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Sounds From The Burning Spear (SJRCD 101 - 2004)

Door Peeper
This Race
Swellheaded
Call On You
Ethiopians
Creation Rebel
Bad To Worse
Rocking Time
Zion Higher
Foggy Road
We Are Free
Joe Frazier
New Civilisation
Down By The Riverside
This Population
Get Ready
Journey
What A Happy Day
 
Over the past fifty years Jamaica has produced many great singers, songwriters and musicians but few have ever been able to approach the sustained inventiveness and insight coupled with an unwavering and all encompassing commitment to a musical and spiritual ideal as Winston Rodney - The Burning Spear. He has built a long and successful career with a careful and gradual accumulation of a solid body of work over three decades that has stood the test of time and has endured all vagaries of fashion. Burning Spear still shows no signs of faltering from his chosen path and his records still regularly outsell those of any new pretenders. His famed live performances, celebrated for their transcendental atmosphere, are eagerly anticipated by his worldwide legions of admirers. 'Legend' is a much abused and inappropriately over-used term but there can be no denying that he truly is a legend and that his music has touched a nerve that many people were unaware even existed until the music of Burning Spear reached it. The legend began at Studio One.

"I and I, Sons of the Most High Jah Rastafari. Our hearts shall correspond and beat in the one harmony. Sounds from The Burning Spear"
'Door Peeper' / 'Door Peep Shall Not Enter' - Burning Spear 1969

The spoken introduction to Burning Spear's debut recording released on Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd's Supreme label set the tone and established the precepts for all the music that they would make together over the next five years; a body of work that would help to dictate the direction of reggae music for the latter half of the seventies and herald the acceptance of Jamaican music as a serious art form. This music could never be termed widely or readily available and Burning Spear's seven inch singles are seriously obscure and even harder to locate and a number of them have never been released before on album format. 'Sounds From The Burning Spear' features all of the classic seven inch rarities alongside a painstakingly handpicked selection from Burning Spear's classic albums at Studio One; it is very difficult not to envy anyone hearing these recordings for the first time.

Winston Rodney was born in St. Anne's Bay on the North Coast of Jamaica on the first of March 1945 and it was on the recommendation of the most celebrated son of the Parish of St. Anne, Bob Marley, that in 1969 he travelled to Kingston to audition for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd:

"I bumped into Bob and I asked him who and where I could check. He told me about Studio One. We have a nice reasoning pertaining to the recording business. But a start with Clement Dodd... Monday morning I do the audition. I was told to come back the following Sunday. Mr Dodd was in charge of the session. My first song was "Door Peeper" and I start... 'Foggy Road', 'Creation Rebel'."

Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, was widely regarded as the most innovative and prolific Jamaican record producer ever, opened Studio One at 13 Brentford Road, Kingston 5 in 1963. it was his ability to always see beyond the current musical trends that kept him at the forefront of reggae music throughout the sixties and on into the seventies and he was one of the first producers to actively encourage and actually record Rastafarian inspired music. The music that Burning Spear made at Studio One between 1969 and 1974 was as far removed from the music of the time as it was possible to get; the formats and themes that they explored together did not begin to encroach on reggae music until later in the decade when their influence would become all encompassing. That 'Coxsone' kept faith with Burning Spear for over five years speaks volumes for their working relationship for it must have been a lonely furrow to plough. The songs of Winston Rodney possess the sincerity and conviction of a true and humble servant of The Most High and these works are the very first steps on the straight and narrow road that Burning Spear would steadfastly tread throughout his subsequent career. His soul is revealed on these mesmerising recordings set to some of Mr Dodd's most inspired rhythm tracks and these lovingly crafted and intricate rhythms complement the songs and match the gravity and dignity of Burning Spear's approach. Their sparseness always feels full for nothing more is needed to make it complete and its indefinable simplicity is devastating in the extreme. Many of these records were credited to 'The Burning Spears' on their original release and many people assumed that because of this and the fullness of the music that Burning Spear was actually a vocal group but this was not the case:

"I started out as one person but I used one back up artist name Rupert Willington. That was it. Me and him. I can sing any kind of harmony. I do a lot of background vocals at Studio One."

Many of the rhythms have been used time and time again for countless instrumental, deejay and further vocal versions for their subtle arrangements are open to any number of different interpretations.

"We worked with various musicians, not one set all the time. Leroy 'Horse Mouth' Wallace used to be the drummer there. Leroy Sibbles played a lot of bass in the day. Jackie Mittoo and Ernest Ranglin were there also. Some greats! It was more like a college."

Winston Rodney came to Studio One fully prepared with an abundance of superb songs that he had written in the rural tranquillity of St Anne's Bay.

"All those lyrics was created long, long, long time before going through the studio door but the time never come until 1969. From when I started in music I took unto myself the name Burning Spear. Jomo kenyatta inspired me to that as an African."

Jomo Kenyatta, The Burning Spear, is now seen as a stabilising influence in Kenya but in 1952 he was charged with leading the Mau Mau rebellion against the British and in 1953 he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. In 1964 he was elected the first President of the Republic of Kenya. He remained in that exalted position until his death in 1978 and his life, work and towering achievements were to have a profound and lasting influence on Winston Rodney.

Winston Rodney and Clement Dodd together practically invented what is now termed 'roots' music and Burning spear's stance was unequivocal from the very beginning:

"I inspired to do work and I do work."

ROCKING TIME
"Moses struck the rock and brought forth water. I man open my mouth and bring you another scorcher." This song gave the title to Burning Spear's second album but this cut only ever came on seven inch single as an uncredited 'Coxsone' spices up the proceedings in a deejay style: "Rock, rocking time. Move, move your body line." That further encourages the listener to move his musical feet in the catharsis of the dance. The ethereal qualities of Burning Spear's voice are in direct contrast to Mr Dodd's gruff interjections. "Get some soul!"

CALL ON YOU
Cedric Brooks dreamily added to the Studio One canon when he blew over this rhythm as 'Everyday Skank' and Jackie Mittoo's organ touches add noticeably to the dense rhythm. Burning Spear's lyrics on this song can perhaps bee seen as somewhat ambiguous and remain open to interpretation but when Burning Spear comes calling then you know that he has a true purpose and it's not just to borrow a cup of sugar. "We must go soon. Yes we must."

FREE AGAIN/WE ARE FREE
This exultant song is carried by a particular delicate rhythm track. The harmonies are faultless "loud and clear" and back up the clear message.

DOOR PEEPER/DOOR PEEP SHALL NOT ENTER
There is little that has not been said already about Winston Rodney's debut recording, a searing, spiritual, penetrating experience that set the sombre tone and committed stance that would characterise and ultimately define his entire career. 'Door' is used throughout The Bible metaphorically as the entrance to anything and here it is used as a condemnation of those unwilling to enter wholeheartedly into God's Kingdom. The horns are devastating and coupled with Burning Spear's anguished singing the concept of 'Chanting down Babylon' becomes a tangible reality. This is the original seven inch Supreme label version.

SWELL HEADED
Another stirring rhythm later pushed to the limit by Pablove Black as 'Push Pull'. In the hands of a lesser artist a boast about never becoming too proud would be sufficient to accuse them of actually being that very thing but Winston Rodney's humility shines through on this song. Just because he will not give in does not mean that he has an exaggerated idea of his own importance. the hesitant and almost not there horn lines are truly mesmerising. Awesome.

JOE FRAZIER
It might sound obvious now but it took The Mighty Two (Joe Gibbs & Errol T) to transform Burning Spear's brooding, introspective 'He Prayed' into a dance hall anthem when Big Youth took on the rhythm replete with its enigmatic horn phrases for his celebration of The Sunshine Showdown when George Foreman fought Joe Frazier in Kingston's National Stadium in 1973. Big Youth backed both boxers on two separate Joe Gibbs seven inch releases, 'The Big Fight' and 'Foreman vs. Frazier', and placed the rhythm firmly in the pantheon of all time classics. Mr Dodd was quick to respond with his update where Burning Spear's vocals are stripped to the minimum and the rhythm is allowed to stand proud. Naturally enough he called it 'Joe Frazier' and Studio One engineer Sylvan Morris gains a pugilistic credit on the Iron Side seven inch as 'Morris Tuffest'. The rhythm has been known as 'Joe Frazier' ever since. Other notable versions from Studio One include Rheuben Alexander's 'Happy Valley', The New Establishment's 'Joe Grazer' and the inimitable Dennis Alcapone's 'Joe Frazier (Round Two)'.

CREATION REBEL
An autobiographical tour de force that proudly states that Burning Spear is never going to allow circumstances to dictate to him, that he will overcome all difficulties and never compromise. He is a rebel from creation and that's the way it's going to stay. The Wailing Souls also used this gentle, languorous rhythm for 'Without You'.

DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE
Essential for the glimpse that it gives into the more vulnerable side of Burning Spear. This love song might appear slight in its subject matter when compared to his weightier songs but it shows a necessary counterpoint and is in stark contrast to his other work. The bass and the guitar are really quite beautiful and this is a wonderful devotional love song.

WHAT A HAPPY DAY
Another exercise in elegant close harmonies and another celebration of the joy of life and togetherness. An invitation to share in the beauty of Winston Rodney's vision with a lesson that is never didactic and is all the more pertinent in consequence.

THIS RACE
This can be read in two ways: either as the race being run and "not to the swift" or as a statement of racial belief. It works both ways and the song is made all the more memorable by another haunting horn line. The Wailing Souls again!, would use this superb rhythm for 'Stick Together'.

NEW CIVILISATION
A joyful celebration of the time to come when all will be well with everyone - "all over this land, land, land...". A seven inch release on Supreme where the beat is almost Ska like in its jubilant majesty.

THIS POPULATION
One of the most haunting, mysterious and downbeat of all Burning Spear's songs: a serious look at the practicalities of building the infrastructure of a new society and not just a discontented lament. Exactly how do we make things better? Jackie Mittoo's fervent version, 'Happy People', adds even deeper depths to this masterpiece.

BAD TO WORSE
An unusually pessimistic approach from Burning Spear that shows him at his very best - and he's better than anyone! Harder than the best, a genuine cry from the heart "equality and love" that never descends to despondency or self-pity,

ZION HIGHER
Woefully neglected since it was first released on a Supreme seven inch. The musical is beautifully upbeat and Biblically inspired lyrics are a complete joy with Burning Spear's religious fervour combined with a buoyant rhythm and surrounded by some excellent harmonies. An all time classic.

Burning Spear and Mr Dodd parted company in 1974 after creating one of the most impressive bodies of work ever made at Studio One that would lay the foundations of Reggae music as it is has since become to be understood. The tone and lyrical content of their music would be returned to time and time again and it can be safely stated that Burning Spear is one of those handful of artists responsible for elevating Reggae music to a level that the mainstream were finally able to treat seriously. To many subsequent imitators 'roots' music had to be solemn, mirthless and dirge-like but there is moral and spiritual enlightenment in the exultant music of Burning Spear. A joy, a love and a concern shines like a beacon throughout all his work, a life affirming positivity that reaches out to all classes and races of people everywhere and that uplifts the spirit and gladdens the soul. It is always inclusive and this important release makes what had become the exclusive preserve of serious record collectors available to any and every one.

Noel Hawks

 
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