MAX ROMEO (b. 1944 - )
WAR INA BABYLON
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1975 - Island - studio - discs: 1
Max Romeo was born Maxie Smith on 22nd November 1944 in the Alexandria, St. Ann Parish. In 1965 he won a talent show and started to think about a possible musical career. Around 1967 he met Ken Lack (aka B.J. "Bobby" Kalnek), owner of the Caltone label. He cut some singles with The Emotions, including his debut called "Buy Me A Rainbow". By the same time he acquired his new name. Since his romantic attitude some started to call him Romeo. In 1969 Max cut "Wet Dream" (over Derrick Morgan's 1968 "Hold You Jack") for the producer Bunny Lee. At the end of the 60's led the backing band the Hippy Boys, an instrumental group that was mainly working with the great producer Sonia Pottinger. At the beginning of the 70's Max recorded for Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Winston "Niney" Holness. In late 1971 he recorded "Let The Power Fall On I" for Derrick Morgan. The song was extensively used by Michael Manley (PNP) for his 1972 political campaign. Max cut other songs to support Manley, as "Press Along Joshua" and "Socialism Is Love" (with a clear statement in its title). But with the victory of the PNP, Max quit his political engagement. By the middle of the 70's Lee Scratch Perry had a band of session players, the famous Upsetters. This band was the old Romeo's Hippy Boys featuring among the others Carlton Barrett and his brother Aston (drum and bass) and the organ of Glen Adams. Their sound was "dread" with slow and edgy sounds. Max Romeo never appreciated the commercialization of Rastafari and infact he released the provocative "Rasta Bandwagon" in 1975. With Perry, Max Romeo recorded the song "Sipple Out Deh" in 1975. Island Records remixed it and released it as "War Ina Babylon". The success came immediately. The tough lyrics about the almost tragic situation in the Jamaican society will appear also in the next single called "One Step Forward". The set "War Ina Babylon" was recorded at the glorious Black Ark studio of Lee "Scratch" Perry with the Upsetters backing. Unfortunately this was their only full length collaboration. There are four great tracks here: the opening "One Step Forward", "I Chase The Devil", "Norman" and "Tan And See". The general mood is quite "political" with Max denounceing the social situation of the island. The rest is just a little inferior but the lyrics are so powerful that they remain a strong statement about what was going on in those tragic and full of blood days.
WET DREAM - THE BEST OF MAX ROMEO
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1967-1976 - Trojan - studio - discs: 1
Max Smith was born in 1944 in St. Ann and quite early he moved to Kingston. In 1966 he started singing as a member of the Emotions. Soon he quit because of the disputes over the figure of the possible front man among the members of the group. After this experience his friend Edward "Bunny" Lee was starting to operate as producer. The legend says that Bunny started to call the singer Romeo after his dedications to a girl. Than one day in 1968 Max wrote a song called "Wet Dream" and from that moment things changed. At the beginning Romeo did not want to sing it because of the explicit content but later Lee convinced him to move to Coxsone Dodd' Brentford Road studio and record it. But this was only the first step. The song was refused and Lee next move was to bring it to London. It was released under the Palmer Brothers label. Even if it was not aired "Wet Dream" became a huge hit in the U.K. staying in the charts for twentyfive weeks! A funny story says that Max once in the U.K. to promote the song refused any allegation to the sexual content. He explained that the "wet" in the song was referred to the pouring rain in a Jamaican night! ...yes Max, sure! The song did not sell well in Jamaica. On the contrary the later songs were very well accepted. He started as one of the first "rebel and reality" singer. Beside the Bunny Lee produced songs he worked for Niney The Observer and the great genius of Lee "Scratch" Perry. This collection presents some interesting material through which one can see how Romeo was dedicated to social and political issues. The only fault from Trojan was to put the songs together not in chronological order. This remains a twentyfive tracks compilation that gives us the opportunity to get a good glimpse of the territories explored by Max Romeo.
OPEN THE IRON GATE 1973-1977 / Includes: REVELATION TIME (1975)
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1973-1977 - Blood and Fire - studio - discs:1Max Romeo's "Open The Iron Gate 1973 - 1977" is actually the re-release of the "Revelation Time" set (1975). Before any comments on this release it is interesting (I hope) to read my lines about Max's career up to 1972. After quitting with the Michael Manley campaign in 1972, Max went back to the studios cutting singles for Prince Buster, Alvin Ranglin and Winston Riley among the others. In 1973 Rastafari started to grip Max's heart and its influence can be seen in the song called "Every Man Ought To Know", included here as the opening track and a bonus one. After this track Romeo developed the idea of cutting a whole set: a concept album conceived as a whole statement and not a mere collection of singles. A lot of these tracks were recorded at Lee Perry's Black Ark. The others were cut at Harry J Studios and at Randy's. This re-issue contains the whole "Revelation Time" set, plus four extras: the before mentioned "Every Man Ought To Know" and "Valley Of Jehosaphat - Version", "Fire Fe The Vatican" (a version of "War Ina Babylon") and "Melt Away". This almost perfect set has some pure gems: the stellar "No Peace", "A Quarter Pound Of I'cense", the bonus and marvellous deep Roots and already mentioned "Valley Of Jehosaphat" (here presented with its Dub), and finally the almost funky great Roots (years and years ahead... for some reasons) bonus of the again mentioned "Melt Away" (plus Dub version of course). But the rest is no less. Listen for example to the lyrics of "Three Blind Mice", with its description of the abruptly police invasion of a dance, or "Revelation Time" accusing the violent oppositors of the dreadlocks brethren. Songs written by Max, who produced too. Someone says that this is the strongest effort from Max. I only know that this is a great set to explore very slowly.