October 7, 2015

The Congos - Heart of the Congos, 1977


It's a little weird for me to write about what is arguably the greatest roots reggae record of all time. I avoided reggae for most of my life after too much exposure to some pretty uninteresting reggae at the hands of my pretty uninteresting adolescent stepbrother. The Heart of the Congos is the first reggae record that I connected with, and while I'm no aficionado, this is unlike anything I've ever heard (more knowledgeable writeup here, nice interview here). It's odd that the exaggerated stoner aesthetic that reggae got saddled with has clouded the recognition of the music itself as an intensely mind-altering experience, sans drugs. This serves as an excellent reminder of its psychedelic nature, in the more honest sense of the word. With dense, melted reverb, Heart sounds as if it was recorded under a few feet of water. Brilliant vocal interplay and amazing diversity of sound, from the sprawling aquatic bass groove "Congoman" to the sinuous, fizzed-out "Can't Come In," with the famous robo-cows lowing throughout. The range of emotion is equally bewildering, from cripplingly pointed mourning to the peaks of joy with intense spiritual potency in between. The title means business: this is thick, this plumbs deep.

Note: there are quite a few different versions of this floating around--apparently Perry himself was unhappy with the original mastering and made some dramatic changes, and of course there have been a slew of reissues. Of the versions I've heard, I'm pretty happy with this one.

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