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Monday, September 10, 2012

Aswad "Reggae Greats" - Review

Red Gold & Green Music

Aswad "Reggae Greats" - Review by Writerman 

Albert Hammond seems a most unlikely composer for a hit by a reggae band, but in reviewing this album I discovered that is exactly who composed Aswad’s biggest hit, Don’t Turn Around. It is hardly a reggae song, being far more pop than anything else, but it was a UK number one hit for the group that named themselves after the Arabic word for black.
Second track is what is known in reggae circles as a ‘lovers rock’ in the form of the band’s own composition, Woman. It’s a bit lightweight for my tastes, but well enough performed and features some really intricate percussion work.

Justice is a more conventional reggae song with lyrics about the tough times young West Indian youth were facing in London. It’s a good song with great use of horns and sound effects and a roll call of most of the suburbs in London.
Give A Little Love sees the band returning to the Albert Hammond songbook (who would have thought it?). Once again it is pop, albeit with a slight calypso style to it.
The Message opens with some chunky organ chords and a dub style mix. It is very cool and quite funky. There are some amazing sound effects that I can only describe as like watery popping sounds and some others that sound a bit like an elephant roaring. Very effective.
Gave You My Love is another lovers rock, but much better than Woman.

Babylon was co-written by the band and Michael Campbell, a.k.a. Mikey Dread who produced for and toured with The Clash.
Chasing The Breeze is a soul song with a reggae beat. The harmonies here are particularly good as is the lead vocal. The guitar solo is pretty spine-tingling, too even if it is a little brief.
Pistol shots appropriately enough signal the start of Sons Of Criminals a song where you can hear some really jazzy guitar licks and a melodica solo. Very tidily put together and very enjoyable.

Continuing the criminal theme, 54-46 (Was My Number) is a story about a young man who gets into trouble and gets even more than he bargains for. The lead vocals are once again excellent and the jazz theme is continued with some scatting at the end.
A fluid jazz bass sound like something from a Miroslav Vitous or Jaco Pastorius album opens Hulet, the disc’s sole instrumental. The whole piece is quite symphonic in a jazzy sort of way with synthesizer and tinkly percussion adding some great atmosphere. Amazing stuff and so different for the band it was a totally unexpected and very pleasant surprise. Aswad could have a whole parallel career with this sort of stuff.

Behold is a great reggae spiritual in the traditional style and like all Aswad songs it is very well produced, arranged and performed. They always seem to add some worthwhile embellishments to their arrangements and this one includes a rocky guitar solo.
Smokey Blues has a vocal that sounds a bit like Smokey Robinson which may or may not have been deliberate on the part of the band. As it is more like a Motown song than a reggae one, I can’t help but feel it was deliberate.
The disc’s closer, Bubbling is a ska song designed for one of those sound system parties that used to be held all over London in the 1960s and 70s.

Review by Writerman
Email: ken@writerman.co.nz
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