While Ebo Taylor's name is not familiar to most as one of the pioneers of Afro-beat, it should be. Taylor, the Ghanian composer, arranger, guitarist, and vocalist has been making music since the 1950s, and studied with Fela Kuti at the Eric Guilder School of Music in London from 1962 until 1965. Rather than go the solo path, he opted instead for Accra's studio scene, where he appeared on dozens of singles and albums . He cut a self-titled solo album in 1977 on the local label Essiebons. Tracks from it, another album entitled Conflict, and various singles have appeared in recent years on various European compilations. The Strut imprint, not content to let Taylor's name languish in obscurity, put its money where its mouth was, and paired him with the Afrobeat Academy of Berlin, which includes guitarist J. Whitefield of the Whitefield Brothers and various guests from Europe and Africa. Love and Death, the result of that collaboration, reveals how much vitality the 74-year-old musician possesses still. These eight cuts are balanced between re-recordings of earlier tunes and new ones. Taylor's guitar and weathered vocals in both English and his native Akan dialect are right up front. They're juxtaposed with constant skittering percussion, hypnotic electric pianos and organs, punchy horns, and meandering yet in-the-pocket basslines. Taylor's lyrics derive from many sources: nursery rhymes, political and social themes, romance, etc. The title track is an uptempo but brokenhearted, love song which proclaims that "love and death are all the same." The cut is is compelling evidence of just how different Taylor's music is from Kuti's, though it remains undeniably Afro-beat. As funky as the JB's, it is more melodic and deeper into an African soul groove. "Nga Nga" is a new composition that is darker, moodier, and hypnotically funky. This is a club stepper with its popping bassline, swirling wah-wah guitars, and stuttering horns that play call-and-response with Taylor's vocals. There are two instrumentals included: "Kwame," dedicated to Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, and "Victory," about a conflict between two neighboring villages. Taylor's snaky guitar skills are amply evident on both, and the backing of the Afrobeat Academy and its guests push them into the stratosphere. Anyone remotely interested in Afro-beat -- traditional or modern -- needs to hear Love and Death; it's a sonically pristine and deeply earthy musical experience from an artist who is only beginning to receive his due and has plenty left to say.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek