The Congos

Congo Ashanti

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The Congos' 1977 release, Heart of the Congos, produced by maverick Jamaican genius Lee "Scratch" Perry at his Black Ark studio, remains a roots reggae classic, and is arguably the high-water mark of Perry's unique sound. By inference, Heart of the Congos was also a peak for the Congos, as well, which made their follow-up, Congos Ashanti, an immediate disappointment. Recorded at Harry J's for Columbia Records, Ashanti (done without any assistance from Perry) had a smooth, slick and glossy feel, and where Perry's trademark watery Black Ark sound had made the previous album seem rich, deep and mysterious, Ashanti turned the group's greatest strength (Cedric Myton's soaring falsetto) into its biggest weakness. Myton's vocals on most of this album are simply irritating, unhinged from Roy Johnson's clear tenor (and Perry's kitchen sink rhythm bed), they bounce around in the ether like a Rastaman on helium. The songs aren't particularly striking, either, at least not enough to overcome the mainstream production, and even with crack Jamaican session musicians like Sly Dunbar, Willie Lindo, Ernest Ranglin and Tommy McCook aboard, Congos Ashanti sounds pretty generic. Listeners curious about this duo should definitely check out Heart of the Congos, one of the greatest records ever to come out of Jamaica, but should approach anything else by the Congos with lesser expectations.

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