Liner Note Author: Jeremy Collingwood.
Photographer: Kim Gottlieb-Walker.
Arranger: Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark Studio was an epicenter of Rastafarian culture and a massively productive hub of some of the most revered '70s reggae recordings ever put to tape. Perry's infamously eccentric leanings would eventually cross the line into mental instability, and while it's unclear if Perry himself burned the studio to the ground in the late '70s, or an electrical malfunction was to blame, the fever-pitch rate at which he was churning out new material took its toll and more than a little of his insanity leaked into the tracks. The Sound Doctor is one in a series of U.K. label Pressure Sounds compilations unearthing obscured sounds from Perry's short-lived but intensely innovative Black Ark years. Much of the music here is transferred from dub plates, hissy acetate discs made directly from the soundboard in single editions to test how a mix would translate to vinyl. Though cleaned up somewhat with digital editing, the songs still retain a raw and unpolished sound, with audible blemishes and occasional distortions. Perry's production style bordered on lo-fi many times, but the technical deficiencies on these dub plates are especially rough. While some listeners may be distracted by the gritty sounds, the wealth of unheard reggae gems makes up for any sonic shortcomings. Previously unreleased tracks like Junior Byles' rootsy rocker "Army of Love" or Perry's own delay-drenched, horn-centric Upsetters' reworking of the classic "Roots Train No. 1" rhythm as "Horny Train" rise above technical flaws. The static scratchy sound just adds to the grimy Black Ark vibe. A wide range of '70s reggae subcategories are represented over the course of the compilation's 24 tracks. Toaster U-Roy shows up on the especially groovy "006" and soul-reggae tracks offer the album's highlights with Tinga Stewart's loping cover of "Smiling Faces" and Tony Fearon's "Message to the Nation." Perry's instrumental versions follow many of the vocal cuts of songs, including some more experimental dub work on "Domino Game" and a wild instrumental of Lee & Jimmy's skanking "Key Card," which replaces most of the vocals with a reverb-coated argument between players at the domino table. The variety of approaches recalls Soul Jazz's excellent 100% Dynamite compilation series, with the only difference being that the spectrum of reggae greats represented on Sound Doctor all come from the same warped genius producer, studio, and untouchable era of progress in Jamaican music. Like most of what Scratch touched, Sound Doctor is pure reggae gold. ~ Fred Thomas