BURNING SPEAR (1948 - )
* * * * *1975 - Island - studio - discs: 1
Winston Rodney was born in St.Ann's Bay in 1948. He started to sing at a very early age and grow up with the sounds of the 60's: Ska and Rocksteady. By the end of the decade Winston started to write some songs. Bob Marley, no less, suggested that Winston was ready and directed him to the legendary Studio One. From time to time Winston joyned Rupert Willington, a friend from the community, to sing together. They went to Coxsone Dodd and cut a couple of songs, Willington is featured on some tracks as harmony back singer. By the same time Winston changed his name in Burning Spear. This was the Swahili name of Kenya freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta. The debut was the single "Door Peep". As a devoted Rastafarian he addressed the need to put the African heritage as a key issue. This approach, along with devoted bredren as the Abyssinians and the Ethiopians, paved the way for the spirituality that would have filled the Roots sounds of the 70's. The relationship with Studio One did not last long, it ended in 1974. Two albums were released with Coxsone: "Studio One Presents Burning Spear" and "Rocking Time". Around that time the Sound System operator Jack Ruby (aka Lawrence Lindo) was starting to produce. Ruby produced two sets: the present "Marcus Garvey" and "Man In The Hills" (1976). This debut with Ruby is a very powerful album and set the Spear standard of chanting about Marcus Mosiah Garvey as national hero, first Jamaican to speak to the world about the African heritage and the black proudness. This album was recorded at Randy's Studio 17 and was mixed by Joe Gibbs. Phil Pratt and Errol Thompson engineered. Ruby suggested that some backing vocals were required and the Spear decided for Rupert Willington and another St.Ann's bredren, Delroy Hines. Some of the top players were employed. There were members of the Aggrovators, Soul Syndicate and Wailers plus other great players including a five men horn section. The emerging sound is heavy deep edgy Roots. When is the time to talk about these sort of albums is quite difficult to say what song is superior to the other. Here every single track is heartfelt and heartbreaking... there is plenty of classics for sure. My preferred tracks are: the title track "Marcus Garvey", "Slavery Days", "Old Marcus Garvey", "Jordan River" and "Red, Gold And Green". The album was originally released by the Jamaican label Fox. Island remixed it for the British release. This is an epochal album that set the mood for the following releases: ""Man In The Hills" (1976)", "Dry & Heavy" (1977) and "Social Living" (aka "Marcus Children", 1978). This is a classic.
1. Marcus Garvey
2. Slavery Days
3. The Invasion
4. Live Good
5. Give Me
6. Old Marcus Garvey
8. Jordan River
9. Red, Gold And Green
10. Resting Place
* * * /1976 - Island - studio - discs: 1
"Garvey's Ghost" is the Dub version of the epochal "Marcus Garvey" album. It was mixed by Jack Ruby at Island Studios in Hammersmith, London. The dubs were engineered by Dick Cuthell, John Burns, Errol Thompson and Phil Pratt. These dubs are raw, depicting the heavy rhythm section of the original recordings. They do not shine as particularly impressive explorations on the original tracks, but are an interesting companion of the everlasting original album. Dedicated to the Dub specialists.
MAN IN THE HILLS
* * * /1976 - Island - studio - discs: 1
After the debut with Coxsone Dodd and a second album at Studio One, Jack Ruby produced the seminal "Marcus Garvey" (1975). "Man In The Hills" is the second album cut for him. This set is more meditative and inferior to the previous milestone album but it contains some classics too. The gem is without any doubts "Black Soul". The struggles of slavery, the pains suffered by his ancestors and the need to remember mother Africa are issues faced through the black proudness. Another strong classic song is the version of "Door Peep", a single cut for Dood at the beginning of his musical career. These two sets with Jack Rudy are a trademark of the first part of the career of the Spear. After these he started to produce his albums by himself. The set was recorded at Randy's and Harry J's and again top players were employed.
DRY & HEAVY
* * * /1977 - Island - studio - discs: 1
In 1977 the Spear arranged and produced his own record: "Dry & Heavy". His is a strong set that offers quite "Rockers" sounds. The albums opens with four recuts of old songs recorded for Coxsone Dodd at the beginning of his career: "Down By The River", here renamed "Any River" is the first. This calm opening is followed by one of the everlasting classics: "The Sun". Again this is a recut of an old track "Call On You", this time delivered as a heavier song. The third song cut for Dodd is "Creation Rebel", here renamed "It's A Long Way Around". The last recut is "I W.I.N.", formerly "This Race". The album goes on with "Throw Down Your Arms" a call to stop the violence that was spreading more than ever in those days. The title track "Dry & Heavy" evocates the children pains to gather the dry wood which is actually heavy. A methaforical way to express the hard work children are called for. "Wailing" refers to a Byblical prophecy. "Black Disciples" versions "Swell Headed", again a song previously cut for Dodd; as "Shout It Out" once called "Free Again". This set made almost of recuts was engineered by Sylvian Morris and recorded at Harry J Studios. It is interesting to see how some new polish on old material can offer such quality.
* * * * /1977 - Mango - live - discs: 1
Burning Spear "Live" at London's Rainbow Theatre in October 26, 1977 is a very very deep and heavy set. The tapes were later mixed at the Island Studios (Hammersmith, UK), by Terry Barham and Godwin Logie, with Dennis Thompson as supervisor engineer. Once you open the CD leaflet nowhere is written who the backing band is. But inside on the left there are some small pictures of some players. Then you read: Angus Gaye (drums), George Oban (bass), Brinsley Ford (rhythm guitar), Donald Griffiths (guitar), Courtney Hemmings (keyboards). What? Yes, the backing band are ASWAD! Bobby Ellis (trumpet), George Lee (sax) and Philip Fullwood (congos) joyned on stage. This is to say that the Spear is backed by top musicians and artists. This seven tracks set obviously covers only a part of the evening, or at least I suppose so. In any case these seven songs shine. The set opens with "The Ghost (Marcus Garvey)": the first thing after the "the sound of Burning Spear" announcement is pure Bass! Heavy and deep, and the Spear starts to sing. This song, as with the others, does not need a presentation. The six other songs are "I And I Survive", "Black Soul", "Lion", "Further East Of Jack (Old Marcus Garvey)", "Man In The Hills" and "Throw Down Your Arms". This first live set from Burning Spear is one of the greatest live album of the 70's.
* * * * *
1978 - Island - studio - discs: 1
"Social Living" was originally released in Jamaica in 1978 and titled "Marcus' Children". The mix was different than here and the tracks order was also compiled in a different way. The album is permeated by thoughts on Marcus Garvey, Jamaican people, Rastafari and Africa. Everything is very introspective and most of the time the message is sustained by some heavy and deep Roots. Even in the less deep tracks there is a strong meditative approach to the spiritual concept the characterizes the album. On nine songs, six are absolutly superior: "Institution", "Marcus Senior", "Civilize Reggae", "Mister Garvey", "Come" and "Marcus Say Jah No Dead". This is due to the fact that they are very very Deep Roots. The rest, "Marcus Children Suffer", "Social Living" and "Nayah Keith", are only more joyful in their rhythms but the message is as strong as with those mentioned above! This incredible strong set was recorded at Harry J's (Kingston, JA) and Compass Point (Nassau, Bahamas) and mixed at Compass Point. The recording engineer was Sylvan Morris. The mixing engineeres were Karl Pitterson and Benji Ambrister. The album was produced by The Spear and Karl Pitterson. It is not a surprise that top musicians were employed. The list reads: Angus Gaye, Sly Dunbar and Horsemouth Wallace (drums), Robbie Shakespeare, Aston "Family Man" Barrett and George Oban (drums), Brinsley Ford, David Kingsley, Donald Griffiths, Earl "Chinna" Smith and Bertram "Ranchie" McLean (guitar), Michael "Ibo" Cooper, Courtney Hemmings, Earl "Wire" Lindo and Bernard "Touter" Harvey (keyboards), Rico Rodriguez, Bobby Ellis, Dick Cuthell, Herman Marquis, Vin Gordon and Dirty Harry (horns), Winston Rodney and Sticky (percussions). This is The Spear at his best. Deep, strong and fulfilling with very serious lyrichs. This reissue by Island offers two heavy 12" extended mix bonus tracks: "Social Living" and "Civilised Reggae".
1. Marcus Children Suffer
2. Social Living (Album Version)
3. Nayah Keith
5. Marcus Senior
6. Civilize Reggae
7. Mister Garvey
9. Marcus Say Jah No Dead
10. Social Living (12" Version) *
11. Civilised Reggae (12" Version) *
* * * * *1975-1979 - Pressure Sounds - studio - discs:1
This is a five stars collection of singles. Let us point out why. While working on "Man In The Hills" (1976) Burning Spear started to cut some singles on his own Spear label. Aimed by the intention to gain more independance he decided to completely control his own releases by self producing them. So here we are with some heavy deep Roots from Winston Rodney. The set opens with "Travelling" and its even deeper version called "Walking". These songs were the first releases on his own label. This rhythm originally called "Journey" had already been cut at the beginning of his career at Studio One. Things get tougher with the 12" of "Institution", backed by its version called "Natural". Both reprise a previously recorded track called "He Prayed". Follow four versions of the song called "Love Forever". The first version is called "Free Black People". The second is "Free". The third and fourth versions are from Phillip Fullwood, a friend of Winston that played the congos during the acclaimed October 1977 North London's Rainbow Theatre concert, recorded and released as the "Live" album. These versions are called "Thanks & Praises" and "Love Everyone". Follows "Spear Burning" with its edgy Dub version called "Jomo". Then it is time again for two more cuts from Phillip Fullwood: the deep "I Gave You My Word" and its even tougher version called "Word ". A very intersting song is "On That Day". Performed by a talented group of youths from St. Ann called Burning Junior this is some sort of special bonus inside this collection. It seems that this was their only song recorded. Follows Winston's "The Youth", a track previously recorded at Studio One called "Pick Up The Pieces". Follows the only deejay recording released by the Spear label. This track is called "The Prophet" and is voiced by Big Joe. The set closes with the everlasting "Jah No Dead", here presented in its 12" version. What else? We can only say that all the material presented here is among the best recordings ever cut by Burning Spear. These self produced songs were recorded at Harry J's Studio and Joe Gibbs'. Sylvan Morris and Errol Thompson engineered. This is the deep heavy burning Roots Reggae from one of the greatest artists of our beloved 70's Jamaican music. With this set we do not need to keep the fire burning... it perfectly burns by itself!
1. Burning Spear - Travelling
2. Burning Spear - Walking (Version)
3. Burning Spear - Institution (Discomix)
4. Burning Spear - Natural (Version)
5. Burning Spear - Free Black People
6. Burning Spear - Free (Version)
7. Phillip Fullwood - Thanks & Praises
8. Phillip Fullwood - Love Everyone (Version)
9. Burning Spear - Spear Burning
10. Burning Spear - Jomo (Version)
11. Phillip Fullwood - I Gave You My Word
12. Phillip Fullwood - Word (Version)
13. Burning Junior - On That Day
14. Burning Spear - The Youth
15. Big Joe & Burning Spear - The Prophet
16. Burning Spear - Jah No Dead (Discomix)
* * * * /1980 - EMI - studio - discs: 1
In 1980 the Spear signed with EMI for three albums. This is the first of these sets and Aston "Family Man" Barrett produces. This is the best album after the seminal "Marcus Garvey" of 1975. The present set was released in a moment when the golden age of Roots music was suffering a little and the early Dancehall sounds were surfacing. But the Spear was cleverly careless of the new sounds and delivered some almost perfect pure Roots. The main issues are about Jah, repatriation and the expected deliberations about Marcus Garvey. The album opens with the title track "Hail H.I.M.", a heartfelt hymn to Selassie I. "Columbus" addresses the liars that state that Columbus discovered Jamaica. The Spear says that someone before had already inhabited the island: the Arawaks, later literally eliminated by the conquerors. "Road Foggy" versions "Foggy Road", a song recorded at the beginning of his career in 1969 for Coxsone Dodd. Some new arrangements make this great song shine again. "Follow Marcus Garvey" is the inevitable tribute to that great man. This strong songs wants the people to remember the crucial philosophical thought of one of the gratest Jamaican's sons. "Jah See And Know" addresses the need to remember that the Most-I sees all and knows. "African Teacher" is the first of three songs that talk about the real Homeland. The second is "African Postman". "Cry Blood Africa" and "Jah A Guh Raid" close the album. The set was recorded at Tuff Gong. It was mixed by Burning Spear and Errol Brown. The engineers were Errol Brown and Dennis Thompson. This album is a nine songs one but the messages it contains are higher that the Blue Mountains, stronger that the rough sea and clear like the full moon. This is one of the strongest musical and lyrical statements from Burning Spear.
* * * *1982 - EMI - studio - discs: 2
Even if this set is a little bit inferior to the "Hail H.I.M." (1980) it is a classic itself. The original set contained nine tracks, but this reissue adds two Dub tracks, that will be highly appreciated by the Spear's fans. In this set there are some very good songs. It opens with the message of the title track, "Farover", which address the need to look far away to the motherland Africa for a better future. "Image" refers to the image of the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey and underlines the importance of his philosofical thinking. "Rock" versions an old song from 1969 cut for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. That song was some sort of precursor of the late 70's "Rockers" style. This version is a heavy updated post "Rockers" and Roots song. "O' Jah" (the best track here) with its heavy and deep Roots is a praise of the Most-I. The set closes with the classic "Jah Is My Driver" (aka "Rasta And The Ball"). The band is great, all top players, great musicians. The set was recorded at the legendary Tuff Gong Recording Studio, engineered by Errol Brown and mixed by him and the Spear. This is a self produced album. This set is almost at the top of Burning Spear's music.
LIVE IN PARIS ZENITH 88
* * * /1988 - Nocturne - live - discs: 2
Eleven years after the "Live" set (1977) the Spear is back with a live album, and this time is a double discs one. The concert was recorded at the Zenith auditorium (Paris, France) on May 21, 1988; with the last song on the first disc ("Traveling") recorded at Liberty Lunch, Austin, Texas in 1988 too. This set has of course a totally different mood than the previous live release. If the songs are still powerful, covering even some long time classics, the mood is different. The small venue atmosphere is gone. And this is because the huge Zenith is not the right place for trying to recreate the yardie atmosphere that Burning Spear is able to deliver. At the same time one thing must not be forgotten: once playing in big places the contact with the audience is necessarily gone. Here the result is for most of the songs a cold vibe. If you see the official DVD ("Home To My Roots") covering this concert you can get what I mean. The music is played good, Burning sings as he should; but a lot is missing. The only real strong gem, which sounds as expected, is the deep "The Wilderness". The rest is not that bad, as there are quite a lot low peaks but fortunatelly even high ones. This is a live set to check but not to keep in a safe.
MEK WE DWEET
* *1990 - Island - studio - discs: 1
This is a sad thing to say but probably this is the worst set from the Spear. The uncertainties are evident since the first track: in this case the mixture of Roots and digitals do not work at all. Even if you try to appreciate these songs in their historical environment (late 80's, early 90's sounds) there is no way to be caught by some good vibes. The only things to save are "Take A Look" and "Great Man". The rest is almost embarassing. Avoid it. Maybe not if you are a fan of UB40, but that is not Reggae Music at all!
* * /1991 - Spectrum - studio - discs: 1
This set adds a little to the "Mew We Dweet" mood. Again the rythms are quite digitally enforced but the result is very uncertain. I must stress again that the combination of Roots and that kind of use of digital instruments do not help at all to reach a minimum artistic quality. On eleven tracks only two are to be saved, and fortunately they are very good early 90's Roots: the slow "Tumble Down" and "Estimated Prophet". The latter is a dark song that clearly demonstrates what the Spear is able to deliver. The rest is poor, uninspired music. Unfortunately only two good songs can not save a whole album.
LOVE & PEACE - LIVE!
* * * /1993 - Heartbeat - live - discs: 1
In 1994 The Spear released his third live set. It is a straight album with only nine songs, but it sounds better than the previous "Live In Paris Zenith 88" set. The material in this album comes from various locations and it was recorded during the American tour of 1993 in support of the studio "The World Should Know" set. The set opens with "The Sun" as some sort of intro to the following songs. "I Stand Strong" addresses to need to remember the great Black leaders. "Come Come" and "Take A Look" follow with the latter as a strong Roots rocking tune. "Mek We Dweet" is a low peak, as its original version. "Great Men" is a classic Burning Spear song which again remembers the great black men of the past. "Jah Kingdom" comes from the omonimous studio set and is far better than the original. It is not particularly impressive but for sure it is a tune for jumping. "Mi Gi Dem" is not distinctive of Burning usual high quality. The set closes with a long and powerful "Peace". This is the best song of the album and one of his best live songs so far.
(A) LIVE IN CONCERT
* * * /1998 - Nocturne - live - discs: 2
In 1998 the Spear is back again with a live, this time double, album. For sure everything is well sung and played, but again is too much perfect up to the point of missing the right vibes. There is an unpleasant feeling of listening again to the same album, and this is not what such an icon as Burning Spear deserves. He is able to deliver much better quality and that is why I prefer his studio recordings. Generally speaking it is like as if you miss one track or part of it you do not feel the necessity to skip back and start from the beginning of that song. Too much perfection gets me unprepared and instead of lightning me up it frezzes me... as with Morgan Heritage nowadays, but that's a different story! Fotocopies... anyone? Since the Spear is still the Spear there are some very good tracks: "Postman", "Slavery Days", "Cry Blood" and "Red, Gold And Green". Not very much for a seventeen plus an intro live album. Quite disappointing since everything seems too much artificial.
* * * /1999 - Heartbeat - studio - discs: 1
This acclaimed set (winner of the Grammy Award in 1999, if this means something) is not as good as I expected. Actually the album is effective up to he first side, the rest is repetitive. Infact the first side has the best songs, which are actually very good: "As It Is", "Hallelujah", "House Of Reggae"and "Let's Move". Even "Brighten My" must be added with its unexpected Lover's warm mood. After these songs things get more conventional, if not uninspired. This perfectly packaged set starts very good but since it goes downward after the sixth songs, it leaves me with a feeling of uncompleteness. The album ends without fullfilling the expectations.
LIVE AT MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL
* * * *2001 - Nocturne - live - discs: 1
As some of you already know it is many years since the Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland) opened its stage to other kind of sounds other then Jazz. This is the time for the Spear and I think that after the "Live" set (1977) this is the best live album. If some of you was waiting for something different than the artificial, but highly professional sounds of the previous live sets, well... this is the right album. This is again a heartfelt concert. The Spear shines for the entire eleven songs set. If the opening with "The Youth" is delivered undertone, listen to the following "Jah Nuh Dead" and you get immeditely what I mean. The best deep songs are: "Jah Nuh Dead"; "Tumble Down"; "Old Marcus"; "Rocking Time"; "Slavery Days" and "Postman". All these tracks are dark and deep as needed, and most of all are exactly what the Spear is really able to deliver on stage. Keep the Spear burning!
* * *2003 - Nocturne - studio - discs: 1
This set from the Spear is not particularly impressive. As expected he gathered together some top musicians to play but the songs themselfs are not representative of Burning high standards. The set is not bad, it only lacks the deep and sometimes very dark atmospheres that he is able to deliver. The music is sometimes quite developed but this can not be said about the lyrics. The good songs (at least musically) are: "Trust", "Hey Dready" and "They Can't". The rest is quite innocuous. If you are a newcomer and are checking about this milestone artist in Reggae history, I suggest that you skip back twentyfive years to the beginnings and start from there. There lies the real strong force of Burning Spear. For those that already know the man, check this in any case even if here the Spear is not exactly burning.