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Joe Higgs Life Of Contradiction Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A work of astonishing depths and bruised, aching humanity.

Angus Taylor 2008

A mere footnote in mainstream musical history, Joe Higgs’ name is inextricably linked to that of Bob Marley. It was Higgs who taught the teenaged Wailers to sing and harmonise at his Trench Town home and was the first in a series of surrogate father figures who helped create and refine the Bob we know today.

But Joe was also a respected singer and composer in his own right. He’d been present at key moments in the development of ska (as part of the duo Higgs and Wilson), rocksteady (with Lyn Tait) and reggae (touring and recording with Jimmy Cliff) before releasing Life Of Contradiction in 1975.

Recorded three years earlier but held back due to the all-too-familiar rights issues, Contradiction saw him teamed with the formidable and versatile Now Generation band. The result was a highly conceptual, deeply personal record by one of reggae’s true masters that deserves to cross over into popular music’s wider canon.

Of the three Wailers, Higgs’ deep, rich voice sounds closest to that of Peter Tosh, but is a more mournful, weary instrument, the sound of one who has suffered great hardships with a shrug and a smile. From the battle-worn but hopeful Come On Home, to the poignant There’s A Reward, through to the clattering hand-drums and sad solo trombone of bonus instru-dub Freedom Journey, each song draws on universal themes of love, redemption and pain, while each note played by the band shadows Joe’s every ambiguous mood.

The level of songwriting and the breadth of influences on display will impress the casual or non- reggae fan. Glimpses of Dylan and the Band, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens and Otis Redding bubble to the surface in this melting pot of jazz, country, roots, rock and soul.

Unjustly ignored on first release, Life Of Contradiction is a work of astonishing depths and bruised, aching humanity. Give this album some time and you’ll get your just reward.

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