Max Romeo & the Upsetters / Max Romeo

War Ina Babylon

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Like the epochal Police & Thieves by Junior Murvin, which also originated at Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark Studio and thus shares with this album Perry's trademark dark, swampy ambience, War ina Babylon is something of a mountain on the reggae landscape. But what makes it so remarkable is not just the consistently high quality of the music -- indeed, by 1976 one had come to expect nothing but the finest and heaviest grooves from Perry and his studio band, the Upsetters -- rather, it's the fact that Max Romeo had proved to be such a convincing singer of cultural (or "conscious") reggae after several years of raking it in as a purveyor of the most abject slackness. (His "Wet Dream" had been a huge hit in England several years earlier, and had been followed by such other delicacies as "Wine Her Goosie" and "Pussy Watch Man.") But there's no denying the authority of his admonishing voice here, and the title track (which describes the violent mood during Jamaica's 1972 general election) has remained a standard for decades. Other highlights include "One Step Forward" and "Smile Out a Style." Essential to any reggae collection.

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