When the Wailers teamed with original dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry, Jamaican music was at a turning point: rock steady had run its course, ska's first incarnation was fading out and mystical Rastafarianism was gaining prominence. The Wailers and Perry filled this moment of flux with these historic sides, which establish the sound that would become modern reggae.
Their focus and ambition could be summed up in the words they sang over Perry and the Upsetters '"Soul Rebel" riddim: "Run for cover, rebels taking over!" "Small Axe" encapsulated that world-conquering attitude, a sufferer's anthem and a challenge to the island's "Big T'ree" record labels. The strategy was to crush the competition by matching their braggadocio with bigger risks. It was a case of iron sharpening iron.
Perry stripped away ska's busy beats, and roughened up rock steady's sweet melodies, inventing the blueprint for the rhythmically tougher roots sound. He cooled down the Wailers 'wild, exuberant singing, and their individual styles cohered. Bunny Wailer's soaring utopianism suffuses "Dreamland," while Peter Tosh bares a terse ferocity on "Downpressor." But Perry's minimalist style most benefited Marley, who now projected a worldly self-assurance. On tracks like "African Herbsman" and "My Cup," he seems bound for stardom. "Sun Is Shining" is a peak — in a few words, Marley becomes inviting, menacing, and mysterious all at once. The second disc highlights the B-sides and dubs that arose from this collaboration. Mastering each others 'idiosyncrasies, Perry and Marley developed a bounty of musical ideas in three short years. "Duppy Conqueror Version 4" displays an angular, almost mathematical precision, while the lopsided funk of "Dracula (Mr. Brown Version)" threatens to fall apart at every change. For "Copasetic," Perry overdubbed and remixed the Wailers 'medley "All In One," pointing forward to his Black Ark dub work. Superior musicianship and bold mixing shine through in every groove.