The Amharic
Pharos Records
November 7, 2005

Track list
  1. False Prophets
  2. Why Oh Why
  3. A Thousand Years
  4. Descendants
  5. Ire Feelings
  6. Crisis
  7. Revelation
  8. Lonely Road
  9. Love Can Do
  10. Dancehall Days
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Vocals : 5 Backing : 5 Production : 5 Sound quality : 5 Sleeve : 5
A lot of current reggae both in JA and Europe seems to be inadvertently yet repeatedly making a point that reggae in 2005 has found itself in a cul de sac, bereft of ideas and enthusiasm : Lots of macho bombast and low end bass boom for sure -- but scraping the bottom of the barrel regarding originality --

Given that state, it is inspiring when one hears a record that wholly contradicts such an impression -- and this album from The Amharic is excellent.

It features the largely unsung talents of long term ONU Sound contributor Carlton Bubblers Ogilvie : where would ONU Sound have been without the considerable composition, arrangement and engineering talents of this man over the last 20 years -- and why isn't he praised more often?

Another surrpise here is the outstanding drumming from Horseman -- if you love early Eskimo Fox or Eric Fish Clarke drumming as featured on early Creation Rebel music, or on tunes such as Keith Hudson's "Rasta Country" -- then this man sounds like the natural inheritor to that style. So if you are thoroughly bored of staggeringly simplistic hammering bass drums in reggae, snares which sound like an annoying slap, and find yourself still looking for inspired, clever snare and roto tom interplay with that classic rimshot Rockers sound -- Horseman provides -- One of the best drummers currently making reggae music. Again, why don't we hear a lot more about this guy?

The production and engineering is crisp and clean throughout, with an original take/perspective on older, conventional production values. Lyrically, Donald Henry is consistently poetic and intelligent, and thankfully not working through the roots clichés by numbers -- sure, his themes, narratives and preoccupations are from the conventional roots reggae canon we are all so familiar with -- but he puts his own original stamp on the sentiment and expression, with a particular focus on numinous themes of non duality, scepticism with organised religion and the existential loneliness of modern life.

For comparisons, think Bim Sherman's "Too Much Work Load", early Israel Vibration "Same Song", Culture's "Behold" or Pablo Moses tunes like "Lonely Singer" -- This is very much where The Amharic fit into things.

But importantly, they aren't copying those artists, but, especially production wise, they very much have their own inspired take on a conventional tradition.

The album is not perfect from start to finish -- some of the compositions are too dense, and could do with a sparser, more spacious mix in places to allow the hermeneutic intelligence of the lyrics to shine more brightly, as well as further highlighting the sinewy power of the drum and bass lines. Also, very occasionally, some of the chorus work tends to be too "radio friendly", and can grate on the senses.

But really, given the emotionally fulfilling nature of the over all project -- these are minor complaints -- watch out for this little mentioned label too (Pharos), who seem to have chosen as their hallmark that crisp Horseman Rocker's drum sound, Bubblers sophisticated Rockers arrangements, intelligent wisdom lyrics in some of the compositions (a real rarity nowadays) and an aesthetic approach to the inner sleeve art work.

Watch out for the new Little Roy album on this label for more of the same impressive vibes.