Between 1979 and 1984, Linton Kwesi Johnson unleashed four seminal albums on the Island label -- Forces of Victory, Bass Culture, LKJ in Dub, and Making History. This compilation draws crucial tracks from all four sets, as well songs off 12" singles. 1979's Forces and 1980's Bass are heavily represented, with their superb companion dubs appearing ...
Between 1979 and 1984, Linton Kwesi Johnson unleashed four seminal albums on the Island label -- Forces of Victory, Bass Culture, LKJ in Dub, and Making History. This compilation draws crucial tracks from all four sets, as well songs off 12" singles. 1979's Forces and 1980's Bass are heavily represented, with their superb companion dubs appearing immediately after the vocal tracks. During these years Johnson's sound evolved, shifting from militant roots through an experimental period and finally toward a jazzier style, and with the set arranged in chronological order, listeners are able to note this musical transformation for themselves. Of course, there was a sizeable shift in sound between Johnson's debut album Dread Beat an' Blood and Forces with the inclusion of brass and fuller musical arrangements. Dread was one of the most militant albums ever to land on British shop shelves. Forces was equally radical, but Johnson's poems were now laced with irony and humor. "Fite dem Back" is so over the top one couldn't help but laugh, yet the words are so anthemic you're forced to shout along with its rousing refrain. "Independant Intavenshan" is as sarcastic as it is scathing. Even the album's masterpiece, "Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)," makes use of black humor to drive home its message, with the fight scene taking on a Tarantino-esque quality. There again, "It Noh Funny" isn't, while the ominous "Time Come" again predicts the riots that will sweep the nation in 1981, with Johnson's Cassandra-like warnings going unheeded. Bass continues down a similar thematic roads, but wanders along musical byways as well, from the Western-flavored "Street 66," to the joyous reggae of the aptly titled "Reggae fi Peach," through the almost Two Tone-esque "Di Black Petty Booshwah," and onto the jazzy lushness of "Loraine." That latter number is a perfect parody of a love song, the title track and "Reggae Sounds" are superb expostulations of the power of music, "Street" is a Western gunfight brought to an inner-city flat, "Booshwa" scathingly condemns that class, while "Inglan Is a Bitch" vividly describes the typical working-class hero the bourgeois where stepping on on their way up. "Peach" is an impassioned eulogy to Blair Peach, killed by the police during a protest at Southall Town Hall this same year. Two more tributes are included on this compilation, both from the History set. With "Reggae fi Radni," Johnson attempts to come to grips with the mysterious car bombing that killed the Guyanan author/activist Walter Rodney. "Reggae fi Dada" is a eulogy to the poet's late father, wherein the poet turns his scathing pen on Jamaica. Meanwhile, Johnson's prophesies have come to pass, and he celebrates with "Di Great Insohreckshan," a jubilant look at the Brixton riot. But History's centerpiece is "New Crass Massahkah," the event that helped sparked the riots that swept England that year. Johnson's vivid description of this tragic fire powerfully conjure up this event, and so raw were people's emotions at the time that much of the piece is spoken word, with the band brought in only to create the atmosphere of the party where the fire took place itself. With this stunning piece, the compilation is brought to a close. All of these albums were masterpieces, and to have much of the best of them compiled onto two CDs is a welcome event. Excellent sleeve notes complete this stellar package, and this compilation can not be too highly recommended. ~ Jo-Ann Greene, Rovi