Lee 'Scratch' Perry - The Upsetter/ Scratch -The Upsetter Again [Doctor Bird/ Cherry Red - 2018]Here we have a recent CD reissue of the first two albums from reggae legend & dub innovator Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The Upsetter is from 1969, and Scratch- The Upsetter Again is from 1970. Both albums show the seeds of Perry’s later highly creative production skills, and each album is a good example of mainly mellow & playful proto-dub.
The release appears on Doctor Bird- one of the Cherry Red labels. The CD comes in a clear jewel case, which features a colourful twelve-page inlay booklet- this takes in a new eight-page write up about the two albums, original vinyl labels, press cuttings, and band photos.
So first up on the disc we have 1969’s The Upsetter- this took in twelve mainly instrumental tracks that blended together Rocksteady, reggae, slight mellow jazz hints, & even some soulful touches on the one or two of the vocal tracks. All but one track here are Perry originals, the only cover is of early Bee Gees track "To Love Somebody", which features rich soulful lead vocals from Busty Brown & gospel like female backing vocals. The tracks here are mainly built around a blend of bass & guitar, snaking & harmonically playful organ work, and of course the bouncing-yet-tight percussive backbone- which from time-to-time hints at the more creative & wacky textures that Perry would use on later records. The focus of this album is mainly jiving & buoyant playful melodies, and there are a few classic Perry tracks here like “Soulful I” with is circling fairground like organ element & tight snapping beat-line. Or “Man From MI5” with its early use of Perry snaking ‘n’ scratching percussive fills, and a rousing & jiving organ fills. All in all The Upsetter is a pleasant enough debut release, though at times it does feel a little pedestrian.
Next, of course, we have 1970’s Scratch- The Upsetter Again. This takes in another twelve tracks, and once again it’s all mainly Perry penned tracks- with just two covers. The step-up in the production & sound is quite noticeable on this album from the debut, and from the off, you can tell it’s a Perry record- with its tight & often quirky percussive lines, and effective separation between organ, bass & guitars, and percussion. Compared with the debut there’s also a bit more variation in the instrumental pallet- taking in subdued horn work, Steel drums, different types of organ, and the growth in the trademark creative Perry percussive use. Highlights come in the form of “One Punch” with its dense blend of sway & strutting organ, twanging guitar & bass, almost grooving harpsichord-like melody line, and complex weaves of hit ‘n’ snaking percussion. The lumbering organ & low swinging horn work of “Touch of Fire”. Or the mellow buzzing synth & tight clip-clopping drums of “The Result”- which sounds like proto playful electronica, with of course a reggae tilt.
While neither of these two albums reaching the towering, at times crazed heights of Perry’s infamous later records- the seeds of his genius are very much present. The Upsetter is a pleasant if slightly safe debut, while Scratch-The Upsetter Again really seems like Perry’s first proper album. Roger Batty