The Congos

Live at Maritime Hall: San Francisco

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As the title suggests, Live at Maritime Hall was recorded live at this San Francisco venue, presumably in 1999 (the album doesn't specify). Although only two of the three original Congos remain -- Watty Burnett and Cedric Myton -- the group's signature harmonies remain mostly in place with the addition of two backing vocalists. Burnett's wonderful baritone remains as vibrant as ever after all these years, and even more amazingly, time has had little effect on Myton's spectacularly soaring falsetto; it may not be as crystalline as it was in the late '70s, but it's still as clear as glass. Now backed by the A-Team band, a group whose simmering blend of rootsy rhythms, atmospheric keyboards, and Vince Black's searing guitar, create a rocker style quite removed from the Congos' original dread sound. But that rocker kick enlivens the set, adding a fervid power to devotional songs like "Moses and Aaron," toys with genres on the group's cover of the Grateful Dead's "Wheel," and adds a new dimension to classics like "Congoman," which is performed in a totally unexpected funk style. The vocals remain the focus, of course, and in front of an obviously enthusiastic crowd, the pair's exuberant performance is equal to the audience's own ecstatic response. Most of the set is heavy on early material, although a few later numbers appear, and there's even a recent song, "Judgement Day," a rousing roots rocker that accentuates the vocalist's own passionate delivery. The harmonies on "Children Crying" are exquisite, while showcasing Myton's falsetto, while the laid-back "Thief in the Vineyard" is another charmer. The Congos have had their ups and downs since their formation in 1977, but this set proves that they and their music are still going strong.

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