The Upsetters ‘The Upsetters’ / ‘Scratch The Upsetter Again’ CD (Doctor Bird) 4/5

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry gained his early pre-Black Ark reputation from the late 1960s recordings with The Upsetters and this fine pairing of original albums from 1969 and 1970 respectively explains why. They capture Perry and co. at an early creative zenith and some of those later trademark zany sound effects find their genesis in this work. Both surfaced in the UK on the Trojan label which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year and what a fitting way to end that year of celebration with one of the all-time reggae greats who fits the definition of ‘original artist’ with the greatest of ease. Typical of his craft is the anthemic ‘People Funny Boy’, complete with a crying baby accompaniment (a precursor, perhaps, to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’?), and throughout both albums, Perry deploys stunningly innovative extraneous sounds to embellish the atmosphere of the music. On the first album, Perry is aided by some musicians who he would later producer during the Black Ark period. These includes The Muskyteers (aka The Silvertones) who contribute their harmony vocals on ‘Kiddy-O’. Another contributor is Busty Brown who is featured on two songs, ‘To Love Somebody’ and ‘Crying About You’. By far the strongest instrumental on ‘The Upsetter’ is the opener, ‘Tidal Wave’, which is so eclectic that it manages to take in the easy listening sound of Jim Reeves, while, ‘Heat Proof’ uses a riff from Otis Redding’s ‘Too Hot To Handle’. The second album, ‘Scratch The Upsetter Again’, carries on in a similar vibe and, interestingly, covers the Gerry Goffin and Carole King standard, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, with a male lead vocal of distinction. Of the other tracks on the original album, ‘Outer Space’ stands out as a strong melodic instrumental and R&B influences re-surface on the lyrical ‘Soul Walk’.

As per usual with Doctor Bird’s attention to detail, the excellent inner sleeve notes come complete with a plethora of graphical and discographical additions, including original 45 and LP labels and covers, the original master tape, a business card flyer of the original record shop in Kingston that Perry bought off Prince Buster, and black and white photos of band members. Compiled with informative historical notes by Trojan specialist, Lawrence Cane-Honeysett, this is an ideal way to begin or complete your existing Lee Perry collection.

Tim Stenhouse