Coming after the highly acclaimed Marcus Garvey (1975), Burning Spear's fourth album, Man in the Hills (1976), had a lot to live up to. It is generally conceded that they did not craft an equally impressive follow-up, but Man in the Hills has its charms nevertheless. Lead singer and main songwriter Winston Rodney turns back to reflections on his rural Jamaican childhood for many of the lyrics, which gives the album a gentler, more nostalgic message than the political, exhortative Marcus Garvey. Rodney's tenor is well suited to the sentiments, and the all-star band assembled to back him is supportive and, especially in the horn charts, complementary to the lead voice. The demands of recording schedules may have caused Burning Spear to recast earlier songs, but that contributes to the album's theme of looking back. "Door Peep" was the first song Burning Spear released in its Studio One days, and "No More War" updates the Jamaicans' 1967 song "Ba Ba Boom." With Dry & Heavy (1977), Burning Spear consisted only of Rodney, who also jettisoned producer Laurence "Jack Ruby" Lindo and handled the board himself.
Across five seminal albums, Burning Spear would do more than just define roots; he would leave a fiery legacy that no other artist has equalled. Kicking off with the stunning Marcus Garvey in 1975 and encompassing the equally exceptional string of Man in the Hills, Dry & Heavy, Social Living, and Hail H.I.M., the final album in this series of masterpieces, Spear had undergone a continuous evolution. Over this five year period, Spear had truncated from a trio to Winston Rodney alone, grown to include the accompanying Black Disciples aggregate of elite sessionmen, then pared down to a smaller grouping, and had seen Rodney move into self-production.
This disc brings together Marcus Garvey, Burning Spear's debut album, with its dub counterpart, entitled Garvey's Ghost. The resulting package is one of the pillars of roots reggae, an album packed with thick, heavy grooves and uncompromising religious and political messages. Although this Mango reissue has been criticized as sonically weaker than the Jamaican original, it will sound plenty dread to all but the most critical ears. Songs like the title track, "Slavery Days" and "Give Me" (with its remarkably well-integrated flute part) all tremble with the intensity of Winston Rodney's dark voice, and some of the dub versions (in particular "Black Wa-Da-Da," based on "The Invasion") number among the most frightening ever created. There are no sing-along melodies here; Burning Spear has always been more about setting up a relentless groove and using it to get the words across. But that groove is glorious, and it's more than sufficient to support the significant weight of the lyrics.
This is an excellent reggae sampler. It should be obvious that everyone's first introduction to reggae should be Bob Marley's great LEGEND which is the reggae desert island disc of all time. That is the place to start for any introduction to reggae. This sampler is a good next step and includes classics from Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Toots and the Maytals, and many others. The rhythm section for many of these tracks is the famous Sly and Robbie duo…