The Ethiopians

Slave Call

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Only partially what one would expect from a latter-day (1978) Ethiopians album. Star billing should have been shared with Max Edwards, whose nyabingi drumming flavors the entire album, and is lovingly showcased by Niney Holness, who provides a sharp, rhythm-heavy production, whilst lavishing equal attention on the vocals. Particularly impressive is the pounding remake of "Last Train to Skaville," which seems to be steaming off straight into the heart of Africa. Thematically, however, the song seems to have gotten off at the wrong stop, for as Slave Call's title makes clear, this is a highly cultural album. From the plaintive "Culture" itself, through the title track, "Ethiopian National Anthem," and "Obeah Book," the entire album revolves around Leonard Dillon's Rastafarian beliefs, with even the cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be" rewritten to a religious end. Holness' arrangements are little short of genius, deliberately reinforcing or counterpointing the song's themes, most brilliantly heard on the title track, which exudes an aura of slaving field hands singing as they toil. "Hurry On" has a driving insistence, perfect for a song calling out for people to catch the Zion train, while "Nuh Follow Babylon"'s touch of rockers style is counterpointed by the soft tribal beats. A simmering, soulful jam adds just the right tinge of blues to accompany "Culture"'s lyrical plea, while "I Love Jah" is a lush blend of supine brass, rocksteady tempo, and swaying reggae beat. Dillon's performance is exceptional throughout, the songs were obviously written with devotion, and his delivery gives the lyrics even more power, and Slave Call remains one of the artist's greatest achievements.

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