Lee "Scratch" Perry has never been one to shrink from taking credit when credit is due. If titling his new album SCRATCH CAME, SCRATCH SAW, SCRATCH CONQUERED, due for release on September 23 from Michigan-based indie Megawave Records, strikes some as immodest, so be it. The legendary producer-mixer-artist known as "the Upsetter" has more than enough ammo to back up the claim of vision and victory. Observers could be forgiven, though, for likening the Jamaican sound architect to the Energizer Bunny or the wrist-watch that "takes a licking but keeps on ticking." Perry’s latest puts his output at well over the 50-album mark and finds him turning still more creative corners…at age 72.
SCRATCH CAME, SCRATCH SAW, SCRATCH CONQUERED is certainly no career place-holder. This time out, the Grammy winner, who produced Bob Marley and the Wailers ("Duppy Conqueror," "Small Axe") and the Clash ("Complete Control") and inspired artists as diverse as the Beastie Boys and Public Image, throws a sonic party with contributions from Keith Richards, George Clinton, Reuben White, Tim Hill, Erica Iji, Mark Mason and Sheridan Tandy. As usual, Perry paints a variety of lyric and musical themes onto a large palette, utilizing elements of reggae and R&B, dub and even smooth-jazz to create the 13 tracks that comprise SCRATCH CAME…
The album reunites him with British songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Steve Marshall, with whom Perry collaborated on last year’s THE END OF AN AMERICAN DREAM set, also released by Megawave, which was Grammy-nominated for Reggae Album of the Year. (Perry’s 2002 album JAMAICAN E.T. won a Grammy in that same category.) Perry and Marshall’s association goes back nearly 25 years to a time when Marshall worked as guitarist and studio apprentice to Perry in London. As fond of nicknames as he is of wordplay, Perry has given Marshall handles such as "God’s Chauffeur," "Master Goldring" and "John Saxon." It’s that last moniker—John Saxon—that Marshall uses on this production with the dubmaster himself. The new CD was mastered by John Dent, ’70s-era Island Records engineer, who cut numerous Perry and Marley albums as well as the U.K. version of George Clinton’s "Atomic Dog."
While the new songs’ moods vary from cut to cut, there’s a sense of playfulness to the sound of much of the album. The opening "Having a Party" couldn’t be more aptly titled; the groove is irresistible, and Perry has a ball in the rhyming department, pairing up "punk," "funk" and "junk" before adding "When you’re drunk, don’t drive!" "Saint Selassie" offers an equally bouncy groove as well as familiar Perry subject matter in the Rastafarian leader and references to the Ark of the Covenant.
Richards’ and Clinton’s participation is, in itself, a measure of the respect and love that "Scratch" enjoys within the international music community. Richards is prominently featured on "Once There’s a Will, There’s a Way," where he plays his trademark burr-y rhythm and lead lines over a highly textured Perry track. Vocally, Perry uses the music bed to send good-natured shout-outs to various places (New York, Miami, Wisconsin) and people (namely Richards and his partner: "Hello, Mick Jagger/ I am the cloak and dagger"). Keith, a longtime fan of "Scratch" and Jamaican music, cut his parts in New York in May with Steve Marshall, who then traveled to Perry’s home in Switzerland to complete "Once There’s a Will…"
Funkadelic godfather George Clinton makes his appearance on "Headz Gonna Roll," an ominous tale of righteousness and retribution that boasts spooky organ fills, vinyl scratching, bagpipes and Morse Code transmissions. The ‘King of Funk’ and the ‘King of Reggae’ came together through the auspices of Megawave president John Palmer, who forwarded a version of "Headz…" to Clinton (another veteran Perry fan). Clinton promptly added his vocal, and "Scratch" completed the final track.
"Heavy Voodoo" (which also features Richards) uses an inviting piano-and-synthesizer dance rhythm to address the weighty topic of financial malfeasance. Playing off the concept of "voodoo economics" (the first President Bush’s diss of Ronald Reagan’s monetary policies), Perry suggests that serious payback awaits those engaged in shady business dealings. Rising U.K. soul singer/MySpace favorite Erica Iji also appears on the cut.
Warnings against unrighteous behavior pop up throughout SCRATCH CAME… The sax- and organ-fueled "Rolling Thunder" takes aim at dollar-worshipping as practiced on both Wall Street and Capitol Hill, while "Sinful Fuckers" denounces nefarious politicians, repressive parents and police, and criminal priests. "Jealousy" may take the prize for the album’s most adventurous cut on purely musical terms; Perry fashions a cooled-out sonic landscape from sinuous organ, classic-dub drop-outs and reentries by various instruments, and all manner of percussion. The song’s theme is the constant give-and-take between impermanence and stability.
Lee "Scratch" Perry surely is acquainted with the latter; he has remained a creative force in music since his initial entry into the business. His earliest Jamaican music-making found him working with Prince Buster, whose "Ten Commandments" became an international hit in 1967. The following year Perry formed Upsetter Records and commenced issuing his own recordings, then producing such reggae artists as the Wailers, Junior Murvin, the Heptones, and later—during British punk’s dalliance with reggae—the Clash. From the mid-’70s through today, Perry has continued to release his own idiosyncratic, often highly experimental albums.
SCRATCH CAME, SCRATCH SAW, SCRATCH CONQUERED seems set to extend the Upsetter’s legacy further still. Inspired, fully engaged and indefatigable, Lee "Scratch" Perry should continue to enjoy the spoils of his latest victory for a long time to come.
Lansing, Michigan-based Megawave Records ("Small label—big sound") was founded in 1972 and specializes in jazz, world, reggae and piano blues music. It is distributed nationally by Innovative Distribution Network (IDN).
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