Widely regarded as one of the reggae world’s premier reissue labels, Blood and Fire was co-founded by Steve Barrow, Bob Harding and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red in 1993. Over the subsequent 23 years, the label released an outstanding series of 70s roots, dub and deejay albums and singles, annotated in intimate detail by Barrow and remastered by a crack team of studio experts committed to presenting the music in the best way possible.

Zion High, released in 2003, features redoubtable deejay Ranking Joe versioning cuts by Black Uhuru and Dennis Brown and is up to Blood and Fire’s usual standards (bar the minor oversight of not listing the musicians, presumably a combination of the Roots Radics and the Soul Syndicate who dominated studio rhythm work through the 70s and 80s).

Title cut Zion High is an uptempo stomper in which Joe showcases his trademark “biddly bong” style of deejay delivery. Such is the upliftment delivered by the riddim, with Joe over the top, the 8-year-old in our household promptly busted into an energetic skank-and-step. Joe’s lyrics focus firmly on Rastafari, referencing dreadlocks, disposing of scissors and comb, and what it takes to get to Zion, specifically being righteous and not a weakheart, while later he refers to Jah smiting evil-doers with lightning and thunder.

With the deejay cuts recorded at Tubby’s and mixed by Scientist this is the proper pure form of deejay reggae and I enjoy the most, and even on an album of potent offering, Zion High is the clear stand-out and a perfect album opener. Although the Zion High set on Blood and Fire is only available on CD – a recent addition to my collection – for the hardcore vinyl collector there’s a 12″ available on Joe’s own label.

When Blood and Fire Sound System visited New Zealand in 2005, Joe was the microphone controller and star of the show (despite what the uninformed NZ Herald reviewer wrote at the time), and Zion High demonstrates just what a remarkable vocalist he is. A truly crucial cut.

More info:
Zion High on Discogs

Jeff Neems

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