Album review
Zion High
Ranking Joe
Blood and Fire
August 29 - 2003

Track Listing

  1. Zion High
  2. Home Sweet Home (version)
  3. Fire
  4. Dennis Brown - Bubbling Fountain
  5. Love Jah
  6. Round The World (aka Sugar)
  7. Black Uhuru - Rent Man
  8. Rent Man
  9. Carpenter
  10. Black Uhuru - Wood For My Fire
  11. Wood For My Fire
  12. Dennis Brown - A Cup Of Tea
  13. A Fish For You
  14. Dennis Brown - Slave Driver
  15. Slave Driver
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)

Vocals : 4 Backing : 4/5 Production : 4/5 Sound quality : 4/5 Sleeve : 5

Since the release of the first album "If Deejay Was Your Trade" in 1994 UK-based Blood & Fire Records have established themselves a name as one of the best re-issue labels around. The Blood and Fire Crew rightfully deserves its fame as it pleases reggae fans all over the world with releases of mainly hard-to-get gems from the past presented with the best sound quality possible, excellent artwork and great sleeve notes.
This compilation - based on Ranking Joe's 1980 vinyl LP "Round The World" and featuring tracks with producer the late Dennis Brown and Black Uhuru - captures the 20-year old deejay at the peak of his dancehall dominance. It illustrates perfectly the dictum "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it", featuring the deejay in full flow over some of Dennis Brown's productions of the period. In a high-powered deejaying style he delivers an unstoppable stream of verbal commentary, whoops, yelps and screams - not to mention 'bong-diddley's' by the score - that successfully convey all the passion of a live dancehall session. The Black Uhuru tracks, recorded with Sly & Robbie just before the group launched itself on its international career, have long been unavailable; these cuts - as with Dennis Brown's vocal on "Bubbling Fountain" - are making their first appearance on CD in this compilation.
Ranking Joe was born Joseph Jackson on 1st July 1959, in the Kingston 13 area around Waltham Park Road. As he grew up in this hard ghetto area, he was surrounded by sound system culture - his father ran a small set that played at domino tournaments and similar local functions. Joe used to practise deejaying on his father's set when he left the house, using a homemade microphone made from a telephone receiver, inspired by the successful deejays of the day like U-Roy, I-Roy, Dennis Alcapone, King Stitt, Scotty and Big Youth. As a sound system follower Joe was eager to try his hand at deejaying; it wasn't long before he was being handed the mic by such as Dennis Alcapone and Lizzy, then deejaying El Paso Hi-Fi and based in the same area as Joe. Joe also worked on a set called 'Sure Shot' and deejayed alongside Dillinger on a sound called Smith The Weapon.
These early experiences gave him the confidence to try his luck auditioning for Studio One on Brentford Road; he had a met up with a man called Ray, who would shortly build his own sound system known as Ray Symbolic. It was Ray who had taken Joe down to Studio One in the first place. For his debut for Mr Dodd, he delivered lyrics commenting on the 'Gun Court', the judicial institution introduced in June 1976 by Michael Manley's PNP government in an effort to stop the rising wave of political violence that was bringing chaos to Kingston's ghetto areas. The 'Gun Court' tune rode a cut of Larry Marshall's classic "Mean Girl".
Joe soon began recording for other producers, including Bunny Lee ["Tradition Skank"], Pete Weston ["750 Four" and "Don't Give Up"], future Congos vocalist Watty Burnett ["Jacket" and "Psalm 54"], Enos McLeod ["Bag A Wire" and "Mount Zion"], Derrick Howard ["Natty Don't Make War"] and Ivanhoe 'Lloydie Slim' Smith ["No Vacancy Fe Bald Head"]. In 1977 he recorded sides for George McLean ["Long Run Short Catch" and "Peace Talk"] and more importantly 'Prince' Tony Robinson, who renamed him Ranking Joe and for whom he cut a series of singles which sold reasonably well. All these tracks were included on his debut LP "The Best Of Ranking Joe" for the same producer's Groovemaster label.
Joe Gibbs also released a Ranking Joe album in 1979 ["Natty Superstar"], with more hit 45s like "Leave Fi Mi Girl Arleen", which also did a lot to maintain his reputation in the ultra-competitive Jamaican dancehall arena.
In 1979, Joe hooked up with Dennis Brown, who he had known and respected from his beginnings in the music business. The respect was mutual, and Dennis, who was busy with his own label DEB Productions, soon asked Joe to make an album for him : "So we started work on the album - we go a King Tubby's , and me tek off me shirt and do the album in two hours - straight cut, bam-bam - it was like playing a sound system. Tubbs an' Scientist mix it, an' Dennis release the album in the UK."
The compilation set here kicks off with Joe's magnificently dubbed up toast across Dennis Brown's 'Home Sweet Home', followed by the dub version. Dennis Brown's vocal delivery on Bubbling Fountain proves once again that he was one of the really big names in reggae music. Joe takes over with a sur-fire-shot toast on the riddim called Love Jah. Round The World sees him in a more mellow mood. Then comes Black Uhuru with the impressive tune Rent Man followed by Joe's deejay cut Rent Man Style. The song If I Were A Carpenter is extremely popular on the Island. Here you get treated to Joe's deejay cut. Black Uhuru returns with Wood For My Fire and Joe does a fine job as he performs his cultural toast across the instrumental version of the song. The album closes with two vocal performances by Dennis Brown, Slave Driver and A Cup Of Tea, both followed by the deejay cuts.
All tracks are produced by Dennis Brown. The Ranking Joe tracks are voiced and mixed at King Tubby's Studio by King Tubby & Scientist.
With the usual superior Blood And Fire packaging - including an interview with Ranking Joe - the album is a must have.

Teacher & Mr. T.