Album + Compilation
This two-CD set concentrates more on the "Friends" than the "Scratch", but regardless of whether Lee Perry is actually performing or manning the mixing desk controls, his intuitively creative personality permeates every one of the collection's 44 songs.
Disc one spans 1974-76, the second 77 and 78. These were the prime years of Perry's Black Ark studio, before he burned it down. All of the tracks are taken from Jamaican 7" singles on his various labels, featuring differing degrees of Perry's trademark production radicalism. Strangely, the first disc represents the more extreme material, but it's a testament to his skill with the merging of experimentation and catchiness that these are invariably the best-known songs.
Perry's Upsetters open with Enter the Dragon, his wobbly proclamations cloaked in deep echo and surrounded by bendy metal percussion. Susan Cadogan's tuneful quaver turns Hurt So Good into a bouncy hit, and then Junior Byles provides a striking hair sequence: his Curly Locks is neatly followed by Dreader Locks. There's a spread of vocals, from super-deep to squeaky.
Perry's own Stay Dread is an up-tempo rallying call, with pert organ, stalking bassline and griddle-sizzle hi-hat. Cadogan makes a swift return with her seductive in-the-ear temptations on Nice and Easy. This is a prime example of how Scratch will take a pop melody and subject it to mixing desk extremity, upping the flute and reducing most of the band to a background presence. Here, the vocals are everything.
Bury the Razor finds Perry zooming in on his own voice; he raises the trombone, phases the guitar and scrunches the Upsetters together into a single entity. On the skeletal Roast Fish and Corn Bread, Perry's ultra-distinctive voice enters nursery rhyme territory. Max Romeo's Sipple Out Deh (aka War in a Babylon) and Junior Murvin's Police & Thieves take the track 17 and 19 places, which is some illustration of disc one's transcendent quality.
Disc two is a worthwhile complement, but its dub techniques are less marked, and the featured songs are more conventionally pop-reggae in nature. But there are gems: Vibrate On makes for a trouncing start, with Augustus Pablo doing battle with a studio full of mooing cows, his melodica swirling defiantly, and there are also unpredictably outstanding cuts from Lord Sassafras, Debra Keese, Mystic I and George Faith.