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, always supporting and praising the resilience of the human spirit. Our Music, released on his own Burning Spear Records (which Spear runs with his wife and business partner Sonia Rodney), is his most fully realized record in years, with a bright, bubbling sound that is almost joyous in its persistence, even as he tackles hard social issues. Although it was recorded in New York City at Magic Shop Recording Studios, Our Music is thoroughly Jamaican, with Leroy Wallace once again holding down most of the drumming duties, and the rhythms are marvelously organic, natural, and vibrant, with sharp, perfectly placed horn charts (no one in reggae uses horns better than Burning Spear) that punctuate the melodies without derailing them. But most of all, Our Music is filled with hope, and that unerring hope is what lifts this record, even as Spear takes on his usual heavy social themes. This is a deeply committed artist, and it isn't chic or anything new with him (he's been bringing the same message since his first recordings with Clement Dodd in the mid-'60s), but what's a bit of a breakthrough here is how bright and airy his sound has become, even as he sticks with the mid-tempo rhythms and his generally sonorous vocal delivery. Highlights include the title track, "Our Music," the extended mix "Together" (which deals with war-torn Africa and features a fluid and soaring dub coda), "Down in Jamaica" (which wouldn't sound out of place on Spear's classic Marcus Garvey album), and the glorious, loping, and infectious "Walk," which essentially visits the whole planet in the lyrics, as Spear calls for a renewed sense of place in the world, not as a divisive factor, but as the first step toward unity. Know where you are, Spear insists, know where you live, get out and walk where you live, and know that this is the beginning of understanding the whole world we live in, neighborhood by neighborhood. A wonderful new album by a roots reggae master.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1