Top Irish-American albums of the decade
Top Irish albums of the decade
Some might argue that Sinead O'Connor makes more headlines for her mouth than her music, but that all changed when she turned to Jamaica in 2005 to record the stunning "Throw Down Your Arms."
“The whole thing about the Rasta movement is that they know that God is a living thing that walks among us,” she says in a video that comes with the iTunes version of the album. “That is the glory be God, let Him be praised.”
Declaring that her mission was to "rescue God from religion," O'Connor hailed Rastafarianism for its transformative role in her life and the lives of others. To do that, she displayed a deep knowledge of Jamaican-roots music in her selection of obscure songs about faith, strength, and peace. She pays tribute to the roots-reggae greats whose songs are covered on the album, including Burning Spear (the title track, among others), Peter Tosh’s caustic “Downpressor Man,” and the playful Junior Byles (“Curly Locks”). No roots album would be complete without a Bob Marley tune; Sinead does a stirring read of “War.”
“The first time I came across a real gentle spirit was Burning Spear,” she explains. “In the rasta or reggae music, he’s the only one that talks openly about the feminine principles of the world, the mothers and grandmothers of the world being the cornerstone of everything. I used to listen to ‘Marcus Garvey’ I love the lines ‘come little one / let me do what I can for you.’ His songs are simple and so unbelievably peaceful.”
O'Connor flew to Kingston, gathering top Jamaican musicians including drummer Sly Dunbar, bassist Robbie Shakespeare, guitarist Mikey Chung and trombonist Nambo Robinson to record in Bob Marley’s Tough Gong Studios. They lock into a ferocious groove from start to finish. In the promotional video, O'Connor cannot seem to wipe the grin off of her face as the band plays, and it is a feeling the listener can certainly appreciate. The horns lock in with the rolling bass line and synth chopping on “Y Mas Gan,” displaying a brilliant arrangement that was probably produced effortlessly.
“It was the only boarding pass that I ever kept, the one to Kingston,” O'Connor said in the promotional video that comes with the iTunes version of the album. “It was the most amazing feeling, going to work every day in Tuff Gong. I just want to bawl just thinking about it now.”
Much attention is paid to Marley when talking about reggae and roots music -------- for good reason, of course. O'Connor shines a spotlight on Burning Spears, giving the listener a new appreciation for an underappreciated talent. The rollicking bass line of “Marcus Garvey,” a song about the Black Nationalist that Rastafarians consider a religious prophet and reincarnation of Saint John the Baptist, is powerful, while the slow burning “Throw Down Your Arms” settles the world’s problems in a mellow, dank cloud of ganja smoke.
It’s the only anti-war song that was not completely corny,” she says of the song. “Burning Spear just had this ‘let’s figure this all out together’ vibe in the song. Most anti-war songs are actually quite aggressive, but ‘Throw Down your Arms’ is not.”
Sinead has thrown in a reggae song here and there on albums like Faith and Courage, but she shines as a high priestess of Jamaican roots on "Throw Down Your Arms," begging the listener for more. The album was a modest hit, selling over 250,000 copies with 10% of the profits being donated to support the Rastafari elders in Jamaica.