Freddie McGregor

Zion Chant

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AllMusic Review by

The blurb on the back of this album is particularly unhelpful, so vague as to leave fans with the impression that these numbers are perhaps modern recuts of late-'70s/early-'80s numbers or even previously unavailable cuts. Neither is correct; in fact, this spectacular compilation gathers up tracks from the Mr. McGregor and Showcase albums. The former was Freddie McGregor's superb 1979 debut full-length, the latter its equally classic follow-up unleashed the following year. Both records were overseen by Niney Holness, with whom the singer established an instant rapport. In response, the producer created a series of incredibly sympathetic backings, fueled with roots rockers' rhythms but awash in melodies and infused with a surprising variety of atmospheres and subtle stylings. Virtually every number within is a classic, and even such pop covers as "Sitting in the Park" and "Oh Me Oh My" are superb, while "We Got Love" is a masterpiece. In an equally pop mode, the self-explanatory "Lovers Rock" is a pure delight, and was a huge hit in its day. There are also several recuts of songs that McGregor had initially recorded for Studio One, among them a fabulous version of "Rastaman Camp" and the title track itself, which is a new take on "Going Home." Beyond the handful of lighter covers, the sets delve deep into cultural reggae. "Rasta Have Faith" is absolutely awe-inspiring, and easily the most creative and intense version of "Satta Massa Gana" ever recorded. "Walls of Jericho" is just as powerful and equally inspired, "Jah Count on I," a version of a Little Roy classic, is a potent slab of roots rockers seared by McGregor's faith, while "Do Good" brings a joyous bounce to an old adage. "The Overseer" mesmerizes, while numbers like "Jah a We Father" and "Jah Will Bless You" are imbued with the singer's belief in Jah's love. With Holness at the controls, the rockers rhythms seethe through this set, but often the arrangements, updating old melody-laced rocksteady and reggae gems, conjure up gentler, highly romantic atmospheres, which are often paired with the most devout of lyrics. The arrangements and productions indeed showcase McGregor at his best, and his performances are as stellar as the backings, filling the numbers with nuanced emotions, soul, and plenty of conviction, enhanced by the rich harmonies supplied by Dalton Browne, Beres Hammond, and the producer himself. These two original albums were both masterpieces, and arguably the best full-lengths the artist has recorded, although Bobby Bobylon and Big Ship give them a good chase in very different styles. A must for all roots and McGregor fans.

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