Max Romeo

Open the Iron Gate

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Though Max Romeo got his start singing smutty novelty tunes (his first big Jamaican hit was titled "Wet Dream"), he later turned to serious political and religious themes, and while he always had some trouble gaining the respect he deserved as a singer, the recordings he made in the mid-'70s at the Harry J Studio, at Randy's, and especially at Lee Perry's Black Ark are some of the most powerful of that period, when much timeless music was being made in those studios. This marvelous collection brings together some of the best singles of the period, most of them in tandem with their dub versions. Romeo's sweet tenor voice and effortless delivery belie the lyrical content of these songs, which is invariably dread, dread, dread. The pleasant melody and gently loping rhythm on the classic "Warning, Warning" will lull you into blissful complacency until the lyrics wake you up with a jolt: "And now you rich people, listen to me/Weep and wail over the miseries/That are coming/Coming upon you." (By the way, this guy grew up in rural Jamaica, so when he addresses "rich people," he's talking to you, bud.) Elsewhere, he prays that he might always be found "in opposition, where I can fulfill thy works, oh Jah" and opines that "liars and thieves should not be cops." On a more religious theme, there's the rather, um, intolerant "Fire fe the Vatican," set to the deathless "War ina Babylon" rhythm. The backing musicians are mostly variations on the Upsetters' lineup, and much of the production bears the unmistakable Lee Perry imprint (though all of it is credited to Romeo on the reissue). This is an essential document of reggae's classic period.

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