Lee "Scratch" Perry

Earthman Skanking

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It's no easy task presenting a coherent overview of Lee Perry's massive catalog. Between the Upsetter's obsessions, experimentations, and outright oddities; his own cuts, his productions, the instrumentals, and the dubs; the culture, the clashes, the salaciousness, and the soul felt; where does one begin? Well, Earthman Skanking ignores the obsessions and oddities, and provides a smorgasbord of what's left. Skipping blithely across the years and genres, the set bounces between 1967 and the mid-'70s, encompassing rocksteady and reggae. The album opener, "Set Them Free," was aimed straight at Prince Buster's head, a brilliant retort to his draconian "Judge Dread," and an eloquent explanation of what drove the rude boys to crime. Equally notable is the gorgeous "Run for Cover," also dating from the rocksteady era, with the sublime harmonies provided by the Sensations. In these days, Perry was bouncing around the Kingston studios, and making enemies along the way, reflected in songs like "You Funny" (aka "You Crummy") and "People Funny Boy," whose dub appears here as "People Weird." "Thanks We Get" was recorded later, but makes clear that Perry was still aggravated by the treatment he had received. On "Labrish," Bunny Lee joins him in a good moan, before the pair turn and bash their competition. Which may leave listeners with the impression that Perry spent most of his time grumbling about the grudgeful. But the Upsetter has a wicked sense of humor, as the oh so rude "Water Pump" amply illustrates. And a keen sense of justice, as his demand for "Power to the Children" (aka "Justice to the People") makes clear. Than there's upbeat numbers like "Stay Red" (aka "Stay Dread"), a paean to the glories of ganja, although "Bless the Weed" is asking nothing of the sort. That number, actually Leo Graham's "Black Candle," is in fact an attack on those who utilize the services of the ubiquitous obeah. This set does, however, at least attempt to encompass Perry's eclecticism, with the brash instrumental "Doctor on the Go" capturing The Upsetter's exuberant sound in the reggae age, while the dubs vividly illustrate the Upsetter's exhilarating sonic explorations. However, 15 tracks in no way can truly define Perry's work, and while a clutch of these songs are indeed classics, many others are not. Not a terrible set by any means, but not a standout either.

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