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Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Born in the Sky

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Artist: Lee 'Scratch' Perry

Album: Born in the Sky

Label: Motion

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

On Born in the Sky, we find Lee 'Scratch' Perry in fine form. These tracks date back to the late sixties, early to mid-seventies and you can feel his confidence building during this period as a major force to be reckoned with on the cutthroat Jamaican and hit-making music scene. Also as an internationally acclaimed producer, his confidence blossomed into pure genius. 'Scratch', 'Pipecock Jackson' or ‘Nutty Professor’ as Rita Marley has once called him, deserves the highest praise as producer and has always been and always be ‘The Upsetter.’

His public image is nutty, even mad, but as serious as your life. 'Born in the Sky' is something 'Scratch' said about himself, but it could certainly pertain to the music in this collection. It is at once grounded to earth with dance beats as well as the ethereal and other worldly. Even though 'The Upsetter' is not playing an instrument or vocalizing much (save for the odd percussion or madcap vocal track) it's amazing how much his personality is apparent in the music. Naturally, some tracks are stronger than others, but, as with all great Jamaican productions, what comes through is fierce and yet comfortably assured Jamaican pride. It's there in how the tracks unfold. It's felt, both consciously or subconsciously, in how each drummer in this collection plays his high-hat. This is a glimpse at some unshakable confidence. Just as Adrian Boot or Michael Thomas wrote more than twenty- five years ago, “It works on the marrow and the membrane.”

All of these tracks predate the sound most of us may associate with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry by a few years. The sound of Police and Thieves, by Jr. Murvin, or Heart of the Congos, by The Congos is achieved with the Mutron Bi- Phase turned up past ten on the organ and other key tracks. Everything seems to be flanged this way or that. The Roland Space Echo or the Echoplex was also never used to better effect until 'The Upsetter' was behind the mixing desk at his Black Arc studio, occasionally cleaning the head of his TEAC four track with his shirt. No one seems to know exactly how the enigmatic Lee Perry got the results that he did with that quirky, crude recording equipment which marks the definitive and inimitable Black Arc sound. We hear that sound developing beautifully on Born in the Sky.

“Goosy Version” comes out swinging hard with an insolent, sarclonically crazy edge at points. Gladstone 'Gladdy' Anderson lends his touch on piano with a beautiful lilt and stately swing.

“Roll On” is a standout as a tenor saxophone workout on the “Pound Get a Blow” rhythm by the late Roland Alphonso. There is a hair-raising drum intro, a short vamp, and then Roland's signature full sound and powerful phrasing is put to full effect as we feel him bearing down on the rhythm. He seems to be having fun and expanding the whole production. Lynford 'Hux' Brown (or is it lyn taitt?) leads the way with pick guitar while the rest of the band leans into it ever so stately, setting up that crunch ala rocksteady reggae. There's a wonderfully bubbling, percussive organ probably by Winston Wright nicely woven into the mix. Roland gives us his high note and then is gone with the fade. Roll on Roland.

“LadyLady” is a winning sound with so much heart and soul. Credited to Cynty and the Monkees, we hear a certain Cynthia (sorry, no last name available. Where is she today?) singing like Soul sister number one. And she gives the strong impression that she is “getting it good,” so to speak. Every day and every night. The Monkees appear to be the backing vocalists of questionable talent. Originally recorded by the Chi-lites, the song gets a supreme 'Scratch' powered reggae makeover, giving the song a life it never knew it had. The synthesizer track that comes in early in the tune, heard in snatches here and there, is just one of the things that make this a serious slab of Jamaican funk.

“Enter the Dragon” is a dub cut of the “LadyLady” rhythm that uncovers different tracks nicely, even though Scratch does sound a little bit silly at points with his kung fu vocals and karate style exhilarations (the mid-seventies was Bruce Lee at the height of his career). Martial arts were everywhere and one gets the impression that “Enter the Dragon” (the movie) was high on 'The Upsetters' list of favorite films.

“Sign of the Times” has that kind of bounce and rocks in that peculiar Jamaican way that makes it a true joy. By the time the sax solo kicks in, everyone sounds inspired.

The Silvertones rehearsal of their song “Feel all Right” (with two acoustic guitars, one playing the bass line and the other "doin’ the reggae") is a real treasure. Once can hear the warm smiles on their faces as they wholeheartedly put themselves into their song. Born in the Sky is worth it for this track alone.

By Phil Carr

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