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War of Words
Singers & Players
War of Words
Genres: World Music, Pop
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #1


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CD Details

All Artists: Singers & Players
Title: War of Words
Members Wishing: 2
Total Copies: 0
Label: On-U Sound
Release Date: 10/6/1998
Genres: World Music, Pop
Style: Reggae
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 718751860520

CD Reviews

Locks Lion | Blue Mountain Peak | 08/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"WAR OF WORDS/ REVENGE OF THE UNDERDOG/ STAGGERING HEIGHTS: Three must-have selections from the extensive On-U Sound back catalogue, all originally released in the early eighties and featuring the rotating collective of vocalists and musicians (i.e. the Singers & Players) rounded up and recorded by UK-based producer and On-U founder, Adrian Sherwood. Featured artists include Style Scott and Eskimo Fox on drums, Lizard on bass, Crucial Tony on guitar, Dr. Pablo's keys and melodica, and percussion from Bonjo I and Mr. Magoo, as well as vocals from mainstay On-U collaborators Bim Sherman and the "Voice of Thunder", deejay Prince Far I -- these and many others.

WAR OF WORDS was Singers & Players first album release, the most balanced and for me, the best, a mind-expanding merger of rootswise reggae and Adrian Sherwood's far-out studio sorcery. WAR OF WORDS kicks off with Bim Sherman's bewitching DEVIOUS WOMAN and continues with the murderous extended mix of Far I's almighty QUANTÉ JUBILA, with the Prince's vocal track backed up in reverse at the end of the opening segment and then fed directly back into the jaws of a menacing, heavyweight dub workout. Bim Sherman covers vocal duties on the remaining tracks. Sherman made several recordings of his brilliant SIT & WONDER, but this rockers-style extended version with deejaying from Jah Woosh is easily the best. His FIT TO SURVIVE is a haunting, mournful meditation on captivity and the struggle for freedom. It's followed by the eight minutes-plus pressure-cooker intensity of REACHING THE BAD MAN and then an excellent version of his WORLD OF DISPENSATION, another track that he revisited on numerous occasions throughout his career. WAR OF WORDS closes with the mostly instrumental 91 VIBRATION, but for the most part it's a showcase for the very special relationship that evolved between Bim Sherman and Adrian Sherwood. A stunning debut!

REVENGE OF THE UNDERDOG from 1982 is the least accessible of the three. Sherwood's signature mix is dense and muddy with rhythms that tend toward the sort of avant garde experimentalism more often associated with On-U's African Headcharge project. The strangely spliced trio of DUNGEON, MERCHANT SHIP and JAH ARMY BAND opens UNDERDOG in a reasonably straightforward fashion, with Lizard, Far I and Bim Sherman voicing on the successive backing tracks. That's followed by another fairly traditional vocal from Sherman on the nice TOO MUCH WORKLOAD, but UNDERDOG really belongs to Prince Far I as he provides the majority of the vocal cuts, including his excellent WATER THE GARDEN and the cryptic CHA-RIS-MA. At times though, REVENGE OF THE UNDERDOG veers right off the road, covering some rough terrain with tracks like FOLLOWER with its chaotic, crashing percussion and bizarre sound effects, or the strange, subterranean reworking of the Jamaican rub-a-dub classic ENTERTAINMENT as THING CALLED LOVE. This is the sort of stuff that made - and for some listeners I suppose, broke - On-U's reputation, a cutting edge combination of the post-punk, do-it-yourself ethic with the stripped-down, super heavyweight sound of Jamaica's Roots Radics band (via Style Scott), plus elements of free jazz, electro and other assorted sonic experiments, all coalescing in a spiraling gravity whirlpool of sound -- hardly what you'd call easy listening.

1983's STAGGERING HEIGHTS returned to a far more traditional reggae sound. Vocals from the Congos' Ashanti Roy on AFRICAN BLOOD and the beautifully harmonised SNIPERS IN THE STREET - both excellent selections - set the tone, and they're matched by Bim Sherman's brilliant A MATTER OF TIME - another career highlight for the singer - as well as Far I's now classic BEDWARD THE FLYING PREACHER and Mikey Dread's guest spot on SCHOOL DAYS. Of course, this is "Another On-U Sound Production" so you can expect at least one or two detours into the left field. Sure enough, Sherman's SOCCA is, as Steve Barker mentions in his sleevenotes for the Master Recordings edition, "one of the strangest [tracks] he ever cut...". Overall though, STAGGERING HEIGHTS is a very rootsy, very accessible record, and probably the most obvious entry point for On-U newcomers.

These three classic On-U Sound recordings have been in and out of print - mostly out though, it seems - for a good part of three decades now, and at the time of writing they seem to be once again unavailable. All three are definitely worth seeking out though. There's something almost timeless about these productions, and they sound as fresh and as vital today as they did when I first heard them twenty-some years ago. Prince Far I and Bim Sherman have since passed away, but these recordings clearly capture each at the peak of his powers, and though both artists recorded extensively before teaming with On-U, no producer seemed to understand or appreciate either as deeply as the very talented Adrian Sherwood.

Equally excellent was the fourth and final Singers & Players album, LEAPS & BOUNDS, another roots-oriented collection, which featured the same vocal lineup as STAGGERING HEIGHTS. Needless to say, it also seems to be out of print right now, but keep an ear to the ground. Also look out for Bim Sherman's ACROSS THE RED SEA, his first solo selection with On-U as well as his work with veteran sessioneer Deadly Headley on the sax player's underrated 35 YEARS FROM ALPHA set. Finally, for a nicely updated overview of the entire On-U Sound catalogue, check out Adrian Sherwood's recent mix tape project, ON-U SOUND: SLASH & MIX.
Todd Griffin | New Orleans BABY | 02/13/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"As a fan of reggae music this album is probaly the most interesting of anything I have ever heard. There is no other reggae album that captures the atmosphere it projects. It is dark and beautiful. The deep slow bass lines are roots reggae. But this one may be a little out there for the hard core roots reggae lovers. Adrian Sherwood has been criticized for over producing material (the over use of studio gimmicks). However, this project is stripped right down to the bone. This is recommended for the fans of reggae that is a little progressive."