April 1st, 2010
Title: Police & Thieves
Artist: Junior Murvin; produced by Lee Perry.
Catalog no.: 5321969
Format: 2 CD set (deluxe ed.)
Release date: 2009
Police and Thieves was one of the most commercially successful releases of prolific Jamaican producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s long and ongoing career. Recorded in 1976 and released in 1977 (1976 for the single), it was produced at about the midpoint of Perry’s greatest period of sustained mainstream popularity and record sales, following Party Time by the Heptones and War Ina Babylon by Max Romeo. Other Perry gems of the time include Scratch the Super Ape (aka Super Ape), Heart of the Congos, and the ethereal To be a Lover. All of these titles were recorded at the Black Ark, Perry’s handmade cinder block recording studio in the garden of his residence in Kingston. They all featured the trademark Black Ark sound, replete with layer after layer of percussion, swampy mixes, and sound effects accomplished not with samplers or other digital tools, but with tape overdubs and manipulation of Perry’s dated, salvaged, and reworked studio equipment. The results were astonishing aural vistas that highlighted the mixing board as an instrument, the producer as an artist.
Sung by Junior Murvin and written by Murvin and Perry, the album and single of Police and Thieves both sold well outside Jamacia despite—or maybe because of—grim lyrics that focused on the state of life in a Jamaica with armed gangs working for the two major political parties making Kingston a very dangerous and difficult place in which to live. Murvin had taken to frequenting a ruined mansion near Port Antonio called the Folly to work on his singing in peace. Inspired, he wrote several songs over time and eventually received divine direction: “I get a vision to carry me to Lee Perry” to record his work.
The album Police and Thieves has now been reissued with excellent sound quality but a disappointing dearth of discographical detail. This edition of Perry’s house band, the Upsetters, was built around Boris Gardiner’s booming and expressive bass guitar, Ernest Ranglin’s guitar, and the likes of Sly Dunbar on drums, but participation in Black Ark recording sessions was fluid, so it’s hard to be specific as to who played what on each title. Along with the title song, other notable entries include “Tedious,” “Solomon,” “False Teachin’,” and “I Was Appointed,” among which only “Tedious” attained the commercial success as a single that Perry and Murvin hoped for. This reissue’s second disc features other notable Murvin/Perry collaborations from the Police and Thieves sessions including “Bad Weed” and “Cross Over,” familiar songs to reggae fans who may have missed the original Jamaican releases, and two epic deejay dub mixes featuring Jah Lion (“Soldier” and “Police War”) and Dillinger (“Roots Train” extended mix). There are thirty-three tracks on this two-CD release, as opposed to ten on the original album.
A fan of Curtis Mayfield, Murvin emulated the Chicago singer’s soulful falsetto to good advantage, and Perry winds the vocals in and out of the mix, blending it with Perry’s signature dub effects. Notably, the extended version of “Roots Train” features a long Dillinger disquisition in rap about the benefits of Lambs Bread, a particularly potent and tasty form of Rasta sacrament and Jamaican marijuana. In fact, Murvin’s and Perry’s lyrics for all of the songs on Police and Thieves are about social and political unrest in Jamaica, and man’s relationship with God from the Rastafari perspective. And although the overall sound is digitally crisp and clean, the idiosyncratic Black Ark feel is admirably preserved: “the rhythm is heavily phased; keyboard melodies drift in and out of the mix”; and percussion tracks float in and out, on and off the beat. Two radio ads for the original album are included, too, making this a real slice of island life in a time of great turmoil. The album struck a chord with the English punks of the mid-1970s (the Clash covered the title track) and introduced Perry and Murvin to a new audience. But not long after this collaboration, Perry would destroy the Black Ark by fire, leave Jamaica, and begin to portray himself as mad, an assessment with which many, but certainly not all, would come to agree.
Reviewed by Mike Tribby
 David Katz. People Funny Boy (Edinburgh : Payback Press, 2009), p. 259
 Katz, op. cit. p. 274
Review Genre(s): Reggae