This is my second Burning Spear album in as many weeks (and second ever) and so I can’t help but compare the two, even if they were released five years apart and even if he put out a bunch of albums in between.
So the first thing I notice is that this is a smaller band. One of the things I loved about Marcus Garvey was how big the band is. Now, this band is only a titch smaller, but the arrangements are less dense/busy and it’s notable that there is no longer a wind player just careening around in the background. (Well, sometimes somebody is doing that on a sax here, but it’s somehow mixed even lower than on Marcus Garvey accept when it’s time for a solo.) I will say though that there is a lead guitar and it’s mixed higher than the dense background, which is a nice change.
The songs are pretty decent melody wise, as reggae songs go. And there’s nothing that really stands out to me as particularly weak. The lyrics are typical of Rodney, as far as I can tell (having now heard two albums!): mostly religious stuff, some political stuff. I have yet to find another reggae lyricist I like as much as Peter Tosh. For me that’s not normally the appeal of reggae.
The appeal is the vibe, and Burning Spear does a good job of that. It’s hard for me, only occasionally listening to reggae, to really compare these disparate reggae records that I listen to so far apart from each other. But the vibe here is exactly what I expect. It comes down to things like the songwriting – which, as I said, seems good enough – and the mix.
And the mix is definitely better than some reggae records: the bass is mixed super high as always but Rodney’s voice is actually mixed further back than on Marcus Garvey. (And am I correct in thinking there are no backing vocals this time?) And instead his congas are more upfront, as is that guitar I mentioned and, occasionally, one of the horns. (The drums are also a little more prominent.) It’s a distinct mix that feels a little more musically compelling to me than some other reggae albums.
I feel like I’d have to go back through all the reggae I’ve listened to over the years to properly judge this but it seems pretty decent to me.