Burning Spear

Hail H.I.M.

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Across five seminal albums, Burning Spear would do more than just define roots; he would leave a fiery legacy that no other artist has equalled. Kicking off with the stunning Marcus Garvey in 1975 and encompassing the equally exceptional string of Man in the Hills, Dry & Heavy, Social Living, and Hail H.I.M., the final album in this series of masterpieces, Spear had undergone a continuous evolution. Over this five year period, Spear had truncated from a trio to Winston Rodney alone, grown to include the accompanying Black Disciples aggregate of elite sessionmen, then pared down to a smaller grouping, and had seen Rodney move into self-production. Along the way, Spear had developed a denser sound and mixed a variety of other genres into the deep roots atmosphere. By 1980, when work began on Hail H.I.M., Rodney had severed his ties to Island Records and most of the Black Disciples as well. However, Aston Barrett remained by his side as co-producer, bassist, and percussionist. So did saxophonists Bobby Ellis and Herman Marquis, now joined by Egbert Evans and keyboardist Earl Lindo, with fellow pianoman Tyrone Downie now also coming on board. There was a switch in sound as well; Social Living had been an almost anthemic album, while Hail H.I.M., in contrast, was transcendental. Much of the record has an almost proggy feel, as guitarist Junior Marvin jams across the heavy rhythms, the brass slices in jazzy passages, and lurking underneath, the tribal-flavored percussion and Rodney's congas. Yet there are still hints of the past found within, the breezier air of "African Teacher," and the '60s flavorings of "Columbus." "Road Foggy," which began life in those climes as the Studio One cut "Foggy Road," now re-emerges as a groove-heavy monster, with only the brass an echo of its previous incarnation. But the greatest change is found within the lyrics. Many of the songs are stripped down to minimalistic core themes, and in the case of "Follow Marcus Garvey" are little more than the reiterated command of the title itself. But these repeated refrains pack their own potent power via the concepts themselves and Rodney's phenomenal delivery, which imbues the words with such emphasis, they transform into mantras, embedded with a myriad of deeper meanings. When Rodney does expound at somewhat greater length -- as on "Road Foggy," "African Postman," and "Columbus" -- the impact is thus all the greater. The album is loaded with resonant themes: "African Postman"'s telegram calling for repatriation, the militant unity of "Cry Blood Africans," the vengeance of "Jah a Guh Raid," the deep devotion of the title track and "Jah See and Know," the desire to educate and learn found in "Columbus" and "African Teacher," respectively, and of course, an expostulation on the great Marcus Garvey. It's a stellar record, less a culmination of all that came before then a conclusion to a journey that had begun years before.

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