Lee "Scratch" Perry

The Mighty Upsetter

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Given that they are two of the most influential living producers in reggae music, it should come as no surprise that Adrian Sherwood (ringleader of the On-U Sound label and its shifting constellation of bands) and Lee "Scratch" Perry (who produced some of Bob Marley's best early sessions and founded the Black Ark recording studio, where some of the strangest and most wonderful reggae recordings of the '70s were made) have worked together in the past. Given that Sherwood is a richly talented producer with a unique sonic signature, and that Perry is both similarly gifted and probably certifiably insane, it should also come as no surprise that their history together is somewhat fraught. Over the past couple of decades, Sherwood's abilities have matured, while Perry has become more and more disconnected from the world in which most of us live. On many of the albums he's made since the '90s, Perry's presence has had no obvious influence on the music itself; instead, other producers bring him into the studio to dispense his trademark gnomic utterances over what are often fairly pedestrian reggae rhythms. The great thing about having him in the studio with Sherwood is that you know the rhythms will be top-notch, and indeed they are: from the blues-inflected and subtly Indian-flavored "Exercising" (where guitarist Skip "Little Axe" McDonald's influence is especially strong) to the elephantine one drop of "Rockhead" and the darkly gorgeous "Lucy Charm" (on which the Crispy Horns are particularly impressive), the music is brilliantly arranged and powerfully played. Perry's vocals are what his fans have come to expect: sometimes mystically numerological, sometimes defiant, sometimes incoherent, and frequently obsessed with excrement and genitalia, though on several tracks he sounds tired and uninterested, a disappointing development that any Perry fan won't have seen coming. But although Perry's contributions are uneven, the album overall is a consistently warm and loving tribute to a reggae legend from a man who learned a lot of formative lessons from him, and whenever Perry threatens to float away, the music keeps him firmly connected to the earth.

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