East of the River Nile Album reviews.
Release Date: 06.11.02
Record label: Shanachie
The Best Reggae, Period.
by: matt cibula
For seventeen years, he was only known as Horace Swaby, a skinny kid growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Kingston. But then Herman Chin-Loy, who ran the Aquarius record store, heard Horace playing a melodica outside the store. He made that kiddie toy sound sad and joyous and pure and holy, and a new sound in reggae was born. They re-christened him Augustus Pablo, and it was under this name that he made a lot of classic records. As an instrumentalist, he had hits like "Java" that still sound just as funky as anything else in reggae history; as a producer, he helped to invent dub music with the classic album King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown. His storied career came to an end when he died in 1999.
The re-release of this album is a pretty big deal - originally released in 1977, East of the River Nile is regularly mentioned on lists of Top Ten Reggae Albums of All Time, but it's been virtually unavailable for years until now. Pretty easy to call something amazing if no one can fact-check it, isn't it? So now we all get the chance to judge for ourselves just how amazing it really is.
Does it stack up? To my ears, yes it does. But you might not feel the same way, depending on your image of what reggae music is. If your knowledge and interest begin and end with Bob Marley, then you'll be very confused - apart from some background voices, this album is entirely instrumental, and dominated by Pablo's melodica and keyboard work. If you favor the kind of rowdy populist synthesized slam of dancehall, you might be put off by Pablo's subtlety and restraint.
But if you have an open mind, and open ears, you'll fall in love with this CD. Whether it's the twisting melody of "Chant to King Selassie I" or the dubbed-out mystery music of "Sounds From Levi," this is music that sounds timeless and modern at the same time. "Unfinished Melody" is a triumph; with its "shoop-shoop" vocal line and its simple tune, it sounds like a lullaby, but no lullaby ever had a backbeat this wicked. "Africa (1983)" could have hit #1 on the Egyptian Hit Parade 1500 years ago, and Pablo follows it up with the title track, which sounds even more ancient and even more up-to-date. Song after song is packed with beauty and wonder - this is one of the rare records that manages to be better than its reputation.
And, for once, the bonus tracks manage to add to the album's sound. We get the original 1971 version of the title track (although it's misidentified on the tracklisting), some tough-ass dub numbers, and the crucial single "Islington Dub," which is mix-tape gold. This is all so good that it seems churlish of me to complain that the liner notes are inadequate in terms of info about the album, and that it would have been nice to spend some money on design or something. Hmmm. Oh, well - nothing anyone could do could ruin this album. It's perfect, dammit. RUN to your record store and sleep there until they get your copy in.
08-Sep-2002 8:30 PM