Burning Spear

Spear Burning

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In 1976, Winston Rodney launched the Spear label as an outlet for his own excursions into self-production. Through Spear, Burning Spear would ignite Jamaica with a firestorm of red-hot singles, all backed by the Revolutionaries. Most were never released outside of the island, thus Spear Burning is a very welcome collection, and a crucial addition to Rodney's lexicon. During this same period, Burning Spear was also enthralling the world with a series of masterful albums, kicking off with the classic Marcus Garvey, overseen by producer Jack Ruby. Although these sets were seen as part of an apex of heavy roots, none reached the throbbing, dubby heights of Rodney's self- produced singles. Even the label's debut release, Burning Spear's debut, "Traveling," a re-recording of "Journey," a song originally cut for Studio One, has a tougher, more improvisational feel, a sound that would deepen with time. Some of Rodney's most astonishing work, however, is found on the singles' version B-sides, which are twinned here with their flips. The most inflammatory is "Jomo," a version of the classic "Spear Burning," a tough dub punctuated by the wailing screams of a fire siren. "Jah No Dead" appears in its extended "discomix" form, even more sublime than the album version. The fabulous "Institution," an adaptation of the classic "He Prayed," is of particular note, for along with it's equally sublime dub counterpart "Natural," it was the label's sole foray into the 12" market, although one wonders why, considering its success both at home and in the U.K. Spear also worked with a handful of other artists, and the double vinyl album devotes the entire B-side of the first disc to versions of Philip Fullwood's "Love Everyone" rhythm. This includes Fullwood's original single version and B-side, as well as a trio of versions by Burning Spear, each one more scintillating than the last. Besides Fullwood, the album also showcases the sweet sounds of Burning Junior, a barely remembered vocal group, whose potential is evident here, but who sadly never went on to fulfill this bright start. Big Joe was the label's sole DJ, and on "The Prophet" he offers up a stunning cultural toast over Burning Spear's gorgeous "Throw Down Your Arms." The copious liner notes discuss at length the label, the artists, the songs, and even provide a succinct bio of Marcus Garvey, the inspired leader whose effect on Rodney is immeasurable, all drawn from interviews with the Spear himself.

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