This is a great pair of CDs, chock full of really good roots songs, a fair number of which are dubby extended versions (the tracks were mixed at King Tubby's). Both Prince Alla and Junior Ross are excellent singers and the backing players are superb: e.g. Sly and Robbie, Earl 'Chinna' Smith and Augustus Pablo are all present. If you're into bouncy and heavy rhythms (I feel self-conscious writing 'riddims', but that's what's meant), lovely close harmonies and the odd bit of fire-and-brimstone (e.g. 'too late, too late, mercy gone, judgement come'), look no further ... for a little while, and then (if you haven't already), get B&F's 'Tappa Zukie in Dub', where you can hear mighty dubs of some of the tracks on this set (Tappa Zukie produced the songs on the current CDs).
First time on CD for these two seventies roots reggae masterpieces: Prince Alla's "Heaven Is My Roof" and Junior Ross & The Spears' "Babylon Fall". Blood & Fire have presented the albums here with re-arranged tracklists and with many songs presented in extended discomix version with dub conclusions.
Junior Ross & The Spears' "Babylon Fall" collection features the earliest recordings circa 1975-77, recorded at Channel One studio with rhythms by the Revolutionaries band. The lyrical content of this album is perhaps the most damning indictment of the down-pressive Babylonian system ever; and in the already highly militant era of 'roots reggae' that's really saying something! This album sounds like the soundtrack for the apocalyptic 'end days', and it's either salvation through Jah Rastafari or destruction 'inna Babylon' you face. "JUDGEMENT TIME", "BOW DOWN BABYLON" and "YOU CAN'T RUN" feature simmering statements of righteous condemnation like "too late, mercy gone - judgement come", "where you gonna run all you wicked men?/ there is no place to hide under Jah sun" and "if you run to the rock/ the rock is gonna roll on you". But the most striking lyrics are in "BABYLON FALL", which prophesies the destruction of Babylon and directs its ire at the Catholic church: "Jah Jah go down a Rome and throw one stone/ It hit Pope Paul and Babylon fall...".
The songs are sung in the classic Jamaican vocal group tradition with Ross (real name Clifford Palmer) taking lead in an expressive, unrefined howl that's full of passion; backed by a fluctuating line-up of supporting vocalists that include Prince Alla and Ross' brothers Tony Palmer and Frankie Jones. As well as harmonizing, the vocalists utilize call-and-response arrangements to great effect on "LIBERTY", a song which addresses slavery and displacement in simple and very affecting lyrics. The rhythms are consistently heavy, matching the serious lyrics; and there are some particularly devastating drum and bass grooves on "LIBERTY" and "HOLD THEM PROPHECY". The fast pace and rapid snare tapping of the 'rockers' style drives "SO JAH JAH SAY", "JUDGEMENT TIME" (an energetic new version of the Abyssinians' 'Declaration Of Rights') and "RASTA MAN FROM ZION" (on Lloyd Parks' 'Slaving' rhythm), with the latter 2 tracks featuring excellent horn arrangements. There is some respite amidst the incendiary intensity, where the pace gets to spread out and breathe a little: "JAH LOVE" and "SEND ME OVER THERE", which is a beautiful, idealistic plea for repatriation to Africa.
This album is probably the most wonderfully unrelenting, armageddon-ish roots reggae EVER. High praise...
PRINCE ALLA - 'Heaven Is My Roof' Keith 'Prince Alla' Blake is a deeply spiritual vocalist with a big, powerful voice who lived as an Edwardite 'bobo dread' in Rastafarian hill-camps for seven years. Upon returning to Kingston city he recorded tracks for Bertram Brown's Freedom Sounds label (compiled on Blood & Fire's "Only Love Can Conquer" CD) and Tapper Zukie, whose productions are featured here.
Zukie and Alla's first recording together, "BOSRAH" (aka "Bozrock") was recorded at Lee 'Scratch' Perry's Black Ark studio in 1976, and features some sonic similarities to Scratch's own productions. The spacious rhythm (based on Burning Spear's "He Prayed") is held together by heavily phased drum cymbal taps, 'mutant' horns and long, drawn-out vocal chanting. "BOSRAH" is the only song here recorded at the Black Ark and it has a singularly unique sound. The rest of the set was recorded at Channel One with an all-star Revolutionaries line-up, and these tracks bring Zukie's growing sense of multi layered production techniques into sharp focus. The producer reveals himself as a brilliant arranger of instrumental melodies on "FUNERAL", "GO DOWN IN SILENCE" and "SLAVE MASTER", which all feature excellent horn lines, sweeping organ and keyboards and tasteful lead guitar. "GO DOWN IN SILENCE" has some very mellow jazz trumpet soloing, and "GOLD DIVER" even features undulating "backwards" guitar.
Prince Alla is in fine 'chanting style' throughout, especially on the pastoral tribute to birdsong "JAH JAH BIRD" and "GO TO SCHOOL" which both have dramatic, melancholic minor-key vocal changes. Whilst the vibrantly joyous "JUST ONE WAY" uses the same kind of gospel vocals also used in Rastafarian nyahbinghi music. His most interesting lyrical sentiments are in "FUNERAL", which warns Rasta brethren away from burial services, fearing "lightning strikes and earthquakes come catch I in a cemetery"; and "DANIEL IN THE LION'S DEN" which maintains that rather than fearing them, "Daniel and the lions were friends. "DANIEL" also has a remarkable 7-minute deejay version by Tapper Zukie included.
Prince Alla's is the most musically accessible offering of the 2 albums, but is no less powerful in it's strong Rastafarian intent. Jah bless.