Garnett Silk

Rule Dem: The Roots of the Reggae Messiah

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Garnett Silk rose out of Jamaica's dancehall scene, and once he turned from toasting to singing in the early '90s, seemed poised to become an international star when he died in a fire in 1994, a tragedy that robbed the world of an increasingly graceful and elegant artist. Silk worked with an astounding number of producers during his career, which has led to a lot of left-on-the-cutting-room-floor-type releases since his death, so it's always a delight when a Silk reissue anthology has some internal coherence, which this one has in a very special way. Drawn largely from a series of dub plates Silk made for Kingston's Kilimanjaro sound system, these tracks weren't intended for commercial release, and aren't anywhere near as polished as Silk's official sides, but the joy, energy, and intimacy of Garnett Silk in a dancehall setting makes them an indispensable treasure. Silk was instrumental in bringing rasta and reality themes back into Jamaican music at a time when lurid slackness was ruling the dancehalls, and Kilimanjaro was the perfect outlet for him, since unlike most of the Kingston sounds, Kilimanjaro frequently demonstrated a cultural and roots inclination. Everything here has been issued before, most of it on the fine Kilimanjaro Remembers Garnett Silk collection which Jam Down released in 1999, but Rule Dem tacks on a couple extra rarities to make it arguably an even better set. Among the highlights are the buoyant "Bless Our Soul," the revealing "Marley Medley" (many feel Silk was poised to attract the world's attention the way Bob Marley had), the dubbed-out and urgent "Evacuate," the bright-sounding yet cautionary "Green Light" (delivered over a percolating Jackie Mittoo rhythm), and the absolutely beautiful and melodic "Complain," done as a memorable duet with Capleton. Atlantic's Definitive Collection or Bobby Digital's Give I Strength are both probably better introductory sets to this very special Jamaican singer, but Silk's Kilimanjaro recordings have an immediacy that is tough to top, making Rule Dem feel as much like an experience as a recording. You can almost feel the night air around you, and when Silk's voice breaks in, it's damn near redemptive.

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