Burning Spear

The Fittest of the Fittest

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After the rather disappointing Farover, this mellow album laid down a firm foundation for the future, ensuring that while Burning Spear's fire no longer burned as fiery as before, a bright glow would still last down through the years. The Fittest of the Fittest's title track encapsulates both the sound and vision of what was to come. The Burning Band's rhythm section lays down a succulently meaty groove, while the rest of the musicians weave in and out, layering on riffs and flourishes to create a rich tapestry of sound. Overhead, Winston Rodney chants along, a long-distance roadrunner eating up the miles and passing cultural touchstones along the way. "Repatriation" boasts an equally sublime groove, with the band almost melting into it. No longer the immediate imperative, repatriation now seems more a long-term goal, a significant sea change, moving Rodney away from his earlier militancy and toward a more visionary stance. It's a transformation that the unity-themed "Vision" further supports, and "For You" confirms. The latter is a song for the ladies, which, even after "She's Mine" broke Spear's cultural mold on Farover, comes as a surprise. Yet "Bad to Worse" makes clear that Rodney hasn't become a full-blown optimist just yet. Past injustices still rankle, or at least bubble, as they do on "2000 Years," which gurgles up from the roots, then seeps through the dancehalls. If that bubbles, "In Africa" boings, as the chanter now reinvents himself as Eek-A-Mouse and boingy boings his way across the opening of the song. Simultaneously, the Burning Band returns to Studio One and drag its '60s sound straight into the later roots age. But that's nothing compared to "Fire Man," which drags "Fire Down Below" out of the archives and into the modern age. That is actually less rootsy than the original that Spear cut for Coxsone Dodd all those years ago, although the wailing sirens in the background give it a perfect contemporary flavor. And just to further ground the album, there's "Old Boy Garvey," yet another tribute to Jamaica's most famous son. A superb album, which while not in the same class as Spear's first five releases, proves that the artist still has a good deal of simmer left.

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