Songs of Life

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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett

It is a measure of how international in scope reggae has become that the best roots album released in years should come from two Ethiopian brothers living in Sweden. A concept album of sorts, Songs of Life is the work of Medhane and Noah Isac Tewolde, and it is a remarkably sustained set that recalls the classic Jamaican releases of harmony groups like the Meditations, the Congos, and Israel Vibration. Both brothers are accomplished singers, writers, and arrangers, and apparently produced their songs separately, generally playing all the instruments (with a little help from a Swedish horn section) and adding all the vocals on their own. Surprisingly, this doesn't cause any kind of seismic split in the album, however, and Medhane's and Noah's songs are seemingly interchangeable, cut from the same stylish cloth, and Songs of Life cycles through its set with a strong, interwoven cohesion. Among the highlights are Medhane's gorgeous "Song of Righteous Life" and his wonderful ballad that closes the album, "Song of Memories" (which sounds like a classic Neville Brothers ballad gone reggae), as well as Noah's Motown-inflected "Song of Mary Jane" (it's not too much of a stretch to imagine the Temptations doing this one) and the bright, moving "Song of Mother Earth." In the end, though, the brothers' style is so similar and intertwined that it is rather pointless to look at who wrote the individual songs, since the whole album has such a unified outlook and tone. This is easily one of the best roots reggae albums in recent memory, and that it was produced in Sweden (and not Jamaica) makes it all the more amazing.

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