August 1st, 2010
Title: Marcus Garvey/Garvey’s Ghost
Artist: Burning Spear
Label: Hip-O Select/Island
Catalog no.: B0014272-02
Release date: July 27, 2010
In 1975 reggae was new to most U.S. popular music listeners. Bob Marley had begun to make inroads on the scene with the Wailers albums Catch a Fire and Burnin‘, but his singing group, the Wailers, had splintered when Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer decided to leave rather than continue under the guidance of Island Records honcho Chris Blackwell. In Jamaica, a young singer from St. Anne’s parish–coincidentally the birthplace of both Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley–was branching out from Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One. Winston Rodney had scored a local hit in 1969 with “Door Peep,” an “arresting and foreboding number steeped in Biblical imagery” (according to the liner notes by David Katz). Rodney cut about thirty songs at Studio One as Burning Spear, mostly solo efforts, but some featuring harmony vocals. After leaving Dodd, Rodney teamed with flamboyant producer Jack Ruby (nee– Lawrence Lindo), and recorded the song Marcus Garvey. At first Ruby used it exclusively for his sound system shows, open air dancehall affairs that were a major commercial venue for popular music in Jamaica at the time. Eventually popular demand led Ruby to issue it on record, and the recording of songs to fill out an album commenced.
Released late in 1975, the album Marcus Garvey was a major event in reggae history. At the time, albums as such were fairly rare in Jamaica: most long-playing releases were compilations of singles, and reggae was not considered a market that would support album sales. But the title song and subsequently the rest of this set, containing deeply meditative treatments of core Rastafarian principles and disquisitions on racial and social inequities, found a market in the U.K. as well as in Jamaica, thanks to Island Records agreeing to distribute the work. As was customary for the time, the wider exposure of a Jamaican album came at the cost of some of the roots aspects of the original mix: Island sped up some tracks and lightened the bass in the mix. Eventually the album would sell well in the U.S., too, and this deluxe reissue from Hip-O Select returns to the original analog tapes to provide this authoritative, arguably less “Babylonian” (in the sense of returning the music to its original form) reissue.
As much of a “concept album” as any pop music recording, the lyrics to the songs on Marcus Garvey all deal with Rastafari and matters of black history and social justice. The title song recalls and celebrates Garvey as a prophet while “Old Marcus Garvey” deals with those who would forget their history (“No one remembers Old Marcus Garvey…”); “Slavery Days” recalls the dreadful history that brought Africans to the new world in chains; and “Jordan River,” “Red, Gold, and Green,” and “Resting Place” deal with religious matters. All of the selections feature the deeply meditative mood and jazz-inspired instrumentation that constitute Burning Spear’s trademark. Accompanying Marcus Garvey on this single-disc release is the dub version of the album, Garvey’s Ghost, which was released in 1976. Dub albums were not unknown at the time, but they were still fairly rare. Dub as a style had been around since the late 1960s with King Tubby and Lee Perry, among many others, creating dub versions of popular songs that subsequently became popular in their own right. By 1973 Perry, King Tubby, and Errol Thompson had released all-dub albums, but Ghost was one of the first dub albums to collect dub versions of every cut on a previous album by a single act.
This Hip-O Select version of Garvey’s Ghost is a delight with sparkling production values enhancing the reverb, echo, and other sound effects while Spear’s vocals drop in and out of the mix. The package also features an essay by Lee Perry biographer and reggae historian David Katz. Unfortunately discographical details do not list which musicians played on which cuts, but Spear and Ruby assembled an all-star band for the sessions. Robbie Shakespeare (of Sly & Robbie) and Aston “Family Man” Barrett (of the Wailers) share duties on bass guitar, and the celebrated Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace is the drummer. Veteran session musicians Vin Gordon and Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall lead the horn section, Bernard “Touter” Harvey and Tyrone Downie (also of the Wailers) contribute keyboard work, while Earl “Chinna” Smith (another Wailer) and Tony Chin play guitar. These are truly two of the finest reggae albums ever, and they’ve never sounded better.
The set lists:
Marcus Garvey; Slavery Days; The Invasion; Live Good; Give Me; Old Marcus Garvey; Tradition; Jordan River; Red, Gold and Green; Resting Place.
The Ghost, I and I Survive, Black Wa-Da-Da, John Burns Skank, Brain Food, Farther East of Jack, 2000 Years, Dread River, Workshop, Reggaelation.
Full list of participating musicians: Winston Rodney, lead vocals; Delroy Hines, harmony vocals; Rupert Willington, harmony vocals; Robert “Rabbi” Shakespeare, bass; Aston “Family Man” Barrett, bass; Earl “Chinna” Smith, lead guitar; Valentine “Tony” Chin, rhythm guitar; Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, drums; Tyrone “Organ D” Downie, piano, organ; Bernard “Touter” Harvey, piano, organ, clavinet; Vincent “Trommie” Gordon, trombone, clavinet; Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall, tenor sax; Herman Marquis, alto sax; Bobby Ellis, trumpet; Carlton “Sam” Samuels, flute.
Reviewed by Mike Tribby
Review Genre(s): Reggae