Rally Round

Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus

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Rally Round Review

by Nathan Bush

The sound of nyahbinghi drumming was first heard on a popular Jamaican recording when percussion great Count Ossie appeared on "Oh, Carolina," the Folks Brothers' pre-reggae classic of 1960. Nurtured in Rastafarian gatherings called grounations, the basic nyahbinghi ensemble consists of a group of hand drummers providing the repetitive rhythm bed for religious chanting. Though many singers and groups recorded the odd nyahbinghi-influenced track during the roots era, Ras Michael was the only major artist to make the style a defining element of his music. Far from being a strict traditionalist, however, the singer has consistently worked within a wider frame of reference than many of his contemporaries. "The Hour," for instance, emulates the sound of American soul, guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith introducing the track with sharp funk figures. Elsewhere on Rally Round, traditional percussion punctuates the drumming of Carlton "Santa" Davis on roots numbers like "Wicked Man" and "Sip Your Cup." "Children on the Mountaintop," "Int'l Year of the Child," and "Jah Jah Power Shall Endure" are tender meditations that capture the spontaneity of the grounation setting and the rich interplay of voices. Unfortunately, contradictory production styles hinder Rally Round, shifting from the high resolution of tracks like "Sip Your Cup" to other, seemingly live recordings where the focus is lost. Though it lacks the cohesiveness of Michael's early releases, there are still many highlights, notably "New Name" and "Numbered Days," a reworking of Bob Marley & the Wailers' "Slave Driver."

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