A fascinating album which revisits Romeo classics and presents them in new ways.
Lloyd Bradley 2010
Even though the tracklisting runs through titles like War Inna Babylon, Uptown Babies, Three Blind Mice and Wet Dream, what you’ll hear probably isn’t what you were expecting. This the best of Max Romeo how Max Romeo intended them to be; thus it’s a collection of his very best work rerecorded and self-produced, featuring guest artists old and new, such as Prince Jazzbo, The Congos and Ruffi-Ann. Then, once you’ve got over that initial shock of tunes like One Step Forward and Chase the Devil without any involvement from Lee Perry, it’s a fascinating album, all about the songs Romeo either wrote or co-wrote.
With Jamaican reggae being so studio-centric, too often you are primarily listening to the producer. This time around, though, the production focuses on bringing the best out of the singer, allowing the simple beauty of the songs to shine through. Romeo’s easy-action falsetto floats above backing that proves “unimposing” needn’t mean “inconsequential”, creating a blend of straightforward, laidback roots music that totally captures the cultural spirit. Obviously most noticeable by its absence is Lee Perry’s musical hyperactivity, but the previously Bunny Lee and Niney productions polish up nicely too, giving tunes like Macabee Version, Let the Power Fall and Bearded Come Feast a more delicate lease of life. Even his bawdy top 10 hit Wet Dream manages to sound supremely slack but cutely innocent at the same time.
With the latter song it’s the addition of the female dancehall deejay Ruffi-Ann that makes a huge difference, just as every other song on the album is taken a little higher by shrewdly-chosen guests. The Congos add sweet harmony to A Little Time For Jah, The Viceroys spice up War Inna Babylon, while Warrior King adds some robust singjay style to Three Blind Mice. Pride of place, however, is Prince Jazzbo’s toasting on One Step Forward, at once giving the song a new dimension yet still sounding like it had always been there.
It’s an album that revisits classics without intimidation to come out with results that sit comfortably alongside what went before. Which, when you’re talking about some of Lee Perry’s best work, shows the roots quality on offer here.