Lee “Scratch” Perry, legendary producer, original dub starter, and inimitable reggae pioneer, suns the competition. That statement would be wholly truthful whether or not the peerless Perry was actually competing with anyone (he isn’t), due to his high-hovering status in the music world. Rise Again, the latest offering by Perry, produced by Bill Laswell with assistance from fellow bassist Josh Werner, is a warm, thumping illumination of why that assertion rings true. With features from TV On the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw, Jahdan Blakkamoore, and a host of other talented musicians, Rise Again is a stirring meditation on spirituality, Afro-futurism, resistance, and of course, resurrection.
The 1960s and 1970s span his early period as a progenitor of techniques and genres, and since then Perry has worked alone and with various musicians over the years to create what has been more or less a continuation of the themes he explored in that nascent time. Perry’s recent prolific output is sort of uneven in terms of utmost quality, but on Rise Again the maestro is back and he waves a good baton. Producer Bill Laswell has a penchant for group work among artists various and sundry, and his production, as well as his collaborative ethos, gel well with Perry’s singing and recitations.
On the album-opener “Higher Level,” Perry’s vocals set the stage for his presence on all of the album’s twelve tracks when he states “Let there be light,” after the church bell overture and after the drums begin. Perry is the moderator, the forecaster, and the anointer here, a sage suffering us all with his experienced view of things. The line could be perceived as irreverent (nothing new for the reggaeman), but it ultimately frames Perry’s mood-maker role, refers to his past innovations, and sets up the album’s themes. Adebimpe’s singing is buoyant and compliments Perry’s talk and the mid-tempo beat. The former’s singing on the slow-grooving and echo-laden “Butterfly” is sweet and plaintive, reminiscent of his work on some of TVOTR’s ballads.
The aptly titled “African Revolution” showcases the emphatic singing of Hawk and Ethiopian star Gigi, and offers prescriptions Pan-African in scope and churning in sound. The rollicking “Dancehall Kung Fu” features a prominent horn chorus played excellently by Steven Bernstein and Peter Apfelbaum as well as short kicks of phrases from Perry. The ephemeral “E.T.,” featuring Adebimpe on background vocals, posits extra-terrestrial existence and boasts experimental sounds and a vibe Sun Ra would be proud of.
Another highlight “Wake the Dead,” is a bright song with energetic horn playing and is indicative of the album’s religious, prophetic tone. Of course who the dead are is ambiguous, and the answer would vary due to interpretation. Despite talk of the non-living, one can say more resolutely that The Upsetter is back at it, town crying and rousing the most lively music lovers among us while keeping great reggae alive.