Friday, February 11, 2011

Old Stuff Friday Reggae: Heart of the Congos

For a musical form that produced so much great music, and so many worthy compilations of such music, reggae produced relatively few great albums. The music industry in Jamaica was focused on dancehall music and the production and sale of singles. Of course, singles, other recordings and dub (instrumentals of the singles) were released in album format, but it was less common to conceive of and produce music with the primary intent to create an album, as was becoming more common in the States and the UK in the '70s.

Click on the video's play button, and keep reading.

But the old order, in this and other respects, was challenged by Lee "Scratch" Perry. Perry originally worked for Dodd at Studio One, and then for Joe Gibbs. He founded his own Black Ark studio, really a shed, and embarked on a creative frenzy, working with the Wailers and many other top acts. His production hallmarks were an "underwater" ambiance, especially in bass effects, and unusual effects and structures. Amazingly, he created this music on a four track machine, dumping completed tracks onto a single track and then re-recording repeatedly until the sounds in his head were reflected on tape. Sometimes the musicians would sit outside cooking lunch while Scratch smoked herb and plotted the track, then he would call them in and provide instructions. His genius produced great albums such as Party Time for The Heptones and Police and Thieves for Junior Murvin, and the three disc compilation of his recordings, Arkology, is one of the truly great reggae compilations that could serve as a foundation for any collector of reggae.

However, his crowning achievement may be Heart of the Congos for The Congos. The Congos were a duo consisting of Cedric Myton (the falsetto) and Roydel Johnson (tenor). Their songs were supported by Perry's highest level of production and Perry's excellent studio musicians, The Upsetters. However, what puts the album on the top step may be Perry's decision to assemble the greatest collection of backing vocalists on any reggae album before or since. The incomparable Gregory Isaacs, Barry Llewellyn and Barry Morgan of the Heptones, Watty Burnett and the Meditations.

Will you discern all of this quality in these clips? Sadly, that isn't possible. You need better source material than You Tube (and perhaps better speakers). But if like reggae and don't have this album, it is one to take a chance on. Especially worthwhile is the two CD version with additional material for which there wasn't enough room on the original record.

And before you click on the next song, consider that this highly rated and widely loved album was rejected by Island Records, the label that helped launch Bob Marley.

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