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Joe Higgs - Unity is Power

Joe Higgs - Unity is Power

Joe Higgs - Unity is Power

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Not the most accessible Joe Higgs album but an essential reissue.

Sampler

We know Joe Higgs was one of a series of crucial father figures to Bob Marley. He taught the Wailers to harmonise and to register their songs with royalty collection organisations. He stepped in for Bunny Wailer when he left the group mid tour. He also wrote and bequeathed Stepping Razor to Peter Tosh - one of Peter’s flagship songs.

Joe Higgs - Unity is PowerYet his solo work – just three albums in a four decade career - is still not exposed and appreciated. In 2008 Pressure Sounds played an important role in pushing forward his 1975 debut 'Life of Contradiction' (which, bar a few messageboard grumbles about sound quality and provenance, was extremely well received). Now Pressure Sounds have released his 1979 followup 'Unity is Power'. Both sets feel like they belong to an earlier era than their time of release yet their own unique space in any era at the same time.

Higgs’ voice always had a similar pang to Otis Redding’s and here he takes his already soulful brand of reggae further into soul, gospel, jazz, country and pop. As a result, it is less likely to please everyone than Contradiction. Like the work of Prince Lincoln it is a nice example of reggae mixing in American influences while maintaining its roots.

The heart of the album is reggae. Cedric Brooks and Nambo’s slow horns rise and fall over Santa Davis’ cantering mid to late 70s era drums when the militancy of the beat was slowing down.

Where Contradiction was rare for a reggae record in dwelling in life's grey areas, Unity is Power by its very name, finds Higgs more single and more socially minded but just as deep in his observations. To a stammering staccato piano, opener Devotion tells a simple tale of chasing down possibly unrequited infatuation. One Man Kutchie deals with an unjust smoking bust and laments "We all take our chances but the rich man will get by." Gold or Silver asks “Don’t kill your brother man, he is not a machine”.

But while the messages might be unified the music is far more fluid and experimental than the subtly jazz flavoured Contradiction. The title track is lush gospel. Small World floats on a swinging jazzy groove like a dream sequence from a sixties film while Sadness is a Part of my Heart is lolloping soul meets pop.

Higgs voice is a gripping if not always precise instrument, and in a couple of places it feels overstretched, as if the music would have suited it better in a different key.

Pressure Sounds have again included some welcome bonus material on the cd edition. 1972 Jamaica Tourist Board song contest winner Invitation to Jamaica puts a well-crafted and sincere sounding tourism jingle to a lilting melting pot rhythm of the islands local and international influences - appearing as vocal and version. The sound quality of the release is brighter than the Life of Contradiction reissue which had a muddy texture in places.

There will be those who will see elements of this as too much of a departure from reggae. However, Higgs has to be appreciated as a general popular music songwriter of an experimental era alongside the likes of Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens et al. Weird and often wonderful, Unity is Power is for reggae fans who have grown up and spread out in their tastes to related styles of “big people music” instead of just liking reggae alone. Not the most accessible Joe Higgs album but an essential reissue.

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Posted by Dynamite on 08.27.2013
Rasta Live.

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