Burning Spear


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Winston Rodney -- the man known as Burning Spear ever since the name stopped applying to the two- or three-man group he fronted -- once said that Island doesn't own any unreleased tracks from him; they only own the tracks given to them through producer Jack Ruby. This helps explain why the numerous Burning Spear compilations the label's parent company, Universal, has released differ very little in their track listings, and maybe why the Chris Blackwell mixes of Spear's albums keep rearing their watered-down heads. They are here again on the two-disc Gold, yet another compilation that covers a sliver of Burning Spear's career. But what a sliver it is. Gold focuses on Spear's early Island albums and, through the magic of major-label mergers, one album from his stint with EMI. It's the "zenith of Burning Spear's brilliant career" according to the liner notes, and the track listing makes that case well, save one horribly misguided decision. Taking three tracks from the limp and universally scorned Garvey's Ghost -- a Blackwell-helmed dub snooze-fest that was done without the permission of an infuriated Rodney -- is a truly bad move. It's doubly frustrating when you consider how well Gold handles Spear's other albums, including his Island debut, Marcus Garvey, which also suffered from some Blackwell-ing. You'd have to take out a second mortgage to acquire the album in its original form, and as Gold displays, Spear gradually thickened his sound through the years and it's doubtful Blackwell soiled the album as drastically as listeners have been lead to believe. "Slavery Days" and "Marcus Garvey" from the album sound fantastic and vital here, but that's only the beginning. Gold takes the listener chronologically from Spear's dankest, dark albums through to his punchier, more soulful ones and stops along the way to grab an uplifting live track and a couple of extended mixes that allow the groove to really stretch its legs. The a cappella "Jah No Dead" from Spear's appearance in the movie Rockers is a perfect, serene ending to the heavily spiritual and politically urgent collection, one that makes the listener forget the Garvey's Ghost mishap. Until Rodney and the people at Island make nice, Gold is as good as it gets. Recommended with some weighty reservations.

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