Johnny Clarke

Authorized Version

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Give a listen to Authorized Version, and one is almost tempted to sympathize with the poor Front Line label. While Johnny Clarke continuously tore up the Jamaican charts, where his diversity didn't faze fans, audiences abroad were less understanding. Perhaps if Front Line had insisted that the artist pick one road and stick to it, things would've turned out differently. Instead, they were left holding an album that traveled three different paths simultaneously. How were they supposed to sell that? The answer was they didn't, and having released another equally poorly selling masterpiece, Rockers Time Now, they dropped the artist. Although Clarke was capable of composing awe-inspiring songs, Version draws heavily upon covers, with only a handful of self- penned numbers featured within. Of those, the mighty "Roots, Natty Roots, Natty Congo" is the standout, a celebration of African roots around the world, while "Wrath of Jah" is almost an equal dread classic. A number of the covers keep the militant mood going, including sublime versions of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It" and Bob Marley's "Crazy Baldhead," along with a sweet take on Culture's "Jah Jah See Them Come." And if these tracks had all been lined up in a row, the album might have had half a chance. Unfortunately, their power is somewhat dissipated by intercutting lighter material between them, conversely lessening the value of these equally crucial covers. Clarke's superbly passionate take on "I'm Still Waiting" is dropped between "Legalize" and his cultural toast "Let Go Violence." "Crazy Baldhead," meanwhile, is sandwiched between a superb cover of Alton Ellis' poignant look at aging, "Cry Tough," and the Wailers' warning to the rambunctious "Simmer Down." It would make some sense to spread the dread around if the musical styles around them at least matched, but they don't. The trio of songs starting with "Waiting" careens from deep roots to R&B, and then on to rocksteady. Ignore the appalling sequencing, however, and discover an album filled with a dozen unforgettable songs, all produced by Bunny Lee in fine flying-cymbal style, backed by the Revolutionaries and Skin, Flesh & Bones. The arrangements are superb; Clarke's performances are phenomenal, ranging from the ragged vulnerability of "Tough" to the joy of "Jah Jah." Happily, Caroline reissued the album on CD in 2001.

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