Burning Spear, Garvey’s Ghost (classic album reheard in the car on the way home from work yesterday)
Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey was stirring and heady, a broadside for what was then a little-known way (in this country, anyway) of hearing reggae. The cover photo of the trio leaning at odd angles in front of wood planks seems shot beside a slave ship, and singer Winston Rodney turns righteous drama into joyous keening. Joe Strummer’s ideas about expansive rhythms started here.
Indeed, the album’s instrumental counterpart, Garvey’s Ghost (1976), solidified the idea of dub as a rhythm zone or a kind of sound playing-field that can be endlessly revisited and revised. The tracks eschew the rough-hewn top melodies of the straight version and zoom in on its low-profile countermelodies. Echoed horns dart in and out of focus; Rodney’s vocals are rarely as audible as they are in the original LP, deployed only to underline a mood that the instruments are already conveying, especially the pained cries on the fervid “I and I Survive”; and rhythm guitarist Valentine Chin anchors the beat as drummer Leroy Wallace dances around it. Producer L. Lindo (a.k.a. Jack Ruby, not the Dallas club owner) places Robbie Shakespeare’s and Aston “Family Man” Barret’s sturdy bass figures as far up front as he can stick them without letting them fall out of the speakers.
At its best, dub shines light on aspects of songs that the original version sometimes gave short shrift. Garvey’s Ghost, along with records from Big Youth, King Tubby, the great Lee Perry, and others, helped set the style for the whole dub sweep that followed and still influences such hip-hop mixer-producers as Arthur Baker and Public Enemy’s Terminator X. Garvey’s Ghost means to make its listener feel cramped inside the slave ship along with the band. When they get to their final “Resting Place,” they mean us to remain uneasy with them too. The sound you hear is the galleon sinking.
(Consumer note: Marcus Garvey and Garvey’s Ghost used to be available together on one compact disc. Don’t know if they still are.)
(Update: They are, but they’re expensive.)