Truth is, you know this groove by now if you've picked up some previous Ethiopiques volumes, but Vol. 13: Ethiopian Groove has enough fresh artists and touches to keep a sucker for the soul-influenced sound of Ethiopian pop interested. Truth is, too, that it's still a pretty damn fine introduction to said sound for those who haven't dipped into this excellent series before. These recordings are almost all from 1976 and 1977, so it's last-gasp-time before the military dictatorship clampdown killed off that golden age.
What's the same, aside from most of the usual backing bands laying down plenty of those smoky organ swirls, punchy bass and guitar riffs, and snappy horns with that unmistakable Ethiopian misterioso tone? Let's see: Alèmayèhu Eshèté's "Tashamanalètch" hits the groove running with prominent lead guitar before his voice and particularly good horns come in, and his ballad "Wèdèdku Afqèrkush" features a dramatic pause ending. "Atraqègn" by Bzunèsh Bèqèlè, Aster Aweke's forerunner, is absolutely classic to this series -- so are Mulugèn Mèllèssè's ballads "Djemeregne" and "Yèmendjar Shèga" -- with horns answering the vocals although Mèllèssè's voice does get a little shrill reaching for high notes on "Tegel Nèw."
What's different? Well, the near-reggae skank guitar in Hirut Bèqèlè's poppy "Ewnètègna Feqer," or the way the energetic, high-stepping soul with horns over bubbling funk bass and butt-funky drums on saxophonist Seyoum Gèbrèyès' "Muziqa Muziqa" suggests the Meters and compensates for merely adequate singing. The Wallias Band chips in with the arresting instrumental "Muziqawi Silt," with triumphant horn lines, organ, clattering percussion and a touch of vibes at the end.
Try Ayaléw Mèsfin's up-tempo trilogy of "Feqer Aydèlèm Wèy" (nice horn trills, good singing with involved vocal melodies), "Gud Adèrègètchegen" (moving closer to funk beneath an organ blanket), and "Gèdawo" (prominent backing vocals and funky bassline and guitar). Or the contrast between Tamrat Fèrèndji's "Antchin Yagègnulèt," as excellent organ hands off to sax answering powerful vocals over a propulsive, rocking groove, and "Ya Djalèléto," where horns and guitar drop out while Fèrèndji sings and a flute unexpectedly takes the swirling solo. Flute pops up again in the spare, percussion-heavy arrangements to the closing pair of tracks by the female duo of Assèlèfètch Ashiné & Getenèsh Kebrèt. Another very solid Ethiopiques compilation that will both satisfy the series' veterans and whet the appetite of newcomers.