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The Congos Back in the Black Ark Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Features intriguing departures from the group’s more famous works.

Angus Taylor 2010

This project reassembles the dream team responsible for one of the best-loved roots reggae albums this side of Bob Marley. Compared to Lee Perry and The Congos’ 1977 classic pairing, Heart of the Congos, it’s a mixed bag, but contains several strong roots offerings and some pleasingly restrained vocals from “Scratch” himself.

The reunion, brokered by French agency Mediacom, follows a period of resurgence for both parties. Perry is teetotal and seems more eccentric than unstable, while Cedric Myton and Roydel Johnson have put aside their differences and are touring again.

Of course, the album wasn’t really cut at the fire-ravaged Black Ark, and the mercurial Perry has actually co-helmed the project alongside Abyssinians producer Clive Hunt. The result is ten compositions (recorded with legendary Jamaican musicians including Heart of the Congos bassist Boris Gardiner, and keyboardist Robbie Lyn) and four more light-hearted soul covers (given a basic digital backing by the aptly-named “Computer Paul”).

Celestial World, Garden of Life, Music School and Great Powers – all co-written by Myton and featuring his extraordinary falsetto as lead – swell the body of impressive, no-frills roots the group has built post-1977. Less successful are Roy’s crooners, Crying Times and Under the Sun, which are let down by ersatz strings.

A jaunty, speedy version of Sam Cooke’s Chain Gang is an interesting novelty, with the deep-voiced Watty Burnett taking the iconic bass refrain. Burnett also sings upfront on Tony Joe White’s Rainy Night in Georgia, the most moving retread of the set.

Perry was involved in four of the songs (he was in Kingston for only four days). These are Spider Woman, Rainy Night in Georgia, Forever Young and Garden of Life, which features his familiar flange-y effects, and some choice "Scratchisms" half-spoken in his inimitable style.

Heart of the Congos II this certainly isn’t (although the various editions of the original rely on vintage studio wizardry from Scientist and Scratch to bolster some of the later tracks). But fans of Perry and The Congos will enjoy the roots material while the reconnections with reggae's US influences make for intriguing departures from their more famous works.

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