Highlife was Sonny Sharrock's first studio album in three years, and it bore witness to several slight modifications in the guitarist's approach. Gone were bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer Pheeroan akLaff, who had moved on to other projects; they were replaced by Charles Baldwin and Lance Carter, respectively, who joined additional drummer Abe Speller. Dave Snider's Korg synthesizer also makes its studio debut (he had appeared on the Live in New York set), which immediately makes the overall ensemble sound simultaneously brighter and tinnier. Even past the added timbre of the keyboards, Sharrock seems to be searching for ways to push his music forward, as he begins going farther afield for material and revisiting his past in the process. In addition to three full-fledged originals, he covers two traditional folk songs, the West African standard "Highlife" (learned in one of his earliest gigs with drummer Babatunde Olatunji) and the Harry Belafonte-associated "All My Trials"; he adapts several themes from Kate Bush's prog pop hit "Wuthering Heights" into "Kate"; and he returns to his legendary appearance on Pharoah Sanders' Tauhid album with a medley of two Sanders themes, "Venus/Upper Egypt." It's fascinatingly eclectic, but the results are undercut to a degree by all the keyboard polish, which tends to rob Sharrock's most furious licks of a certain element of danger (even if it does occasionally bring out his more playful and spiritual sides). In the end, Highlife is something of a transitional album, catching Sharrock in the midst of figuring out where to take his music next, yet that searching quality makes it a compelling listen for fans.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey