Lee "Scratch" Perry

Scratch & Co., Vol. 1: The Upsetters

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Making sense of the Lee "Scratch" Perry oeuvre has long been a troubling affair. Though the advent of reissued material and printed retrospectives in The Wire and Grand Royal answered many questions, the occasional release still slips through the cracks. Enter Scratch & Company: The Upsetters, Chapter One, a 1982 collection from Jam Clockwork. Both the origins of the music and its place in Perry's catalog are something of a mystery. It matches a handful of the producer's known collaborators and a series of more obscure figures, creating an assemblage of pulsating organs, distorted guitar scratches, and deep bass. Vocals come in the form of the standard dub production fragments ("Curly Dub") and occasional Rasta philosophizing ("Who You Gonna Run To," "When Jah Come"). The most striking moment is "Tighten Up." Here, an infectious tune with banal lyrics and fine groove is transformed through Perry's absurd production methods. Warped beyond belief (and anything resembling conventional logic), it's as if Perry placed the entire track underwater just to see what it sounded like, then sat back, satisfied with his creation. Only the saxophone escapes. The vocalists sound like alien versions of Alvin & the Chipmunks have landed on the island of Jamaica. Nothing else on Scratch & Company quite matches it. The rest of the collection, while inconsistent, has its merits. "A Serious Joke," with its deceptive aural balance, takes second place. "Scratch the Dub Organizer" offers little surprise, but it's a fine dub moment nonetheless with great horn harmony, smooth soloing, and chest-rattling bass. The cool and calm instrumental "Scratch Walking" would indeed be the perfect soundtrack for Perry himself, strolling through town. Though it's not of the caliber of the Upsetters' finest releases, Scratch & Company contains some fine music for those looking deeper into the producer's catalog.

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