The Abyssinians

Satta Massagana

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This is one of those legendary reggae albums that's easier to admire than enjoy. There's no doubt of its importance: if you had to pick the five most influential Rasta anthems of the 1970s (and Jah knows there have been few if any since then), the title track of this album would be one of them. So, most likely, would "Declaration of Rights," which has been remade in countless different versions. And the Abyssinians themselves are a fine vocal trio. If they're not as sweet-sounding as the Mighty Diamonds, and not as tight and compelling as the Heptones, they do have a fierce and intense spirituality that is pretty compelling in its own right. But all that said, this is an album that takes some time and adjustment to enjoy. For one thing, every single song is taken at exactly the same tempo. Reggae is a music that is built on subtle differentiation (or, as philistines and Babylonians might say, it all tends to sound the same), and that means that it's important to sow a little variety wherever you can. It's also true that the group's spiritual intensity sometimes leads the harmonies to, shall we say, wander in the wilderness a bit. But the deep religious conviction of the songs and singers, as well as that unchanging, loping, serene groove, will begin to draw you in after a few listens.

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