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Chant Down Babylon: The Island Anthology

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Album Review

Major label rivalry makes it unlikely that Burning Spear will ever receive a proper career retrospective set. Burning Spear signed to Island Records in 1976, debuting with the legendary Marcus Garvey album, accompanied by its dub companion Garvey's Ghost. Four new albums followed before Spear departing Island for the U.K. EMI label in 1980. A decade later, Burning Spear returned to Island for two new albums before their relationship again soured. (The situation is even more complex in the U.S., where Spear releases have been split among the Island, Heartbeat, and Slash labels.) The result of all these label relocations makes for a rather odd anthology indeed, which inevitably omits Spears' entire 1980s output, five albums in all, including the Grammy-nominated trio of Resistance, People of the World, and Mistress Music. Obviously, post-1992 material is also missing, including anything from the Grammy-winning Calling Rastafari. That's what you don't get. What you do get is a double album of some of Spear's most seminal work. The five albums released between 1975 and 1980 are all considered masterpieces, comprising a roots series that remains unparalleled. Of course, the fifth, Hail H.I.M., was not an Island release, but you do get selections from the other four. Of Babylon's 35 tracks, 20 are culled from Marcus Garvey, Man in the Hills, Dry & Heavy, and Social Living, the first four albums in this seminal set. Others also date from this period: a track from Garvey's Ghost; "Man in the Hill"'s B-side, "Cultivation"; "Jah No Dead," Spear's contribution to the Rockers soundtrack; "The Lion," taken from 1977's Live album; a previously unreleased "Jordan River," recorded live around the same time; and a non-album track culled from 1979's Harder Than the Rest compilation. The remainder are pulled from Spear's early-'90s albums, the Grammy-nominated Mek We Dweet and Jah Kingdom. The latter album included Spear's contribution to the Grateful Dead tribute album, Dedicated, a simmering "Estimated Prophet," which also appears here. Only the most persnickety fan could complain about Babylon's selections, which boast all of these albums' strongest songs. However, the musical leap between tracks five and six on disc two, which chronologically jumps a decade, remains disconcerting, but there's no avoiding it, bar squeezing the early material onto disc one. So, while not a definitive career compilation, this anthology is probably the best fans can hope for.

Customer Reviews

Yes Chant Down Babylon

If you love reggae, this is a great album. If you love the Dead, Burning Spears remake of Estimated Prophet will blow you away. The first time I heard this song, and every time since, I got chills, and a lump in my throat. I was fortunate enough to see many live shows by Burning Spear in the eighties. This collection gives a great recollection of that era. Increase the Peace!

Key reggae anthology

I used this as a kind of advanced intro to Burning Spear's music. This is one of the great reggae artists, and this collection of his music has been very satisfying - political, melodic, strong across the board. At 35 songs, the full album is also an Itunes bargain. Very highly recommended as a summary of his early and later work.


Born: March 1, 1948 in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the most brilliant and respected roots artists in Jamaica's history, Burning Spear (aka Winston Rodney) has unleashed a host of classic dread records over the years. Part Rastafarian preacher, part black historian, more than any other roots artist, Burning Spear has illuminated Rastafarianism in song, sharing his beliefs with an avid public. Born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, in 1948, it was another St. Ann's native, Bob Marley, who set Rodney off to Kingston and a fateful meeting with Studio...
Full Bio