This is an intriguing, if unnecessarily enigmatic, compilation album of rare Lee "Scratch" Perry productions from his Black Ark period. And although the sound quality is impeccable, all drawn from the original master tapes, the lack of information will leave many fans frustrated. Heartbeat can normally be counted on for helpful liner notes, but as it licensed the tapes not from Perry but from Alvin Ranglin, neither party may have been clear on just what was within. And how did Ranglin come by these tapes? Apparently they were surety Perry left on a loan that remained unpaid.
Surprisingly, considering the circumstances, Perry parted not with half-completed tapes, but seemingly finished productions, a mishmash of singles, recuts, covers, and versions, most vocalized by Scratch himself. The album eases listeners in with the ever-popular hit "Bionic Rat," but the real gem of this collection is found near the end, "Free up the Prisoners," in all its nearly 13-minute extended disco-mix glory.
"Babylon a Fall" was another popular sound system spectacular, but the one here is not King Burnett's original, but Perry's own take on the number. Similarly, Shenley Duffus delivered up "Standing on the Hill," but it's Perry who handles lead here. The brooding, deeply rootsy "In This Iwa" bears no resemblance to a similarly titled track on The Upsetters' Double Seven album, but is, in fact, Perry sweetly riding Junior Byles' hit cover of "Fever." However, "News Flash" is the original Leo Graham single.
Elsewhere, versions of familiar numbers appear under totally unfamiliar titles. Perry leads the choir on "When You Walk," an update of the Upsetter Pilgrims' exuberant 1969 single "A Testimony," while the aptly titled "Track 13" finds Perry all too briefly rewriting The Wailers' "One Love," with new avian-laced lyrics.
"Righteous Oily" is Perry's wacky DJ version of Junior Byles' "Festival Dada," much more effective is "Ashes and Dust," and a powerful version of "Vibrate On," with Perry's scintillating toast streaming through. "Rainbow Throne" solves the mystery of "Lee in the Heartbeat," a track cut abruptly short on Perry's Lord God Muzick album released the previous year. "Throne" is obviously the precursor to "Lee," a complex, sumptuous, hypnotic number that along with "Free Up" is worth the price of admission alone.
Not every number here is a gem, but there are more than enough jewels to set this compilation a-glitter. Perry apparently was, if not pleased, at least unperturbed by this release, how else did Ranglin escape his wrath on any later disc? Fans will be pleased that Perry never paid off this IOU.