Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Burning Spear "Gold" - Review

Burning Spear "Gold" - Review by Writerman 

Burning Spear began as a duo, grew into a trio and after five albums became one man when Winston Rodney took on the name for himself and split from his two original collaborators, Delroy Hines and Rupert Willington.
This two CD compilation includes tracks from seven of Burning Spear’s albums as well as a song they did for a reggae movie. With 28 tracks here I have chosen to summarise them according to the albums they originally appeared on.

Burning Spear’s first two albums were on the Jamaican Studio One label. As this set is from their Island Records period, the earliest material here dates from the third album, Marcus Garvey which came out in late 1975.
Of the five Marcus Garvey tracks, all hold up well with the possible exception of Slavery days which is a little repetitive. Written about the doctrines of Marcus Garvey, the lyrics tell that story well and Jordan River and Marcus Garvey are the best of these. Jordan River has a kind of reggae/gospel feel to it and both feature some really cool understated lead guitar, courtesy of Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith.

Three tracks are from Garvey’s Ghost, the dub version of the previous album and released a short while after. This used to be quite common with reggae bands at that time and if you like dub, the three tracks here are all beauties. My personal favourite is Farther East Of Jack, which begins with some sublime guitar lines and then begins to sound very spooky, largely due to the vocal mix.
Five tracks from album number five, Man In The Hills plus Cultivation, the dub version and b-side from of the Man In The Hills single complete disc one. Man In The Hills, it was the last album Winston made with his two vocal partners.

Less political than the previous two albums, it favours a more subtle approach with some seductive melodies to help get the messages across. The best examples of this are Man In The Hills and Cultivation, but Mother is also very melodic.
Disc two begins with five tracks off Dry & Heavy, which constitutes more than half of that original album. A good decision, I feel, as I always thought it was one of his best albums. If pressed for a favourite among these, I would select Black Disciples, closely followed by Throw Down Your Arms simply because they have such catchy choruses.

A live version of Old Marcus Garvey from the 1977 Burning Spear Live seems a little superfluous, given there is a studio version of the same song on the first disc. I can’t imagine what was going on near the end; Winston sounds like he is in some sort of difficulty.
Five tracks are here from Social Living, (a.k.a. Garvey’s Children), although the first two, Social Living and Civilised Reggae are the 12” single versions. Social Living gets a bit stuck in one groove all the way through, but Civilised Reggae has lot more happening and I like the alto sax and the ‘creaky’ percussion sounds here.

The main melody to Marcus Children Suffer bears a strong resemblance to something else (not reggae) that I can’t quite bring to mind. That’s not a problem but the wailing in the background is a bit disturbing!
Two tracks from Hail H.I.M. and Jah No Dead from the Rockers soundtrack wind up this epic collection and the last one should have stayed on the Rockers compilation. It may have been okay in context, but here it is just a bit odd.
Robbie Shakespeare, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith are just a few of Winston Rodney’s heavyweight musical sidekicks and the list on the packaging is impressive.

Review by Writerman
Email: ken@writerman.co.nz
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