Various Artists

Truth and Rights, Observer Style

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This powerful compilation of mid-1970s roots reggae stands as one of the finest collections available in this genre. Winston "Niney" Holness (also nicknamed "The Observer") produced all of these tracks during the classical period of roots reggae, when the sound was dark and dread and cultural/religious themes were the rule. Niney was almost as good a singer as he was a producer -- listen to his inspired performance (supported nicely by the Heptones) on "Hail I" and the apocalyptic "Mutiny (Confusion in a Babylon)." Other top artists include Johnny Clarke, who turns a vintage Augustus Pablo rhythm into the militant "Warrior," and the legendary Delroy Wilson, whose "False Rasta" is one of the album's highlights. Lee "Scratch" Perry weighs in with his typical intense weirdness on "When Jah Speak" ("When Jah speak, all men QUIET!," he thunders). The rest of the roster is like a who's who of classic reggae: Jacob Miller, Michael Rose, Dennis Brown, Big Youth, etc. It's curious that the program includes Big Youth's deejay version of Niney's epochal "Blood and Fire" and an instrumental version courtesy of the Observer All-Stars, and yet Niney's original version is missing. No matter; this is still an essential reggae document.

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