"Home to My Roots"
"Live in Paris: Zenith '88"
"Free Man/Living Dub Vol. 6"
In 1969, following the example and advice of his neighbor Bob Marley, 24-year-old Winston Rodney left St. Ann's Bay in the northern hills of Jamaica and traveled to Kingston to cut his first singles at Coxsone Dodd's Studio One. Rodney would be the only constant in the group he called Burning Spear, and if it wasn't the best of the first-generation reggae acts, it was a worthy contender. Rodney certainly had the best survival instincts; after most of his contemporaries have been sidelined by disease, violence, legal problems or financial setbacks, Burning Spear is still an artistic and commercial force in reggae. The band won a Grammy in 2000 and last year launched its own label, Burning Music.
To celebrate its new international distribution agreement with MRI/Ryko, Burning Music is remastering and reissuing much of the Burning Spear catalogue. The first wave of reissues in April included expanded versions of "Resistance" and "Living Dub Vol. 2" and unexpanded versions of "Rasta Business" and "People of the World." The second wave this month features "Home to My Roots," "Live in Paris: Zenith '88" and "Free Man."
"Home to My Roots" is a single-disc DVD that includes two concert documentaries: one from Paris in 1988 and a second from Capetown, South Africa, in 2000. The latter is disappointing, for it is constantly interrupted by less-than-illuminating interviews and features a rather sleepy performance, as Rodney tries to re-create the slo-mo feel of dub mixes on stage. The Paris footage, by contrast, is quite exciting; it features nine uninterrupted songs, ranging from his first single, "Door Peep," to new material such as "Creation Rebel." Rodney's booming, soulful baritone is in great form, and his 10-piece band, featuring an all-female horn section, makes the Jamaican rhythms crackle.
The audio portion of that Paris concert was originally released in 1989 as a 13-track, single-disc CD, "Live in Paris: Zenith '88." Now it has been reissued as a 17-track, two-disc package under the same title. The bonus tracks include "Door Peep" and one of his most famous songs, "Old Marcus Garvey."
The first release on Burning Music was last year's studio album, "Free Man"; it has now been rereleased, and the first 10,000 copies will include a bonus disc, "Living Dub, Vol. 6," which is a dub remix of the entire album. The original mix of the dozen tracks reveals that the 59-year-old Rodney has lost little to age. The themes range from spirituality (he encourages "Trust" in Jah on the hymnlike opener) and politics (he salutes his activist heroes on "Not Guilty" and defies would-be oppressors on "They Can't") to music (he celebrates his affinity with "Rock and Roll" and salutes the St. Ann's origin of reggae on "Rise Up"). Every cut boasts an appealing tunefulness, reinforced by tightly wound rhythms and Rodney's irresistible, unhurried charm.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Saturday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Burning Spear's "Free Man," call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)