Boomkat Product Review:
Deluxe edition - the first to feature the now almost impossible to find original mix of the album, unavailable since producer Lee Perry withdrew the set in 1977. Also includes the more well-known re-mix, dubs, disco mix, seven and twelve inch versions.
No reggae album more obscure than the Congos' Heart of the Congos is as rich, and no richer album is as obscure. The Congos were just a duo, airborne falsetto Cedric Myton and tenor Roydel Johnson, who got together in 1976 and approached old acquaintance Lee 'Scratch' Perry about recording an album at his Black Ark Studio. This was in a two-year period when Black Ark (along with King Tubby's) offered the most exciting, unpredictable facilities on the island and attracted top hands like guitarist Ernest Ranglin, organist Winston Wright, and percussionist Noel "Skully" Simms.
During the sessions, unrepeatable chemistry resulted in Perry's finest production of a vocal group and a body of songs more vivid than anything else by the Congos. Oddly, Island Records passed on The Heart of the Congos. Perry put it out under his own Black Ark insignia. Then the Congos released in themselves. The British Go-Feet label reissued it in 1980. It has popped up several other times, each edition muddy sounding, incomplete, or both. The handsome Blood and Fire reissue package gathers every snippet; vocal renditions and their dubs, extra Perry-Congos numbers and a second CD of 12-inch remixes.
This is a full-length revival metting in the Promised Land of the Rasta faithful, though nonbelievers can still revel in its fervent activist force. Perry knots electronic and handmade beats with consummate ease while Ranglin and Wright deliver unobtrusive solos that etch like slow acid. The album swims in hazy tones, shot through with mammoth bass rumbles and slow sweet moans from background singers, most often the silky Meditations. The sound that bursts out immediately is Cedric Myton's falsetto. On "Can't Come In" and "Solid Foundation" he seems to breathe the same air as Curtis Mayfield. Roy Johnson puts the vocal dignity and assurance he learned as a member of of all-Rasta bands into his tenor work on tunes like 'Open up the Gate'. The snaps and rumbles that power 'Congoman' make it a party natural, as does the jocular mood of 'At The Feast" Passover plus ganja). Poetically twisted Biblical metaphors add mystery to 'La La Bam-Bam' and especially 'Ark of the Covenant', which fuses that ark and Noah's into a militant salvation granted to 'Even the ants / Safe in a Noah sugar pan.' Still, compassion for humans shines on Heart of the Congos.
The mysterious images of 'Fisherman' flow around and around from Jah Rasta/Jesus as a fisher of men, to a provider of spiritual food, to a symbol of the congregation voyaging to redemption. All that is certain is that those who would save their souls must row to reach higher ground. No one sings the parable better than the Congos." Milo Miles - Spin (US), June '96