The Congos - Heart Of The Congos (40th Anniversary)
It’s hard to think of an album surrounded by more controversy and wild rumors than The Congos’ 1977 debut, Heart Of The Congos. It’s a record that suffered the fate of label rejection, mixing issues and a run of pressings that went out of print just a few years after their release. Rumor has it that producer Lee “Scratch” Perry even burnt down his home-built Black Ark studio after his experience with Heart Of The Congos. Perhaps that’s why until Blood & Fire’s 1996 upheaval of this roots reggae classic, you simply had no access to it.
And what a shame that was. There is no more perfect reggae LP that balances songwriting, harmonized vocals, clever instrumentation and backing rhythms than Heart Of The Congos. Perry was at the peak of his career and his production proved as much. Perry slathered hazy reverb and cannabis baked atmosphere amidst bizarre incidental sounds such as cows mooing and babies crying. His crude methods of recording also added to the unique feel of the album. By working with just a 4-track tape machine, Perry was forced to bounce down multiple tracks degrading the original source recordings. But this shortcoming was a key factor to the album’s distinct feel. It sounds almost futuristic in its own way from the supreme use of phasing to the clattering percussion found deep within tracks like “The Wrong Way” and “Congoman.” Not only that, but Perry was able to coax sublime harmonies out of the group while the studio musicians such as Ernest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar and Boris Gardiner were all equally on point.
Legend has it that Perry was at odds with the vocal group during the production. At some point Perry started to believe that they represented evil and that they were responsible for bringing unwanted attention to Black Ark. After Island rejected his initial mix, Perry reluctantly remixed it but it was never properly distributed. Story goes that Perry even tried to literally steal his master tapes back from the label. Heart Of The Congos became a lost classic until that 1996 reissue.
As we now hit 40 years since its release, VP Records has presented the deluxe version of the album with alternate mixes, disco mixes and a completely new track recently discovered after the Blood & Fire reissue: “Don’t Blame It On I.” Also includes the full album background printed on inner sleeves. Beautiful triple LP package for a record that clearly deserves it. If you’ve been meaning to give this record your attention, now is the time. (Dom)
Check out a track here.