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Island finally upsets while Trojan overwhelms

Jah bless Heartbeat and Blood & Fire. Everyone knows that Blood & Fire is a top-notch reissue label, but let's not forget that Heartbeat was putting out quality re-issues for many years before Steve Barrow and friends rammed the dance. However, it was really Blood & Fire that gave reggae reissues the cult of personality that they enjoy today: in their wake followed Pressure Sounds, Motion, Soul Jazz, and Easy Star, all top ranking labels in my book. The situation kind of reminds me of the state of reggae in the late 60s: a whole bunch of young turks taking over the game from the "old men" of the music biz. So, to continue that analogy a bit further, if Blood & Fire is like an upsetting Lee Perry, how did Island (Coxsone Dodd) and Trojan (Duke Reid) respond?

Since the release of Arkology in 1997, Island seem to have been oblivious to the work of companies like Heartbeat and Pressure Sounds, both of which have released excellent Scratch collections like Baffling Smoke Signal and Divine Madness. The company that has the biggest vault seems to have the smallest re-issue schedule. So it came as a surprise when Island announced that they would be re-releasing Junior Murvin's classic Police And Thieves album, complete with five bonus tracks and revised sleevenotes by David Katz.

Besides the original ten tunes, the new Police And Thieves contains discomixes of "Roots Train" and "Bad Weed" as well as three unreleased tunes, "Childhood Sweetheart", "Memories", and "Rasta Get Ready".

"Childhood Sweetheart" is a completely unknown tune; "Memories" is an interesting but rather weak track, with Junior's lyrics being rather trite. "Rasta Get Ready", on the other hand, is a terrific version of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready". It was substituted for "Tedious" on some American CD issues of Police & Thieves, but not listed on the sleeve (why and how this happened is a mystery). The disco mix of "Bad Weed" should be a killer, since the quality of the version on Trojan's Open The Gate is less than brilliant. The extended mix of "Roots Train" with Dillinger is absolutely massive; included on Arkology, it's nice to see it here, too.

Perhaps the most exciting Trojan reissues are a series of new 12" singles.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that Island does the same for War Ina Babylon, Super Ape, and Party Time! Both Steve Barrow and David Katz have told me that Island is sitting on enough rare and unreleased material to make a sequel to Arkology, so let's hope that Island will open the vaults again.

Speaking of opening the vaults, Trojan has opened theirs wide and has been releasing a ton of material in the past year. Since the company was bought by the Sanctuary group in 2001, Trojan has gone into overdrive, with a re-issue pace that is leaving most reggae fans dizzy. A series of 2 CD anthologies, several terrific 3 CD box sets, and a series of crisp 7", 10" and 12" singles are all part of a massive campaign that shows no signs of stopping. Of course, there is the usual amount of overlap and recycling, with Trojan releasing collections of songs that are already on dozens of other Trojan releases, but overall their output has been excellent.

Re-released albums with bonus tracks include The Wailers' African Herbsman, Susan Cadogan's Hurt So Good, The Upsetters' Return Of Django, and Scratch's first album with Trojan, The Upsetter. Interestingly, David Katz worked on the re-release of African Herbsman, which contains 10 bonus tracks chosen by David himself, as well as writing the sleeve notes for the newly expanded Upsetter album.

Other new Scratch collections of note include:

A Live Injection: Anthology 1968-1979
Nothing new for serious fans, but it does contain some seldom heard tracks such as "Jump & Rale" by The Bleechers and "Give Thanks" by Delroy Denton. A good example of how Trojan indulges in overlaps galore, but the inclusion of a few new/rare tracks will have people buying this.

Trojan Upsetter Box Set
A nicely priced 3 CD set that contains a lot of great tracks from the 1960s through the Black Ark period and beyond. Thankfully, this set avoids the all too obvious choices: you won't find "Tighten Up" or "Return Of Django" here. The third CD offers some more modern tracks from Scratch, including the 12" mix of "I Am A Madman".

Bob Marley & The Wailers: Upsetter Singles Box Set
Trojan's shameless recycling of Scratch's work with Bob has got to stop (no less than five collections/anthologies plus several albums), but this set is a very nice collection of eight 7" singles of the most famous tunes from the Lee Perry sessions. Sure, you have all of these songs already, but it makes a great collector's item.

Complete Upsetter UK Singles Collection, Vols. 1-4
For all you serious vinyl hounds, Trojan's excellent Complete Upsetter UK Singles series is now available on vinyl. The 2 CD sets have been made into four, limited edition triple LP sets.

Perhaps the most exciting Trojan reissues are a series of new 12" singles with Black Ark killers such as "Words Of My Mouth", "Vampire" and "Rastaman Train" on crisp Trojan vinyl. These are the tunes that you'd spend 10 times as much on E-Bay for the originals... My favorite is the insane "Disco Devil", coupled with Bob Marley & Wong Chu's "Keep On Moving". Very upsetting!

August 2003