Lee Perry & The Upsetters: Dub-Triptych

[19 July 2004]

By Alison Wong

Aptly-named, Dub-Triptych comprises the three albums by Lee Perry that arguably put the stake in the ground announcing the birth of dub: Cloak and Dagger, Black Board Jungle Dub, and Revolution Dub, all recorded between 1973 and 1979 at Perry’s infamous Black Ark studio in Jamaica. These originally saw very limited release, circa 200 copies for Cloak & Dagger and 300 for Black Board Jungle Dub. The former is available for the first time on CD, as are three previously unreleased bonus tracks. The other two albums are already available on CD, but their selling point in this collection is the high standard of production. Given the lack of quality control over Perry’s massive oeuvre, not to mention his pseudonyms, it is understandable that fans have been conditioned to approach “new” releases with a hefty pinch of caution. Rest assured that not only is Dub-Triptych kosher stuff, it also fills an important listening void in this early chapter of Perry’s artistic life.

Dub is housed under the umbrella genre “reggae” and its origin hails from the “dub plates” that were cut as instrumental B-sides to the singles of that era. The centre of its universe is the grounding heavy drum ‘n’ bass line pulsating under the mixing console that results in multiple layers of sounds, echoes, and reverbs of off-beat guitar chords and fragments of vocals. Working with his legendary backing crew, the Upsetters, Perry produced some of his greatest hits during the 1970s, including “The Return of Django”, “Clint Eastwood”, and “The Vampire”, a track to publicly ream out Island Records head Chris Blackwell for signing Bob Marley to the label and leaving Perry with virtually nothing on the table.

Cloak & Dagger, the earliest of the trio on this collection, is part dub and part instrumental, opening with the popular and much sampled introduction “Greetings Music Lovers ….” The experimental factor alone makes it worthy of listening, but if there’s a complaint to be made about the album, it’s the disparity with which the tracks move from one to another. The three bonus tracks tagged on the end of the first disc are classic gems. “Table Turning” features organ and xylophone, grinding and grating against each other in unbridled form. “Jungle Lion” is a solid instrumental mix, the stellar track on the album, riding on pure energy and intense rhythms. “Cloak & Dagger Horns Dub Plate Pressure” rounds out disc one, described in the liner notes as, “a typical rough and raw mix specially cut to be played at the Dancehall on what were then over grown PA style amplifiers, where Hi-Fi niceties were list, at very high volume”. Turn up the dial to appreciate this one.

Despite low rumblings in debate, Perry is often attributed with producing the first pure dub album. Blackboard Jungle, recorded in 1973, contains some of the dubbiest dubs around, including The Hurricanes “You Can Run” and the three Wailers recordings “Keep On Moving”, “Dreamland”, and “Kaya.” The sound quality produced on this version is superior compared to anything released to date, but it would be unfair at this point not to jam in a plug for another new version, titled Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle, released by British label Auralux. The label managed to land a mint copy of the original which they have re-mastered for release, and the album comes with the blessing and some personal touch-up from David Katz, esteemed author of the Lee Perry biography People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry.

For the most part, the third and final album Revolution Dub is somewhat unjustly ignored in Perry’s repertoire. It represents a departure from Blackboard, gravitating towards the more inaccessible, comprising nine short takes of pared down dub music. Important though it is to the evolution of dub music, the album has always had a bit of a difficult time standing up on its own. Lumped together with Blackboard, it neatly rounds out the showcase of Perry’s rise to dub-master.

The effort that went into this alone will make it an interesting addition to the collection of any serious Perry fan. There’s nothing to say that you absolutely need it, but the chronology is a nice touch and the great sound quality already puts it ahead of most versions that are currently on the market. If you’re looking for a filler to add to your stash of dub, this one will do just fine.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/perrylee-dubtriptych/