Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Best of Burning Spear: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection

Embroiled in one of those gruesome family melodramas that turn old age into a fate worse than death, I cast about for music to suit my mood. Monk? Miles? Holiday? All too jaunty. But the moment I heard the Rasta groans and wails that establish Burning Spear's Social Living, I had company. If the misery Winston Rodney and brethren articulate were any less primal, it would be depressing. Instead, it's proof positive that life always goes on. On Social Living, the afore-referenced "Marcus Children Suffer" points mysteriously toward the downpressed-progressive title song. Better still, the latter kicks off the more concentrated Millennium Collection, followed by the title track of Burning Spear's other compelling album-as-album, Marcus Garvey. Like Social Living, Marcus Garvey is worth a search--it's the sole resting place of the reparations anthem "Give Me," and, except for the old two-disc Chant Down Babylon best-of, the embarrassingly explicit "Slavery Days." But Millennium Collection is nothing but knockouts. Where Chant Down Babylon gives it up to the uplift and didacticism that long ago turned Rodney into a totem, this cheapo recalls 1979's Harder Than the Best in its eerie intensity. If you want a slightly classier-looking selection, Ultimate Collection avoids letdowns. But I know what I'm playing next time I get a call from a geriatric professional.

Village Voice, Apr. 13, 2004

June 8, 2004 June 8, 2004