Friday, March 29, 2013

Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey/Garvey's Ghost

The great reggae act, Burning Spear, was originally a trio of lead singer Winston Rodney and backing vocalists Delroy Hines and Rupert Willington.  With Rodney's keening, smoky and powerful invocations and his partners' rough but highly effecting backing and the great instrumental support of many top-shelf reggae instrumentalists like bassists Robby Shakespeare and Aston "Family Man" Barrett, the latter of The Wailers; drummer Leroy "Horse" Wallace; lead guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith; keyboardist Tyrone Downie, also a member of The Wailers later; among others, the group became one of the best-known bands of the genre's golden years in the 1970s.

The epitome of Burning Spear's long and memorable career is undoubtedly the classic Marcus Garvey, which was issued on Island Records' Mango subsidiary in late 1975.  Ten tracks move seamlessly from one to the other with the solid musicianship melding with the vocals and the lyrical concerns about Garvey's heroic status in trying to uplift the status of black people during his 1920s and 1930s heyday and other elements of Rastafarian religious issues, life in Jamaica, the history of its extinct native Arawak peoples and that of black slaves brought to the island later by the British; and other heavy themes.  There are no love songs or party anthems to be found here--this is pure consciousness and political music.  And, there isn't a weak track or filler in the bunch, with the title track, "Slavery Days," "Old Marcus Garvey," and "Tradition" being the highlights to YHB.

The 100th Anniversary CD release, commemorating the centennial of Garvey's birth paired the great record with the awesome dub version, released in April 1976, titled "Garvey's Ghost."  These versions mirror the running times of the original tracks and rate among the greatest dub pieces of all, right up there with the great Augustus Pablo's King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown, also from 1976 and Black Uhuru's mindblowing The Dub Factor (1983), both to be featured here eventually.

The trio recorded another record, Man in the Hills, released in August 1976, before Rodney ended the partnership and took the name Burning Spear as his own, going on to release such well-known albums as Dry and Heavy and Social Living.  He has continued to record and tour over the years since that 1970s peak, but it is hard to argue that Marcus Garvey was the pinnacle and that Garvey's Ghost is one of the great dub records of all time.

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