15 February 2006

lee "scratch" perry - "jungle lion" (from the 300% dynamite! lp, available for purchase here.)
dennis brown - "westbound train" (from the money in my pocket : the definitive collection lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : here are two reggae songs. both were recorded in the same year; are nearly identical in length; and contain "samples" of al green's "love and happiness." however, i'm not just being a dick when i say, "but that's where the similarities end."

these two songs, recorded by iconic figures of reggae, are ignited by the same gut-bucket guitar riff that fires up al green's "love and happiness"; "jungle lion" even borrows some horn riffs. one of the reasons, though, that these are iconic figures of reggae is that they take similar material and make it do two entirely things.

dennis brown gets locked into the groove. or, rather, it's more accurate to say that brown locks the groove in : he demonstrates the total control over his music that was his until his far too premature death at age 42. when he says he's taking the westbound train and never coming back again, one is as certain that they've seen the last of him as he or she is certain that it's the girl who's crying over him. keep somewhere near the front of your mind that he was only 16 when this record was released; it's this preternatural maturity that comforts us as it astounds, making us feel as if he did an astonishing amount of living in those forty-two years.

perry, for his part, refuses to be locked in any groove : "jungle lion," as the title might suggest, is free-ranging and ferocious. he appears to borrow the drum intro from joe tex's "papa was too," now a cornerstone of hip-hop breaks, and, in a delightful bit of gall, seems to wander into one of the verses from "i shot the sheriff." which is also quite ironic for the reason that marley, on his way to becoming the biggest reggae star in the world at the time, evinces so little of the soul influence heard, not only on both of these records, but on reggae from the ska days on. perhaps his desire to bring his music to a wider market, and therefore approximating a classic rock approach to music making and performing, led him to remove what was an elemental part of his earlier music, particularly his and the wailers' perry-produced sides.

all of this is academic, of course, and not even the most rigorous of academics given my dearth of knowledge about reggae history. what isn't academic--used here to mean "sterile conjecture thinly veiled as fact"--but is as fiercely intelligent as it is unrelentingly physical, is this music. i hope you enjoy it.

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