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Burning Spear Marcus Garvey/Garvey's Ghost Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Winston Rodney’s first album to attract acclaim beyond Jamaica reissued with bonus dubs.

Martin Longley 2010

The Jamaican singer and wordsmith Winston Rodney was born in Saint Ann's Bay. This is the same parish that spawned Marcus Garvey, a highly influential figurehead for black rights, whose views emanated from a particularly Afrocentric standpoint.

At the end of the 1960s, Rodney created the identity of Burning Spear, a banner which sometimes included his two harmony backing singers. The 1975 Marcus Garvey album was the first to bring Rodney to wider attention outside Jamaica.

Although Garvey didn't exactly embrace Rastafarianism, Rodney wasn't discouraged from absorbing his crucial influence. Even beyond its classic opening title-track, the album concerns itself with the political thinker's legacy throughout, though often from an abstracted perspective. Nevertheless, the Garvey presence is all-pervading.

The album was recorded at Randy's Studio in Kingston, with its resident Black Disciples band. The introductory Marcus Garvey song maintains a brisk trot, with Rodney singing in a deliberately halting, controlled quaver that is also found in the voice of Horace Andy. The harmony singers are Delroy Hines and Rupert Willington. The horns punctuate firmly, and Earl 'Chinna' Smith's lead guitar makes tiny decorative embellishments. Keyboardist Tyrone Downie pushes insistently.

The second track is an even greater classic, Slavery Days easily ranking as one of the key cuts in reggae history. Glorious harmony vocals glide beside clipped guitars and lolloping bass. The latter duties are swapped between Robbie Shakespeare and Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, two of reggae's most influential four-stringers.

All of the band's parts mesh perfectly, and this rolling motion continues to the finish. With Live Good and Give Me, the advantage of Carlton Samuels' flute becomes apparent, his lithe phrases frequently licking up against the ears. Tiny triangle tinkles complete the feeling of a highly detailed production spread.

This disc is bolstered by the very fitting inclusion of Garvey's Ghost, a dub version LP from 1976. Most of the tracks from Marcus Garvey are shorn of their lead vocals, although this dub manifestation isn't as sparse as most of the outer-limits excursions from this same period. These instrumentals are sometimes quite dense, with nary an extreme sonic drop-out. There are literally ghostly snatches of backing vocal midway through I and I Survive, the version of Slavery Days, and on 2000 Years these become a featured element.

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