In the jumbled world of reggae history, Lee "Scratch" Perry's 1973 effort Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle has earned the false reputation of being the first dub album to see release. It's not. Herman Chin-Loy and Clement "Coxsone" Dodd both had full-length dub albums on the shelves before Perry, but Upsetters 14 is the first album that fully dived into the possibilities of dub, creating the blueprint for a genre that could survive on its own, attract its own audience, and have its own set of masters. Of course Augustus Pablo, Scientist, Mad Professor, Mikey Dread, and Adrian Sherwood all owe something to the forefathers of reggae, but their true mentor is Perry and his early work. Adding to the mystique is the extremely limited first run of Upsetters 14 with only 300 pressed, 200 for Jamaica and 100 off to the U.K. Over the years, respect for the album would fall well behind Perry's other total masterpiece, Super Ape, thanks to the Blackboard Jungle Dub album, which featured the same recordings found here, but in a much inferior mix. This undesirable version kept reappearing, to the point where even the mighty Trojan included it in their Dub-Triptych set, but leave it to David Katz -- author of the ultimate Perry biography People Funny Boy -- to right the wrongs and unearth the impossible. With the original master tapes lost forever, Katz's reissue on the Auralux label is mastered from an original pressing and through analog equipment. The result is a true revelation. Warm and enveloping, the album has a much deeper feel than ever before, with bass that's raw, cavernous, and thunderous all at once. This is ever so important to tracks like "African Skank," an instrumental dub of "Place Called Africa" that replaces Junior Byles' sweet croon with an intoxicating bassline. The echoing trombone on "V\S Panta Rock" now flutters over a nocturnal soundscape, and strange voices that were hopelessly buried in lesser mixes of "Elephant Rock" now reveal themselves whispering through the song's tribal beat. The "Three Blind Mice" melody dissolving into the sqwonky "Jungle Jim" is a perfect early example of Perry's twisted sense of humor, while "Drum Rock" is positively twisted with Scratch offering an assortment of animal noises. In the end, what's most incredible about the album is how Perry's vision of dub as otherworldly is so sound and stable from the beginning, making Upsetters 14 that rare album that's both seminal and a prime candidate for "definitive," as well. Auralux's reissue adds four lost bonus tracks recorded years later at Perry's Black Ark studio, and while they don't match anything on the album proper, they share the same feel and make for a worthwhile addendum. Topping it all off are Katz's liner notes, which offer some insights into this landmark and captivating effort.
Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle Review
by David Jeffries