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Some deadly tunes from the early days

Pressure Sounds gives us an extra heavy and double deadly Scratch collection with Divine Madness...Definitely. It's a 2 CD set containing some crucial Black Ark killers from the early and golden years of the Ark and an upsetting second CD featuring edited highlights of Scratch's 1980s appearances on BBC's On The Wire. Here is the divine lowdown:

Woman & Money - DD Dennis / 10 Cent Skank - Upsetters
What a great way to start off the album. Featuring some deadly synth overlays and Dennis' great, wailing, bluesy vocal, "Woman & Money" is a killer. Scratch nicely de-constructs the song for "10 Cent Skank", with the honky tonk piano prominent throughout.

River To Cross - The Viceroys
This tune sounds more like a Randy's production to my ears, but is one of several tunes that The Viceroys cut at the Black Ark in 1975.

Sweet Taste Of Memory - Milton Henry
Milton Henry also recorded "No Bread And Butter" and "This World" (as King Medious) for Scratch a few years earlier. A melancholy tune that also doesn't sound like the trademark Black Ark sound from the mid-70s.

Stand Up - Eric Donaldson / Dub Fa Yah Rights - Upsetters
This song is devastating, with Donaldson's falsetto soaring above the thick, smoking riddim underneath. The dub gets even smokier, shimmering and warping as it goes on. One of Scratch's finest moments, if you ask me.

So Many Ways - Reggae Antonie / So Many Skanks - Upsetters
With corny lyrics that seem better suited for a Mountie movie from the 1930s, this tune is rather lightweight. The minimal dub features some playful percussion, probably bonked out by Scratch himself.

Africa We Are Going Home - Time Unlimited / Africa Dub - Upsetters
A raucous and upsetting repatriation skank. Starting off with a deadly, rattling guitar riff, the song then explodes into a series of screams before the very dread vocals begin. The dub removes most of the vocals except for some ghostly shrieks at the beginning, then settles into another minimal dubwise treatment by Scratch.

Oh Me Oh My - Bree Daniels / Oh Me Oh Dub - Upsetters
Along with "Woman & Money", this is my favorite song on Divine Madness. The lyric may be slim, but it's propelled by an outstanding, phased out rhythm that is just pure Black Ark magic.

Take Warning - Ralph Haughton & The Ebony Sisters / Warning Dub - Upsetters
This has been a favorite of mine for a long time. As the sleeve notes point out, this song sounds as if it would have been right at home on Max Romeo's War Ina Babylon. The lines "shotgun blast in a ghetto town / another black brethren is down" always give me goose bumps.

Sons Of Negus - Jimmy Riley
Using the sizzling "Stay Dread" rhythm, the often overlooked Jimmy Riley delivers a similar message of staying true to the Rasta doctrine.

Kingdom Of Dub - Jimmy Riley & Lee Perry
I've always been really interested in the more avant-garde properties of some of Scratch's work. Here, rather than a dub of "Sons Of Negus", Scratch tries something very different. Riley plays the role of a newspaper reporter, talking with a well respected Rasta elder (played by Scratch) about the problems of false Rastas giving true believers a bad name. Barely audible at times due to the original Riley vocal coming in and out, it forces you to listen closely to their reasoning.

To Be A Lover In Dub - Augustus Pablo
The only way to describe this tune is "incredible". It's an extended mix of the "To Be A Lover" rhythm featuring Pablo's ethereal melodica and keyboards and clocks in at a mind-blowing 10 minutes. It's the aural equivalent of watching a dazzling sunset. Absolutely amazing.

The second CD of Divine Madness is devoted to 26 minutes of edited interview clips from Scratch's appearances on Steve Barker's famous BBC Lancashire program, "On The Wire". My main complaint is that many of the clips are quite brief, which makes for rather fragmented listening. But for the most part they're fascinating to listen to, as Scratch gives calm, insightful answers to the questions he's asked. Later on, we hear the more familiar "ranting and raving" Scratch, but it's a real treat to hear the Upsetter giving at least a few straight answers. The coolest part of CD 2 is when Scratch does some weird but perfectly timed toasting over the Congos' "Noah Sugar Pan" rhythm.

Divine Madness is the greatest Scratch collection we've seen in a long time. Not only does it contain a lot of great music, but the interview CD is a nice bonus for all reggaeologists. Big up Pressure Sounds, Jeremy Collingwood, Steve Barker, and the late Roger Eagle for making it happen.

August 2001