The words "Wolde Senayet" are scrawled in silver ink across a black-and-white image of Peter Tosh on the cover of this long overdue "best-of" from Tosh's EMI period. The words are an honorific Rastafarian title meaning "Son of Thunder." During those years, Tosh, who was thought to have had his best years behind him critically, was rocking reggae audiences all over the world commercially. This set puts both ends of that spectrum in perspective. Tosh's creative muse was always present during these years, even if he was misunderstood as a superstar. These 14 tracks are seamless in their quality, and are more than representative of Tosh's vision -- one that has been adopted and reworked in all sorts of reggae subgenres since his death. The music here, culled from six albums, marks reggae history with the sheer audacity of Tosh's restlessness. A much more diffident man than his former partners Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley, Tosh let it all come through in the music. His charisma was not in interviews, but in performances both live and recorded. His Columbia albums were all raw exercises in deep dread thinking and execution, while his EMI period was one of experimentation and sonic inquiry.
The production standards on the EMI records were high; Tosh was looking to incorporate all of the modern sounds he liked into his own and trademark it. He succeeded, as proven by tracks like "Bush Doctor," "Mystic Man," "Oh Bumbo Klaat," "The Day the Dollar Die," and the single version of "(You Gotta Walk And) Don't Look Back" with Mick Jagger. In the live cuts included here, including the stellar medley of "Equal Rights/ Downpresser Man" as well as "African" and "Get Up, Stand Up," the listener gets Tosh pretty much unedited, full of swirling, burning, and dark intensity. The album closes with "Fool's Die (For Want of Wisdom)," a song known by Wailers fans as "Wisdom" from 1970 and issued on the posthumous Marley collection as "Lips of the Righteous." But neither of these versions comes close to Tosh's spooky, deeply moving balladic haunt of a song. Flutes, electric pianos, and a shimmering acoustic guitar float atop a spare bassline to gird Tosh's vocal as it asks the tough questions of all within hearing range. At about five minutes, the instruments -- all covered in swimming echoes and delicate spaces -- carry the track to its resting place in the heart of the listener. This is among Tosh's most moving songs, and his least angry. Perhaps his bemusement was really heartbreak, but then, that will never be known; listeners can only find instruction in his songs, not solace. If any figure in popular music deserved to be reconsidered for the entirety of his contribution, Tosh is such an artist, and this collection proves it. Therefore, as Bruce Cockburn so aptly put it in a song long ago: "All you can do is praise the razor/For the fineness of the slash." Tosh was the razor; these are his beautiful wounds. Praise them, for they are worthy. ~ Thom Jurek