REVIEW: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – The Black Album

Legendary producer Lee Scratch Perry is back with a new collection of music titled The Black Album. The work is a combination of Perry’s efforts along with producer and mixer Daniel Boyle which forms their second project. After the Back on the control project, Perry wanted to continue the sound that they had created over the previous releases and continue to expand, develop and improve.

By Liam Monaghan

The album took form in 2017 in Rak Studios based in London backed by the Rolling Lion All Stars session band. Using Rak’s vintage API desk and RCA ribbon microphones, they captured the sound that they wanted. We also welcome Robbie Lyn from the original Upsetters to come and work on the project who blessed they keys throughout the project. Vocals were recorded at Abbey Road Studios and then the album was mixed back at Rolling Lion Studios.

At 83 years old Lee Scratch Perry is still a much respected figure within the Reggae world and still performs today. The brief for the album was to capture a vintage and obscure sound. I’m optimistic going into this album but I hope it’s not, too experimental.

Mr Brown In Town
Into the first track and we’re greeted with a baby crying which sets the tone for the record. The riddim and vocals sound disjointed and unless I miss the point, the riddim is so finally tuned and mastered that the vocals sound different due to the analogue 70’s chorus effects. The riddim is deep, rootsy and bassy. Nice drumming from Ed West and backing vocals from Bud make the structure and backbone of the song however the dub version is easier on the ear.

The ball is now rolling and we are into the track, Trendsetter. We have another raw riddim with another nice bassline accompanied by nice backing vocals. The theme of the song is basically, Lee Scratch Perry is a trendsetter. Not much vocally there for me again, minimal vocals however the mix sounds better than the first record. Nice work from Robbie Lyn & Calvin Bennion on the piano, synths and organs. The dub version again is brilliant. Airy, moody and dark.

Your Shadow Is Black
Roots rock reggae is on the menu with this track. This is what I expected in the first two tracks but a pleasant surprise, I was worried. Plaudits for Maija Vidovska on the flute work on this track, it brings a completely fresh vibe to the tune. Perry’s chanting for the first time to me sounds on point with the riddim and the speed. An enjoyable listened. Puraman’s Melodica gives that old school Augustus Pablo feel and creates a vintage feel to the record. Probably my favourite so far.

Dead Meat
Quite an abrupt title but I guess it paints a photo. Vegetarianism and veganism are a hot topic in modern society so it’s interesting to hear Perry’s messages on the matter. The riddim is quite a stripped back one, not really much happening. Drums, bass and some echoing splashes occasionally. I think it’s great to tackle a hot and debated topic, iv not heard many tunes recently tackle the issue. Macka B’s Health is Wealth album is the perfect address of these issues, maybe a collab should be in the pipeline.

Dub At Abbey Road
A special mention to the horn work in this track (and album) from Robert Landan & Rory Sadler. The Dub version highlights how well and hair raising they come through and also credit is due for the mix in brining that sound out. I prefer the dub version as it reminds me of a Scientist style dub. Previously when Lee and Boyle wanted to capture that raw analog sound, with this record they hit it. The dub of this track is the best thing i’ve heard on the album and also one of the best dub versions of a tune I’ve heard this year.

Bumpy Road Of Life
Some funky guitar work from Hughie Izachaar brings a different edge and feel to the album. The riddim is faster than previous work we’ve heard so far and its welcomed. Perry has moments, vocally, of vintage Perry from work 40 years ago. Ruth Tafabe has a fantastic voice which just adds to the record, its powerful, airy and creates that dark vibe that the guys wanted to capture in the mission statement of the album.

Captain Perry
I may be wrong but the unusual sound is coming from a Hurdy Gurdy courtesy of Brian McCoy. It really brings a completely different sound and feel to a record. I think introducing such a sound was a great idea. The riddim plays second fiddle really to that sound and we have some nice light backing vocals with a drum and bassline.

Killing Dancehall Softly
As we near the end of our musical journey, we come to Killing Dancehall Softly. The riddim takes us back to the roots feel and gentle backing vocals mixed with Perry’s minimal chanting seems to be the perfect fit for the record. The riddim itself offers little in terms of being wild and pushing boundaries however it’s a nice easy listen.

Solid State
Last track of the album, big horns to bring us into the album and it’s a shame this wasn’t the first track on the album because its, in my preference, my favourite on the project. Upbeat and vibrant with solid drumming, musty bassline and some great horn work. The riddim offers more than the previous tracks and this would be the go to live performance track.

To conclude, the album didn’t massively speak to me but I didn’t really expect it to, maybe because of its experimental nature. Clearly some talented musicians have worked on this project and I found that the dub versions of these tracks are actually better, again in my opinion`, than the original mixes. It’s all subjective and what you want out of a track. I’m sure many die hard Perry fans will embrace the album with open arms. Definitely an interesting piece of work.

The Black Album Will be released October 12th 2018. Worldwide on Double 12” Gatefold 180 Gram Vinyl + CD and Digital.