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Burning Spear - Our Music Print E-mail
Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Burning Spear

Our Music
format: 16-bit stereo CD
label: Burning Music
release year: 2005
performance: 7
sound: 6
reviewed by: John Sutton-Smith

Image Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear, has one of the great voices in all of Jamaican music, a giant foghorn of warning and deliverance calling out across a sea of slow deliberate dub rhythms. Part preacher, part historian, Spear has illuminated Rastafarianism in song for nearly four decades, inspiring audiences on every continent. His is perhaps the true voice of dread.
Of Spear’s more than 25 albums, nine have earned Grammy nominations, with one of them, 1999's Callin’ Rastafari, receiving the Academy's Best Reggae Album honor. He remains one of the few reggae pioneers still working and creating vital new material. His new album Our Music is a lively and joyous collection from the elder statesman, displaying an optimism and sprightly energy belying his senior status.

The second album on his own label, following 2003’s Grammy-nominated Freeman, features throbbing bass lines, bright horn parts and slinky female background singers. Spear spins messages of love, oppression and African history with a strong sense of self. The songs embrace a multitude of humanitarian topics, like persistence on “Try Again,” self-analysis in “Friends,” true love in “Fix Me” and a sense of community on “Together,” all deep issues discussed in a disarmingly simple manner. The political statements are still there, of course, most obviously in the continued references to back-to-Africa champion Marcus Garvey in “One Marcus” and “Little Garvey.”

Spear’s commanding voice and fiery individualism have always embraced, and in fact inspired, his native Jamaican legacy of musical activism and spirituality. His voice and vision have remained unchanged over the ages, calling for spiritual healing and social change, but the music has undergone a welcome infusion of increasingly melodic new songs, developed with catchy hooks that use short phrases and point more subtly to internal truths.

Of all the old school reggae figures, Burning Spear is still making righteous, relevant riddims. Thank Jah for that.

The true power of Burning Spear resides in his voice, and it cuts through deep and strong on this record behind the bass-heavy grooves. With its inimitable dance rhythms, the music seriously moves while Spear’s lyric is still designed to provoke and inspire. The bass is hard and crisp and the band as a whole is taut and propulsive, and it sounds great loud – it’s head music you can move your body to.

Listening to reggae in a 5.1 mix is to be buried deep in the dub. Although this mix is fairly conventional and doesn’t fully test the awesome possibilities that reggae can offer, it nonetheless casts Spear’s vocal in full relief against an ocean of rhythm and topnotch instrumentation.

The larger realm of sonic choices can be tempting, but the surround sound mix in this “limited edition” dual disc remains faithful to Spear’s heartfelt Rasta message and traditional reggae sensibility, and sensibly doesn’t try to venture beyond the comfort zone.

Reggae in 5.1 can be both frustrating and stimulating, because the Jamaican music is essentially a primal rhythm – and the expanded mix, if not used judiciously, can diffuse the dread beat and drum. However, the possibilities of what delicious soundscapes a Scientist or Adrian Sherwood might conjure up on a 5.1 canvas are mind-boggling. Let’s let Lee Perry loose with some of his old stuff and see what happens! Or take Spear’s landmark early album Marcus Garvey, a cornerstone of reggae, or better yet the dub version Garvey’s Ghost, and really explore the farther frontiers of reggae dubstyle inna 5.1.

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