THE ABYSSINIANS – Satta: The Best of The Abyssinians (2015)

ASSIGNED BY THE HOST: Great Overlooked Artists
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Reggae is not my thing. The thing closest to reggae that I own, and actually quite like, is a set by Toots and the Maytals on Dub side of the mule, a live album by Gov’t Mule. I always plan to buy a Bob Marley greatest hits compilation, so that the genre is represented in my music collection. That guy wrote or performed a few famous reggae tunes in the seventies such as No woman, no cry, Get up stand up, One Love and Could you be loved. What I like about him is that he was also sort of a symbol for Jamaican reggae culture: Rastafari, ganja and dreads, but reggae fanatics probably consider him a crossover artist who sold out.

What do I like about reggae? Well, hmmm.., the music is usually happy and quite rhythmic.
What do I not like about reggae? I hardly ever focus on the lyrics, but I would not be surprised if the lyrics are on the whole a lot sadder than the music would suggest. Vocals tend to sound whiny. I think that as a genre it’s way too constrained by the rules. That does not bother me with, say, bossa nova or blues, but with some styles, reggae and tango being prime examples, the ’structural and formal homogeneity’ bores me to death from the second track.
Especially the (rhythm) guitar, and sometimes a keyboard, on the off beat (alternating with the bass) annoys me. As far as Caribbean / South American music goes (or basically anything south of Cajun/Zydeco), this is by far my least favorite music style.
So, so far this review is more a confession about my taste, but I wanted to inform you, dear reader, about where I come from.
This album has not convinced me of the intrinsic value of reggae music. It’s probably well played; I liked the fact that sometimes they sing together and that horns play a prominent role in some songs. The dub medley (versions) suggest that some versions have been updated or remixed, sometimes quite interesting to hear (once), for instance some ‘echoey’ effects.
But, still my ears fail me, I just cannot get into reggae. It’s actually easy on the ears (compared to lots of jazz such as Eric Dolphy, or prog like Magma and the like), but in the end it’s too meandering. As it was assigned to me by someone who likes reggae and/or considers this a reggae masterpiece, I suggest that reggae lovers check it out for themselves. It may indeed be a lost milestone in the history of reggae.
Because of my ‘relationship at arm’s length’ with reggae, I feel not even qualified to determine if this is good reggae. In fact, although I did like the first song (Satta amassa gana) when I heard it for the first time, as of this moment I’ll postpone my decision to get a compilation by Bob Marley indefinitely.

JAMES BROWN – Live at the Apollo (1963)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

In a possible new series of Important Live Albums, this is an important and powerful first entry. Later, James Brown would sound even less constrained, on “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, and downright funky on “Sex Machine”, “The Payback” and the like. But this is where it in many ways started: a half hour album, recorded on October 24, 1962 in NYC and released later in 1963, with some added applause (the version I own is fleshed out with another “generous” 10 minutes, basically single mixes from some of the other material).
Even at over 50 years of age, with old-fashioned background singing, musical accompaniment that’s still carefully sophisticated rather than outrageously funky, this album is a testament to the vision of James Brown. Obviously, in showmanship and musicality he ultimately paved the way for Jimi Hendrix and even Prince, but most importantly, here he created (at least in the perception of the public) his James Brown persona, the hardest working man in showbiz, and modern dance music as a genre.
Compared to other white (Everly Brothers, early Beatles and Beach Boys) and black artists (Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, later Curtis Mayfield and others) of the time, this was anarchy, plain and simple. His delivery and his stage presence (and the call and response singing) created a type of mass hysteria and fainting girls (or so I imagine) that were unprecedented at the time. And yes, parts of this had been heard before, as he had been working (hard) for the five years leading up to this album. But this was the live album that cemented his reputation.
With hindsight it’s easy to point out that it’s way too short and that the applause feels artificial in places. The musicians (drummer, guitar and organ especially) play way too subdued and they don’t do James justice. James shines however: he cries, he screams, he orgasms all the way to the Hall of Fame. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not just a great little dance album, it is an important album. Get it!

BRYAN ADAMS – Reckless (1984)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Jimm Derby

Generic power pop, typical 80’s production, energetic singing, poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. That would about sum it up in one sentence if you were brutally honest, bordering on cynical.
The hits were “Run to You”, an energetic rocker where he makes full use of his voice, “Heaven”, a power ballad, “Summer of ’69”, another energetic rocker and “It’s Only Love”, a duet with Tina Turner. Although (or because) they are very familiar, they sound quite good as songs: they’re all nice pop songs on the rocky side and Tina’s voice mixes very nicely with Bryan’s.
And some other songs are nice as well: “She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancin’” could have been a heavy Huey Lewis and the News song, and I can easily visualize it with a ZZ Top style video clip. “Ain’t gonna cry” somehow reminds me of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out (the album, that is).
The 30th anniversary/Deluxe edition adds 7 bonus tracks of which “Reckless” (the title song that apparently never made it on to the original album), “Let Me Down Easy” and “Teacher, Teacher”, stand out somewhat. Also, a disc with 15 live tracks from 1985 is added.
Hooks-wise Brian’s not in Keith Richards territory (although Keith was having a rough decade or two at the time), but Bryan sure makes up for it in energy. I actually like his voice quite a lot, but paradoxically only in small doses, as it’s a bit one-dimensional: he sounds nice, but he really has only one way of singing.
Worst thing about the record as a whole is the terrible production style: booming drums, simple (very basic) bass work, no subtlety AT ALL and a very synthetic compressed sound. This may have been fashion at the time, or perhaps it has something to do with learning to “master” new cd technology with its higher dynamics. Another thing is that it’s rather monotonous: apart from the one ballad, all songs are rockers, mostly at the same speed.
It makes for rather tiring, headache inducing listening 30 years later. But I can easily imagine a remake in a more acoustic setting with sympathetic production that gives the instruments room to breathe. That would do his voice full justice.