Peter Tosh 1978 - 1987 (2012 6CD)
BBC Review - These records are all worth owning, with the new live set a collector’s find.
In 2011 Sony reissued baritoned Wailers bad boy Peter Tosh's initial solo albums Legalize It and Equal Rights – including demos, outtakes and dub-specials. A year later EMI has assembled this remastered six-disc set comprising his subsequent five studio LPs, one previously released and one unreleased live recording, plus some bonus mixes.
This was a less consistent period for Tosh, whose cutting voice and lyrics weren't always suited to the heavily produced fare his Rolling Stones/EMI tenure yielded. But for every misstep there are gems – most powered by the drum-and-bass of Sly & Robbie, fearlessly pushing reggae's sound barriers.
1978’s Bush Doctor is the least cohesive set. There’s an overly jaunty duet with Mick Jagger on The Temptations’ Don't Look Back, while the soft sax of old Studio 1 hit I'm The Toughest seems ironic. Even so, the remainder showcases powerful lyrical imagery (“stand firm or go feed worm”) and some mind-blowing drumming by Sly.
1979’s confrontational Mystic Man and 1981’s more droll Wanted Dread & Alive are far more unified affairs. Sly & Robbie create a driving disco rhythm for inimitable ode-to-trespass Buk-In-Ham Palace. Tosh blends with The Tamlins' beautiful harmonies for the slow rub-a-dub of Reggaemylitis, and with Sly & Robbie collaborator Gwen Guthrie, who outdoes Jagger for soul crossover Nothing But Love.
1983’s Mama Africa reworks Chuck Berry's Johnny B Goode (whose lyrics, according to manager Copeland Forbes, Tosh insisted on changing to reflect his heritage). The gospel feel and holistically conscious messages of 1987’s Grammy-winning No Nuclear War (without Sly & Robbie) suggest a renaissance snuffed out by Tosh’s murder that year.
Unlike Sony’s outtakes, most bonus tracks have been released on previous individual album reissues. But both 1983’s Captured Live at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre and the officially unheard BBC-recorded Dominion Theatre show demonstrate the power of Tosh and his band away from the slickness of the studio – with Bush Doctor and African respective highlights.
A prolific solo artist when a Wailer, post-1976 Peter Tosh never quite regained the vitality of his pomp (across these albums are three reworkings of cuts for Leslie Kong, the 60s producer who rightly rated him equally with Bob).
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Yet even thereafter he was a great songwriter, lyricist and voice, with an incredible cast of forward-minded musicians to help him. Brought together, these records are all worth owning, with the new live set a collector’s find.