Perhaps the most amazing thing about Burning Spear is how little his approach has changed after nearly 40 years as a recording artist. His themes and concerns -- freedom, self-determination, equal rights -- have remained constant, and he sticks pretty close to his original musical template of slow to mid-tempo roots rhythms with plenty of horns and percussion layered into the mix for added punch. As new styles have swept through the Jamaican music business, Spear has stayed his ground, sure in what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. So there are no surprises on Free Man, the first release on Burning Spear's new record label, Burning Music. The songs stick to righteous themes, the backing tracks are solid but not flashy, fleshed out with his trademark sonorous horn charts, and while his voice occasionally drifts off-pitch, Spear delivers what he has always delivered: Solid, workingman's roots music full of anger, hope, redemption and earthy wisdom. Working with veteran Jamaican session players like percussionist Uziah "Sticky" Thompson and drummer Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, Spear still radiates the kind of tempered joy at life and music that made his early work from the mid- to late-'70s (Marcus Garvey, Man in the Hills, Dry & Heavy) such classics. Among the highlights here are the gritty "Rock and Roll," the perennial Marcus Garvey homage, "Rise Up," and Spear's call to politicians to rethink things, "Changes." While Free Man doesn't quite equal those classic early albums, it is cut from the same quilt, and it won't disappoint his many fans.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett