After learning to produce records by overseeing rocksteady and early reggae sessions for Joe Gibbs, Winston "Niney" Holness set up his own Observers label and proceeded to create some of the first and most important roots reggae music during the early ‘70s. This Trojan compilation covers most of Niney's prime tracks from this period, including landmarks like his own "Blood and Fire" and Max Romeo's "Rasta Bandwagon" and "Beardman Feast." Fellow veteran of Gibbs' studio and occasional collaborator Lee "Scratch" Perry contributes some typically idiosyncratic spoken interludes on the former Romeo number, while also helping Niney and the singer out on the version side that follows; in fact, Perry produced a few Romeo records himself, most notably "Babylon's Burning" from the Give Me Power album.
Niney continues with his own unique vocal contributions on apocalyptic cuts like "In the Gutter" and "Message to the Ungodly," even touching upon Rastafarian dietary laws on "Ital Correction." Providing some nice contrast to Niney's musings are a few DJ turns by Dennis Alcapone and Big Youth, a fine vocal by Delroy Wilson ("Rascal Man"), and several dub-inflected instrumentals by the Observers band, including a cover of Sly Stone's "Everyday People." (Later to morph into Bunny Lee's studio outfit the Aggrovators, the Observers included heavyweights like bassist Aston Barrett, guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith, tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, organist Bernard Harvey, and drummer Carlton Barrett.) This definitely is an essential title for both fans of roots reggae and students of Jamaican music, but if your tastes run to the more whimsical, Rasta-free terrain of ska and rocksteady and the secular sides by dancehall favorites like Gregory Isaacs, then the heavily dread Blood and Fire might not be the disc for you.