Heart of The Congos, by The Congos
Suggested by Mik Parkin
When I was pondering this project, one idea I had was to consume and review Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time. I’d do a couple a day, maybe, and take them from 500 up to 1, before re-ranking them in my own order of preference.
I ditched the idea pretty quickly, mainly because I couldn’t see why anyone would actually care. Another reason was that, hell, there are a thousand reviews of Sgt Pepper or Pet Sounds out there, while the 1000 Suggested Album schtick makes it more personal and unique. But never say never; who knows, I might take op the five hundred after I finish my current thousand.
The final nail in this plan’s coffin was the fact that I’d be listening to a host of albums that were historically charged, powerhouse releases for a certain time and place in Music’s great tapestry, albums that placed highly in part though excellent and in part through worthiness. That sounded daunting, and a sure-fire way to expose my naivety. I’d state my inexpert opinion on the Internet, getting shot down by a host of Musical Miranda Priestleys claiming that my beloved Blues album is actually Cerulean.
Heart of the Congos, by the Congos, feels like one of these pit traps.
Released out of the ramshackle Black Ark studios in Jamaica in 1977, Heart of the Congos had a modest run of a few hundred copies. It went on to become one of the most influential Reggae albums of all time, and one of the seminal albums of the Seventies.
Great stuff! … If you like Reggae.
Personally, I don’t mind a little Reggae. I like its percussive nature, even if it’s a little bongo-heavy. It’s uplifting, and happy. A carnival sound. I’m not a massive fan, but sure, fire it up. I’ll dig it.
Heart of the Congos has a raw, garage sound, which is entirely in keeping with its roots. In fact, it’s so earthy I’m reminded of crackling Blues recordings from the Crossroads. While such a shoestring sound works for the Blues, that’s not the case with this. There’s a remastered release from 1996 which I’d hope would be smoother, but as that’s pioneered by Mick Hucknall, I can’t recommend it, as no right-thinking human should dally with that evil ginger spaff-crumpet.
Another issue I have is the religious nature of the lyrics, a common theme of the genre. Songs like Ark of the Covenant and Sodom and Gomorrow do their best to spread the tendrils of the Holy Chthulhu. I appreciate the need, but it’s not my bag.
On a more positive note, the songs are gentle and uplifting, as you’d expect. There’s a summer feel to the whole thing, and you can almost feel the foundations being laid for an entire generation. The opener, Fisherman, is perhaps the strongest track, but I’ve a fondness for the bouncing La La Bam-Bam. The songs all raise a smile, and can you really expect anything more?
But overall, when you take the low-quality sound and rudimentary (albeit influential) style, I can’t give this more than 5/10. There’s much better reggae out there, but those albums owe their existence to albums like this, their musicians playing bongos on the shoulders of giants.