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Burning Spear

Jamaican singer and songwriter Winston Rodney, AKA Burning Spear, did some of the best roots reggae of the 1970's (we hipsters called it just "reggae" back then), loaded with Rastafarian anger at the forces of oppression, gutsy island soul, and deep grooves. But now that it's 2008, what is Burning Spear up to? Has he switched to dancehall, or is he engaging in some bubbling mainstreamish world fusion that trendy coffee shops use as background sound? Thankfully not. The Spear seems mostly oblivious to trends and is still engaging in the righteous fight against Babylon. The hallmarks are still in place — that island cadence, powerful message, and bittersweet horn riffs inflected with African highlife and '60s American R&B are all there. Perhaps best of all, Spear's slightly raspy, wise-old-man vocals hold everything together with a rich mix of religious fervor and compassion. One very nice (newish) touch: a female chorus on a few songs, which gives them more of a Southern gospel feel than reggae. One misstep — the slightly cheesy bass 'n' drum remix of "Step It." Why not a dub version? There are guest shots from Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell, but they're in the background, so don't buy this for them. Get Jah Is Real 'cause it's the real thing by an iconic performer who's not merely coasting on past glories and who still has the right stuff.
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Mark Keresman

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