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A snapshot of the present and an x-ray of the past

Mighty Upsetter

Lee Perry has been a busy man in 2008, with no less than three new albums being released. The Andrew WK-produced Repentance received a lot of hype but was ultimately an awkward and embarassing album. Then there was the unique Scratch Came Scratch Saw Scratch Conquered, a very likeable collaboration between Perry and English musician/producer Steve Marshall. However, the album that really stands out is The Mighty Upsetter, a release that many Lee Perry fans have been anticipating for a long time: a new collaboration between Scratch and Adrian Sherwood. Given the excellent albums that their earlier work together produced, the expectations were high and The Mighty Upsetter does not disappoint.

The rumours of a new Perry-Sherwood album began to circulate about a year ago, and as usual it was Steve Barker from On The Wire who was the first to preview a rough mix of "Lucky Charm " (originally entitled "Lucky Number") on the venerable BBC program. While the rough mix wasn't spectacular, it was certainly enough to whet my appetite. I am always leery of a new Lee Perry album given the often confusing excess of his current work, but The Mighty Upsetter is a warm, eclectic and very enjoyable set of songs that stands out as something special.

The Mighty Upsetter is a snapshot of the present as well as an x-ray of the past, with musical echoes of classic Black Ark works sampled and re-created throughout, juxtaposed with Sherwood's crisp and spacious production. I'm reminded of what David Katz wrote about the excellent Time Boom X De Devil Dead, when he spoke of that album as "the result of a strong combination between two independent thinkers with keen ears, fast hands, and plenty of ideas". The Mighty Upsetter is clearly the work of two artists who were on the same wavelength. Together Perry and Sherwood have created an album that is musically and lyrically rich with light, shadow and lots of colour.

Together Perry and Sherwood have created an album that is rich with light, shadow and lots of colour.

The album starts off with "Exercising", which deals more with exorcising bad vibes than physical fitness. Sherwood gives Scratch a slow, eastern-tinged rhythm to work with, reminiscent of his own recent solo work. Next we jump into "International Broadcaster", a nice hip hop re-lick of the "Bucky Skank" rhythm with Scratch taking on the role of hip radio DJ with some vocal help from Roots Manuva. We then are encouraged to "wake up" by Scratch as the haunting chant from the Silvertones' "Rejoice Jah Jah Children" floats in and out of "Kilimanjaro", a scatological rant aimed at politicians. "Rockhead" has Scratch embracing Africa and dismissing drug abusers with lines from "Zion's Blood" and samples from "Bird In Hand", creating one of the album's high points. The song is pure Black Ark vibes through the sonic archaelogy of Adrian Sherwood. "George Bush, you have a curse" Scratch warns on the admonishing "Political Confusion", a lively number that raves against the western powers. The lovely Samia Farah joins Scratch on the mellow "Yellow Tongue", where the duo take aim at the weakhearts of our time, the "fools thieving the world with yellow tongues." Leroy Sibbles' fantastic "Garden Of Life" is called up on "Lee's Garden", a gentle song enouraging us to take care of ourselves and the planet. Scratch's old alter ego Pipecock Jackxon returns on "Everything Start From Scratch", a fun song where Perry boosts himself up with a playful toast. Sherwood's On-U Sound vibe is in full effect on "God Smiled", where Scratch takes lines from his upsetting 1996 proclamation "Return Of The Grim Reaper" and turns them into a mystic lyric, once again chanelling the Pipecock Jackxon persona. "Speak The Truth" provides a strong conclusion to the album, with Scratch in Biblical prophet mode as he proclaims harsh judgement on liars and lazy bones.

Over the years Adrian Sherwood has carved out a definitive place in the world of reggae. His deep, futuristic mixing style really puts him on the same level as men such as Lee Perry and Coxsone Dodd as a producer whose sound is unique, like the signature of an artist on his canvas. It's wonderful to see these two musical giants reunited once again.

Looking at The Mighty Upsetter alongside Scratch's earlier work with the White Belly Rats (the excellent Panic In Babylon from 2004) and his solid live performances with Dub Is A Weapon in the past couple of years, Lee Perry seems to be riding a new peak in his solo career. It seems that Scratch is at his best with collaborators who know and appreciate his work and thus are able to coax out something special in the studio and on stage. The lush and expansive tunes Scratch and Sherwood have created on The Mighty Upsetter attest to a definite bond and shared vision between the two. Don't let this album slip under your radar.

The Mighty Upsetter was released in Japan on Beat Records this May and was released in the UK on Sherwood's On U Sound label in September.

October 2008