Fisherman Style

by: The Congos & Friends

One-rhythm collections, where several artists voice fresh raps or melodies over a classic instrumental reggae track, have been popular in Jamaica and reggae circles for some time now, but this one, which features new overdubs over Lee "Scratch" Perry's classic "Fisherman" pattern from 1977's Heart of the Congos album by the Congos, is a little bit different in that the new versions were actually commissioned for the project. Only the Congos' original take of "Fisherman" and Perry's Upsetters dub "Bring the Mackaback" (the former opens this two-disc set from Blood and Fire while the latter closes it) were recorded in the '70s, while everything else here was recorded at various sessions held in 2005. Heart of the Congos is regarded by many as Perry's crowning achievement at his famed Black Ark studio, and "Fisherman," that album's lead track, is one of the most striking cuts on an album that is filled to the brim with impressive productions. Good as it is, though, the "Bring the Mackaback" dub is even better, since it retains much of the vocal feel of the original, but also adds in Watty Burnett's crucial bass vocal, which was curiously dropped from the main cut. Needless to say, the two 1977 versions of the "Fisherman" rhythm template are far and away the best ones on this collection, but several of the new versions are interesting in their own right, including Max Romeo's "Give Praises," Dean Fraser's instrumental saxophone version, "Fisherman's Anthem," Gregory Isaacs' "Spot and Beat the Bank," which brings in a whole dice game metaphor, and Sugar Minott's "Captain of the Ship," which adds taxi drivers to the metaphoric mix. The original "Fisherman" by the Congos worked on a couple of levels, both as a portrait of actual Jamaican fishermen, and on a spiritual level as metaphor on the personal and collective search for redemption with one's soul as the figurative fish. The new versions collected here are mostly split between the two approaches, with tracks like Horace Andy's "Love Love Love" calling for compassion and spiritual unity, while versions like Early One's "Jig Jig Jig" are more literal descriptions of the Jamaican fisherman's way of life -- it is worth noting here that Early One, whose real name is Alan Titt, is actually a self-employed fisherman out of Kingston. In the end, a couple of dozen hearings of the exact same rhythm can get a little maddening, no matter how imaginative and striking that rhythm may be, and none but the most serious devotees of classic reggae roots rhythms should enter here, and certainly not without first spending some time with Heart of the Congos, the amazing album that spawned all this. Blood and Fire's two-disc reissue of Heart of the Congos is a must-have, and if you have it, you'll find "Bring the Mackaback" on disc two of that set, which means you will already have the best version of this rhythm. ~ Steve Leggett

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