The importance of producers in shaping Jamaican reggae during its formative era in the 60s and 70s has been highlighted with releases featuring artists from Coxsone Dodd's Studio One, Duke Reid's Treasure Isle, and Lee "Scratch" Perry's Ark, just to name a few. This collection adds Jack Ruby's Fox and Wolf label to that list, bringing with it the powerful roots sound of bands like Burning Spear, Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, and Big Youth.
The lure of this disk for those of us who don't already have every reggae CD that's ever been released are two classics from Burning Spear: "Marcus Garvey" and the ethereal "Days of Slavery." Add to these lesser known artists such as The Eagles, whose "Warn the Nation" and "Rasta Harvest" are both bouncy, upbeat numbers. But most of the songs are previously unreleased, including the full length version of Big Youth's own DJ-style take on "Marcus Garvey." The Jack Ruby sound that comes through on all the songs is classic one drop reggae, with a full bass line and complete horn battery. According to the very complete liner notes provided by Chris Wilson, Ruby insisted not only on catchy melodies, but songs with uplifting lyrics, with the exception of releases by his house band, the Black Disciples.
In fact, the three instrumental tracks by the Black Disciples are real highlights. "Death Before Dishonor" begins with a truly bizarre half-minute intro by Lee Perry for use by Ruby in live sound system showdowns with competing DJs. Perry puts on the best Mexican accent he can muster, accusing the rival "gringo" DJ of making a mess of his own show, and breaks into a reverberating Latino-Jamaican mad scientist cackle before the Black Disciples kick in. Fittingly, the best cut includes Jack Ruby himself. "Free Rhodesia" starts with a live-sounding MC introduction of the players by Ruby, each instrument coming into the mix as the player is named. With all the instruments in action, Ruby and the Disciples call for the freedom of Rhodesia and let the song roll on the alternating horn choruses and instrumental solos over the driving rhythm reminiscent of the Skatalites' "Guns of Navarone." A musician quoted in the liner notes sums it up nicely: "With Jack Ruby, just relax back yourself and study life." - Craig Tower
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