Joe Higgs

Life of Contradiction

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Experienced reggae fans will immediately notice something about this long-overdue Joe Higgs reissue: that it sounds startlingly like an early-'70s Wailers album. There's a good reason for that: the relatively obscure Joe Higgs was the architect of the legendary Wailers' early sound. Higgs mentored the young Bob Marley and his trio in songwriting, arranging, and harmony singing, and in 1972 (when Life of Contradiction was originally released) Marley and company were completing their metamorphosis from a bouncy ska and rocksteady outfit into a serious and rootsy ensemble that would change the face of reggae music for good. Higgs' solo work has always been respected by reggae fans but has never garnered the commercial success it deserved. It's unlikely that this reissue will do much to change that -- it's much too clearly a product of its time -- but a solid core of listeners have been awaiting its release for years, and they won't be disappointed. Higgs is in excellent voice on every track, and the rhythms laid down by the Now Generation band are perfect examples of the churning, midtempo reggae sound that was in the ascendant in the early '70s. Highlights include the brilliant "Got to Make a Way" and "Come on Home," and the bonus tracks (the non-album single "Let Us Do Something" plus version) sweeten the deal nicely. The lyrics may get a little bit trite at times (how's this for insight: "Life is an experience that only a fool could refuse"), but Higgs' heart is so clearly right, his voice is so powerful, and the rhythms so sharp and dread, the occasional lyrical banality is easy to overlook. Very highly recommended.

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