African Head Charge

Noah House of Dread

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Those who were ticked off at the major-label slickness of the last African Head Charge album will take comfort in the relatively lo-fi charm of this one, which finds Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah (who, for all intents and purposes, is African Head Charge) returning to a strictly roots-oriented reggae sound. Those who are fans from back in the day when AHC was the most challenging group in the On-U Sound stable -- regularly producing songs composed of little more than stark rhythm tracks under field recordings of African shepherds or children's choirs -- probably gave up hope long ago, but that's their loss. In the years since Bonjo gave up avant-garde naturalistic ethnomusicology, he has developed a voice and personality unmatched in the reggae world for sheer good-natured sweetness. He sings artlessly, swatting at notes more than really hitting them, but with such a smile in his voice and such genuinely good-hearted lyrics that it's impossible to resist him. "Neighbors should be there for one another," he instructs on the lead track, "That's when good neighbors become good friends." Elsewhere he brings in choral backing vocals on "Something in My Heart" and on a charming version of "The More We Are Together." The album ends with two mediocre dub tracks, and frankly, there's no reason why the lo-fi charm couldn't have been realized just as effectively in hi-fi (somewhere Adrian Sherwood is listening and muttering "I told you so"). But it's still very charming.

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