively conservative (at least in comparison to most of the ultra-heavy tunes here) mix, but still a nicely mixed and sweetly voiced, if rather staid, plea for rights and justice.

The closing track, Hugh Mundell's "Jah Fire Will be Burning", is, while not having as much radical studio deconstruction as most tracks here, still a highlight of the set for being simply one of the heaviest, most apocalyptically dread roots tunes ever recorded, with Nyabinghi style drumming, deep lo-fi bass, and a haunting, majestic trumpet underneath one of the Blessed Youth's darkest and most passionate vocals, describing, in imagery straight from the Book of Revelations, the downfall and bleak aftermath of industrial society. "The smoke of the dreadful furnace turns the sun and the air into darkness... what a great, great day that shall be." Prescient, terrifying and revelatory.

This is by far one of the heaviest collections of late 70s/early 80s tunes out there; almost every track on it is a killer for anyone who likes music which is dark, tense and political, yet also joyful and spiritual. While there are many other Prince/King Jammy compilations around, many of them overlapping with this one, you cannot go wrong with this as an introduction to one of the foremost second-generation reggae producers. My only (slight) gripe with it is the non-inclusion of the original vocal of Junior Reid's "Jailhouse" (I'm still looking for that on CD), which seems odd considering its dub provided the title for the compilation; however, this album proves Pressure Sounds' status as a worthy ascendant to the throne of reggae reissue labels.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Chantells & Friends - Children Of Jah 1977-79

The Chantells & Friends - Children Of Jah 1977-79
Blood & Fire CD BAF028

"Children of Jah" brings together some of the finest roots productions of Roy Francis, released on his Phase One label in the late 70s. While there are only 10 tracks here, unlike most Blood & Fire compilations, they are all 12" discomixes, and thus all well over 5 minutes (the longest reaching 8 minutes), meaning that this release is better value for money than that would imply, with over an hour of music here.

The harmony trio The Chantells, despite giving their name to the compilation (as perhaps the best-known act on it), only provide 3 tracks here, as opposed to 4 by the solo singer Lopez Walker, the first of which, "Children of Jah" is extended with its DJ cut, "Time To Unite" by U Brown. "Children of Jah" has sweet yet raw harmonies, somewhat reminiscent of Israel Vibration, but also of older "country style" groups such as the Maytones, the lyrics on the classic Rasta theme of survival of the righteous and innocent despite suffering and exploitation. U Brown picks up the theme and runs with it, and while his lyrics may be somewhat clichéd, his effortless delivery is still a pleasure to listen to, and the riddim is a warm and sweet head-nodder with a lazy Ansel Collins organ lick.

Lopez Walker (oddly often described as "Spear-style", despite a greater vocal similarity to someone like Prince Alla) delivers "Jah Jah New Garden" over a similarly warm and blissful, downtempo yet still powerful riddim, with passionate conviction in his voice aided by floaty piano and strong yet subtle echo in the dub portion of the tune.

Errol Davis's "Path I Have Taken" is a re-titled "Free Speech and Movement", originally by the Royals, combining liberation theology with condemnation of the "heathen", yet uplifting rather than doom-laden in tone, with a punchy horn riff and mellow, rolling guitar work. The dub contains nicely worked echoed vocal snippets along with reverb to keep the vibes mellow yet complex enough not to be dull.

"Assemble Not Thyself" by The Terrors, however, is one of the true highlights of this set, a beautifully anthemic piece of "country style" roots in which the relatively unknown vocal group bring the great Jamaican art of harmonising to one of its undisputable pinnacles. A stern lyrical warning against associating with "sinful people", laced with Biblical imagery of destruction, it nonetheless transcends its arguably conservative message to produce something genuinely moving and timelessly powerful which could as easily be seen as a slightly veiled astute observation of the inherent hypocrisy of "democratic" state politics. While less rich and multi-layered than Scratch's work on that album, the riddim is reminiscent in its ancient-feeling dignity combined with blissful transcendence of "The Heart Of The Congos", and the Terrors nearly equal that group in the beauty of their vocals. A track every reggae harmony fan needs to own.

Walker returns with "Send Another Moses", another cut to the same riddim as "Jah Jah New Garden", again on an Old Testament-inspired theme of repatriation, but this time calling for a revolutionary saviour in much more martial terms, "to whip them [the "heathen" again] with the rod of correction, to throw them in the pit of destruction". The dub is choppier and more kinetic than the first cut.

Steve Boswell & Jah Berry's vocal/DJ combination piece "Cool Rastaman Cool" is the most uptempo track here, with a propulsive, syncopated riddim (Sly Dunbar in "metronomic" style on drums), equally suited for head-nodding or energetic stepping, and a righteous lyric warning against deception and violence, accompanied by complementary solos on both guitar and piano. Berry's toast is in the tough late 70s style which foreshadowed the transition from roots to dancehall, punctuated by charismatic whoops and yelps, and keeping on going for a full 4 minutes, equal in length to the vocal.

The Chantells return with "Desperate Time" (re-using the riddim from their previous lovers hit "Waiting In The Park"), the sweet riddim combining with the stark lyric to produce a tune which manages to uplift while testifying to harsh, bitter reality. Franklin "Bubbler" Waul's fluid, tinkling piano is showcased on the lazy, mellow dub.

Lopez Walker's "Trial Days" has a similar message of injustice and suffering, combined with wry proverbial condemnation of the oppressors who punish without thought: "the horse who gallop on the track no care what him back foot say". Again the depressing tone of the lyrics is mitigated by the sweetness and warmth of the music and the subdued yet blissful feel of the mixing.

The Chantells' last tune, "Natty Supper", is the other highlight of this set, a powerful, passionate testimony of community and celebration as resistance, and of the divine power to be found in the natural cycles of growth and life, providing a bounty of food for all; an ethos deeply rooted in the understanding that food and therefore agriculture is essential to human life, and, despite the obfuscations of politics and economics, the only true key to survival. Anthemic horns and an inspired dub mix drenched with swirling reverb and echo confirm this tune's status as a roots classic (and probably one of the best tunes possible to cook or serve a meal to).

"Fly Away", Lopez Walker's final track, is the only one in which his vocal style is in any way similar to or imitative of Burning Spear, but he still does not sound like a Winston Rodney copyist, just someone using the same kind of rootsy, semi-improvisatory vibe. The wistful lyric again draws on the concept of a transcendent "promised land", far beyond everyday sorrows, and is complemented by a bluesy guitar and another laid-back, head-swaying riddim.

Like 129 Beat Street, this compilation profiles artists who are relatively unknown (at least outside serious reggae collector circles), but entirely comprises top-quality, sophisticated yet authentic roots to rival anything by more familiar artists. Another compilation which, while perhaps likely to be overlooked due to its lack of a "big name" and its short number of tracks, is certain not to disappoint fans of classic 70s roots and harmony.

Junior Byles & Friends - 129 Beat Street: Ja-Man Special 75-78

Junior Byles & Friends - 129 Beat Street: Ja-Man Special 75-78
Blood & Fire CD BAF023

This Blood & Fire collection brings together some of the crucial, yet relatively obscure, deep roots music released by Dudley "Manzie" Swaby on the Ja-Man label, which, while perhaps lesser known than that from "big-name" producers of the same time period such as Lee Perry, Augustus Pablo or Yabby You, is easily in the same rank as deep, uncompromising yet complex and sophisticated roots music. While there are only 11 tracks here, fewer than on most BAF releases, the majority of them are extended versions made from the vocal and dub sides of original 7"es.

The first 4 tracks are by all voiced by Junior Byles (hence the title credit, although arguably it really ought to be "Manzie & Friends"), who was already well known for his work with Perry, but 2 are in duet with the much lesser known Rupert Reid. "Chant Down Babylon" opens the set with its tough, propulsive riddim and somewhat stereotypical, but passionately delivered, rootsy lyric. There is a nice piano lick and the dub portion emphasises the hardness of the bassline and steppers drum pattern while keeping in a few vocal snippets. (It would have been nice to hear a DJ version of this tune, as the riddim feels especially suited to it.)

Byles's 2 solo tunes which follow are also solid roots, but somewhat mellower; "Know Where You're Going" having a triumphantly celebratory Rastafari lyric and sweetly harmonising backing vocals (and again Ansell Collins's piano expertise in evidence), while "Pitchy-Patchy", with its wryly off-key guitar and syncopated hand percussion, is similarly devotional in the face of suffering and opposition to Rasta. Both showcase the soulful, gospel-influenced side of Byles's expressive voice.

The second Byles/Reid duet, "Remember Me", is probably the deepest roots tune on this set, with a heavy, cyclical-feeling riddim, clashing yet muted cymbals and a powerful, sparing yet insistent piano riff, underpinning a vocal delivered with majestic conviction and a devotional yet apocalyptic lyric reminiscent of the best later 70s work of Yabby You: "Mighty archangels stood right there before I, coming for to carry I away... remember me, when you reach Mount Zion high". The dub uses echo and reverb, judiciously rather than excessively, and a solo from Ansell to further enhance the powerful, righteous dread vibes: a true heavy roots classic.

Reid's solo tune, "See The Dread Deh", is lighter in tone, yet still dread, with playful, joyous horns and a fragile yet assured vocal, somewhat reminiscent of Eric Donaldson.; theistic devotion along with celebration of the cultural visibility of Rastafari again being the lyrical theme. The dub is a particularly nice one, masterfully showcasing each horn part as well as the percussion, with a swirling, echoing feel similar to, yet distinct from, both King Tubby's and Black Ark era Lee Perry's mixing; according to the sleeve notes, it was originally the B side to a Jah Woosh DJ cut, sadly not presented here, to the same riddim.

Pablo Moses's "One People" is another highlight with a dark, brooding deep roots vibe nicely counterpointing the poignant yet optimistic unity lyric, soaked in the same feeling of heartfelt spiritual devotion as most of the material on this compilation. "Be not misled by false prophecy... till we meet in the Promised Land, may Jah hold you in the palm of His hand". Lloyd Parks's heavy, grindstone bass is to the fore in the dub, echoed drumbeats resounding as if in a deep abyss.

Bim Sherman delivers "Mighty Ruler" over a re-cut of the Heptones' Studio One classic lovers tune "Tripe Girl", once again passionately defending the Rastafari movement against its detractors: "men of your type, get out of my sight, you don't know how to unite, you only know to fuss and fight". Collins is on organ instead of piano here, his sweet-sounding riffs perfectly complementing the rolling, head-nodding bassline, with a seamless transition into warm, deep dub that - like most of the extended versions here - makes the vocal and version feel like they were originally intended as a single piece, as for a 12" rather than a 7".

Dave Robinson's "My Homeland", another tune with a warm, joyful horn section, is a poignant repatriation lyric delivered in a style very reminiscent of Dennis Brown's contemporary self-productions: another righteous yet smile-inducing head-nodder, with a strong feeling of depth and interplay between the instruments. The dub again shows Manzie's masterly yet subtle mixing technique. "Wild Goose Race", a very much old school style DJ piece by Brigadier Jerry, is slight yet nice, with some very pleasing dubbing and percussion behind a laconic delivery.

"See A Man's Face", a cover of the Horace Andy tune by Neville Tate, has a powerful uptempo roots feel to complement his vocal, which, while not bearing a particularly close resemblance to Andy's in tone, has the unmistakeable mark of his influence in it, as well as in the structure of the lyric, a pertinent warning against falseness and hypocrisy., advising the listener that appearances are deceptive and things are not always what they seem. The closing track is another DJ track, "So Long" by U Brown, which incorporates elements of horns, percussion and piano into a richly satisfying backing for his effortless flow and well-trodden yet perennial repatriation lyric.

The whole of this set is, while perhaps somewhat one-note lyrically, archetypal roots music of the late 70s period, combining righteousness with subtlety and sophistication in musical construction, and while relatively little-known to those outside the serious roots fanatic scene, will be enjoyable to anyone who likes music of that era. The sleeve notes are well-designed and extensive (as with all of Blood & Fire's releases), with my one criticism being the rather frustrating references to tunes and versions not on this set, at least some of which could have been included given its running time of only 52 minutes. While the label seems, unfortunately, to be on a possibly permanent hiatus, if you are a roots fan find this compilation second hand and buy without hesitation!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Lee Perry & The Upsetters - Ape-Ology

Lee Perry & The Upsetters - Ape-Ology
Trojan CD TJBDD361

This 2CD set from Trojan - clearly named in response to Island's "Arkology" - collects together 3 classic Lee Perry albums from the height of the legendary Black Ark era (1976-1978). "Scratch The Super Ape" (also released as simply "Super Ape" on Island, but here presented in its original JA mixes and running order) is a mostly-dub album using riddims from well-known Black Ark vocal tunes; "Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Cornbread" is a vocal LP by Scratch himself, and "Return of the Super Ape" is a mixture of the two. The second CD also contains some hitherto-rare bonus tracks from the same period.

"Scratch The Super Ape" opens, in its original order, with "Dread Lion", a scene-setting tune with a dark dub ambience, fuelled by horns, melodica and flute as well as vocal chant from The Heptones, and snippets of scat and effects. It feels like Scratch introducing himself with his dread credentials: "king of the jungle, king of the forest, strong like iron"... "Zion Blood" carries on the same dread, triumphant vibe over Devon Irons's "When Jah Come" riddim: "African blood is flowing through my veins, so I and I shall never fade away", dub-blurred drumbeats and lazy yet heavy brass in the rich background.

"Three In One" has more of a poignant yet playful vibe, sounding as if it might in its original form have been a love song, turned instead to a mellow, pastoral-feeling tribute to the "African chalice". "Curly Dub", despite its name, has no relation to Junior Byles's "Curly Locks", being instead a mostly-instrumental dub with some snippets of what sounds like Perry himself talking/scatting and a slow yet insistent trumpet, which later on in the tune turns out a virtuoso solo which is frustratingly half-hidden behind multiple layers of dub. "Patience Dub", as its name suggests, is another slow yet insistent dub, with half-heard vocal samples, half-muted call-and-response horns and a head-nodding drumbeat, fuzz and echo gradually increasing over its 4 1/2 minutes.

The title track "Super Ape" once again seems to be Perry's self-proclamation through the vocal medium of the Heptones, manifesting himself as the joyous yet implacable "ape man trodding through creation". Really deep, somehow subdued yet still unease-inducing bass frequencies and ghostly bird-call noises used as percussion give a mysterious, trance-like primordial swamp vibe.

"Croaking Lizard" features Prince Jazzbo toasting over a dub of Max Romeo's unstoppable classic "Chase The Devil", the vocals stripped away to reveal the deliciously kinetic steppers bassline and metronomic percussion, while Jazzbo quotes freely from other Max Romeo tunes such as "War In A Babylon"; an exercise in rhythm guaranteed to mash up any dancefloor. "War In A Babylon" itself is the version fodder for the next tune, "Black Vest", again stripped down to unmistakeable basics but with other ingredients (such as a joyous horn riff) added. Snippets of the vocal from Max's other cut on the riddim, "Fire Fe The Vatican", can be heard alongside a sporadic, uncredited toast.

"Underground Root" features the female vocal trio Full Experience, chanting to the "collie root" on another murky, swampy riddim, with guitar echoed almost to oblivion adding to the spooky ambience. "Dub Along", also featuring Full Experience, finishes the album, playfully exhorting the listener to "come along with me", snippets of piano livening up an otherwise fairly plodding dub. While Scratch himself does not contribute vocals (beyond a few samples) to this album, the overall feel is strongly that it is he as auteur conveying a playfully cryptic message through the various vocalists on it.

"Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Cornbread" is an album of Scratch's more direct expression, with his own lead vocals on every track. The funky and bouncily irrepressible "Soul Fire" kicks it off, Perry in manic, celebratory mode, doing the classic reggae trick of turning the threatening, even doom-laden into the joyous: "Soul fire, and we ain't got no water!" "Throw Some Water In" is something of a stream of consciousness, Perry preaching his eccentric health advice using a car engine metaphor over clashing cymbals and cut-up female backing vocals, also seemingly singing an island dweller's praise of the aquatic element, perhaps in balance to the "fire" of the previous track.

"Evil Tongue" is a classic Perry diatribe against hypocrites, and a proclamation of his superior intelligence and inevitable victory over them. "Curly Locks" is, of course, Perry's own rendition of the song he wrote for Junior Byles; a surprisingly sweetly and melodiously sung love song with playful yet seductive backing vocals, and also containing the surreal insult "your father is a pork chop" (which always reminds me of Monty Python). This appears (as with "Soul Fire") to be the same version of it as on "Arkology".

"Ghetto Sidewalk", opening with a sardonic trumpet riff and featuring various creaky, springy and glass-shattering noises as percussion, is Perry's call for an end to poverty and deprivation, but simultaneously a celebration of the vibrancy of Jamaican ghetto life, with also a keen sense of irony: "One thing I'd like to know, where does all the tax payer's money go... Don't say I'm malicious, I'm just a little suspicious". "Favourite Dish" is an eccentric tribute to JA cuisine, garnished with samples of crying babies and the trademark Upsetter cow noise, as well as cymbals and other percussion in the mix. "Music is the key, blend in harmony"; Scratch's alchemy is the mixing of bits of everyday observation into a collage of the sublime and the ridiculous.

"Free Up The Weed" is a righteous defence of JA's ganja-growing economy: "Some plant coffee and some plant tea, why can't I and I plant collie?". Perry effortlessly exposes the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of banning something natural and "made from creation", over an appropriately blissful and head-nodding musical backdrop. "Big Neck Police" is a re-titled "Dreadlocks In Moonlight", a classic swirling, joyful Black Ark mix with anthemic female vocals and Dean Fraser's beautiful sax perfectly complementing a righteously Biblical-inspired, yet still playfully humorous lyric condemning hypocrisy while displaying Scratch's love of metaphor: "You send a sprat to catch a whale, little did you know Jah Jah shark was on your trail". A justified Black Ark classic.

"Yu Squeeze My Panhandle" is another cryptic, stream-of-consciousness proclamation, wittily appended "I hope you penetrate this one". A stripped-down drum and bassline riddim is enlivened with bits of scat vocal and clattering percussion noises in typical Upsetter style. The closing track "Roast Fish & Cornbread" is a classic piece of eccentricity, summing up the themes of the rest of the album, its clip-clopping riddim lurching magnificently along with heavy echo, staccato piano and the great cow noise machine; this is a much rawer, bass-heavier mix than the one found on "Arkology". "Fear not and dread not, skank it in the backyard!"

The album "Return of the Super Ape" opens with the uptempo rocker "Dyon-Anasaw", with its celebratory horns (taken from the Studio One classic "Freedom Blues") and Full Experience chanting nonsense syllables, a perfect expression of the Upsetter's uncomplicatedly happy side. "Return Of The Super Ape" comes second, despite sounding like it might have been intended as an intro track; it's one of Scratch's most abstract and ambient dub excursions, crashing noises and snippets of conversation abounding over deep reverb and a fractured trumpet solo with an almost cinematic feel, oddly recursive changes in tempo making it seem much longer than its 3 1/2 minutes: one for deep herbal meditation.

"Tell Me Something Good" is another bouncy Full Experience tune, which is nice but fairly inconsequential. "Bird In Hand", however, is a truly breathtaking oddity, with a deep, mystical, ethereal vibe and a ghostly, fragile double-tracked lead vocal (thought to be Sam Carty) singing in what many had surmised to be Amharic or another mysterious African language, but turns out to be phonetic Hindi, taken from a Bollywood film song (the origin story can be found here). One of the Black Ark's transcendent moments.

"Crab Years" is another nice, warm-feeling yet ultimately somewhat forgettable dub, lacking as it is in vocals or anything else particularly interesting. "Jah Jah A Natty Dread" is far more gripping (and another highlight of the album following, perhaps deliberately, a relatively weak track): a heavy, propulsive uptempo riddim with wildly crashing drums and swirling, spooky organ, with Scratch on top scatting and ranting form, passionately proclaiming against the Pope, the Devil and other "baldheads"; unhinged in all the good ways.

"Psyche & Trim" continues the theme, albeit a little more cryptically, but clearly enough condemning the greedy, corrupt and exploitative ruling class: "Mister Top Ranking, you gonna get a spanking!", once again over a lively, stepping piano-fuelled riddim. "The Lion" brings back a bit of the joyful, playful vibe (and more strange creaking and groaning noises), Scratch again toasting righteous rhymes in a self-assured tone, with a tinkling boogie piano solo hovering in and out of the mix.

"Huzza A Hana" is another loosely swinging and semi-improvised feeling track, with funky slap bass, jazzy sax and whoops and yelps as interjections which almost prefigure the "oinks" and "ribbits" of 80s dancehall DJs, Perry returning to his "music is the key" lyric, except switching it playfully to nonsense variants like "huzza in the key". The final track "High Ranking Sammy" is another humorous swipe at the pompous and powerful, over a slowed-down, ponderously stomping riddim with plenty of fuzzy echo and percussive noises.

The bonus tracks which fill up CD2 start with Clive Hylton's "From Creation", a hitherto extremely rare vocal tune which, while satisfyingly righteous and rootsy in its slavery/repatriation lyric, unfortunately sounds like it was recorded in a bucket at the bottom of a well (although some might say this adds to its ambience). It's followed by 3 different dub mixes, which, while of slightly better sound quality, are really insufficiently different from each other to merit the inclusion of all of them; the last is probably the best, as the bass and echo is heaviest and some trace of the vocal is retained on it.

The 7" mixes of "Roast Fish & Cornbread" and its dub are also included; these are much closer, if not identical, to the Island mixes, with the vocal much more to the forefront and less bass and echo. Finally, there is U Roy's "OK Corral", a version to the "Return of the Super Ape" riddim, possibly even more stripped-down and bass-heavy than the dub, with U Roy drawling phrases from Western movies amid loud metallic crashing and glass-shattering noises - almost certainly one of the Upsetter's starkest and most abstract productions, somewhat reminiscent in fact of some of the wilder works of Prince Far I. (now that would have been a collaboration...)

This compilation showcases Lee Scratch Perry at his most undiluted and extreme (at least for his "classic period" 70s works). While those seeking transcendent vocal harmonies of the type found in works for Perry by the likes of the Congos, Meditations or Heptones, or uncompromising political rootsiness, are likely to be disappointed by perhaps the majority of tracks, fans of Scratch's eccentricity and overall prankster-genius vision will find this absolutely essential. Some of the material contained here is available elsewhere, but for the most part in far worse sound quality than here, and Trojan is to be commended for bringing together these previously only unevenly available classic albums, and several otherwise hard-to-find bonus tracks, on a nicely packaged double CD. Scratchophiles, obtain without hesitation for heavy dub meditation!