Friday, 8 April 2016

"Kongos" by JOHN KONGOS (2014 Esoteric Recordings 'Expanded' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...






"…He's Gonna Step On You Again…"

This is a clever CD reissue by Britain's Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red). After years of faffing around on varying CD versions most of which sported dodgy sources (deleted quickly afterwards followed by extortionate price tags later) - at last fans of this wicked Seventies LP by South African multi-instrumentalist JOHN KONGOS get to hear his superb "Kongos" album in properly brill sound quality. And this reissue/remaster is bolstered up with a whopping 9 extra tracks too. Here are the good and bad Tokoloshe Man details...

UK released October 2014 - "Kongos" by JOHN KONGOS on Esoteric ECLEC 2466 (Barcode 5013929456648) breaks down as follows (79:52 minutes):

1. Tokoloshe Man (Album Version - 5:13 minutes)
2. Jubilee Cloud
3. Gold
4. Lift Me From The Ground
5. Tomorrow I'll Go
6. Try To Touch Just One [Side 2]
7. Weekend Lady
8. I Would Have Had A Good Time
9. Come On Down Jesus
10. He's Gonna Step On You Again
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 2nd solo album "Kongos" - released November 1971 in the UK on Fly Records HIFLY 7 and January 1972 in the USA on Elektra EKS 75019. It charted in the UK at No 29 in January 1972 (didn't chart USA). The UK artwork sported a lovely gatefold sleeve and lyric insert while the US single-sleeve artwork was entirely different - both are featured in the 16-page booklet along with photographs of many foreign 7" picture sleeves, studio photos and trade adverts. The American LP also had a 9-track configuration (dropped "Weekend Lady") and the tracks were placed differently too. From this CD the US album sequences as 1, 2, 3, 4 and 9 (Side 1) whilst 8, 6, 5 and 10 are Side 2.

Tracks 11 to 19 are BONUS singles:
11. Sometimes It's Not Enough
Non-album B-side of "He's Gonna Step On You Again" 7" single  - released April 1971 in the UK on Fly Records BUG 8. Reached No. 4 in the UK charts.

12. Tokoloshe Man (Single Version - 3:59 minutes)
13. Can Someone Please Direct Me Back To Earth
The A&B-sides of a UK 7" single released November 1971 on Fly Records BUG 14.
Rose to No. 4 in the UK charts.

14. Great White Lady
15. Shamarack
The A&B-sides of a 1972 UK 7" single on Cube Records BUG 22 (both tracks were non-album)

16. Higher Than God's Hat
17. Would You Follow Me
The A&B-sides of a 1973 UK 7" single on Cube Records BUG 32 (both tracks were non-album)

18. Ride The Lightning
19. I Won't Ask You Where You've Been
The A&B-sides of a 1975 UK 7" single on Cube Records BUG 58 (both tracks were non-album)

The first thing that hits you (apart from the classy presentation) is the fabulous audio - 24-bit remastered from original master tapes by PASCHAL BYRNE (a name I've praised before) - the sound quality is wonderful. This is actually not surprising - the record was professionally Produced by Elton John's main man GUS DUDGEON  -while the whiz-bang Sound Engineer was none other than RAY THOMAS BAKER who would lend so much to QUEEN's sound a few years later (he produced "Bohemian Rhapsody").

The other aspect is the quality musicianship - much of Elton's backing band HOOKFOOT provides the basis for most tracks with superb guests spots in-between. RAY COOPER was on Percussion, CALEB QUAYE [Finlay's Dad] on Guitars and Keyboards, DAVE GLOVER on Bass and ROGER POPE on Drums. LOL COXHILL plays Soprano Sax on the mighty "Tokoloshe Man", Mike Moran plugs the ARP Synthesiser on "Jubilee Cloud", both RALPH McTELL and RICK WAKEMAN guest on "Tomorrow I'll Go" on Guitar and Piano respectively - while folky duo SUE & SUNNY provide backing vocals on 6 of the 10 tracks. The massive "He's Gonna Step On You Again" lays claim to being the first record with a `sample' on it - an African Tribe playing drums that was looped for the recording while the band played over it. England's HAPPY MONDAYS of course revived it as "Step On" on Factory Records - taking it to Number 5 in the UK charts in April 1990.

The booklet I mentioned above is fantastically well done - superb liner notes from noted writer MICHAEL HEATLEY - great photos of the recording sessions - reminiscences with the man himself - quotes from GUS DUDGEON - badges, sleeves, Kongos in his trademark Lennon glasses and even a photo of the very rare British Picture Sleeve to "Tokoloshe Man" (5000 copies only).

Those hoping for a whole album of "Tokoloshe" and "Step" rhythm-fests will be disappointed - but that doesn't mean there aren't other-tempo nuggets on here. I love the pretty and anthemic "Gold" with its beautiful string arrangements by ROBERT KIRBY and the very British Rock `n' Roll Boogie of "Jubilee Cloud" was cool enough to entice JOHN BALDRY to cover it on his 1972 "Everything Stops For Tea" album (on Warner Brothers). "Tomorrow I'll Go" is admittedly sappy by today's standards and the hippy lyrics of "Try To Touch Just One" and its frantic piano beat feels like David Cassidy but in a bad way. Better are "Weekend Lady" and the catchy almost George Harrison feel to "Come On Down Jesus" is a great lead in to the album closer - the amazing "He's Gonna Step On You Again" - sounding incredible.

I also wish I could say that the rare singles provide a treasure trove of unheard funky nirvana - they don't. Of the lot the B-side "Sometimes It's Not Enough" is excellent while the synth intro to "Higher Than God's Hat" followed by Rock swagger guitars was an obvious attempt to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle "Tokoloshe Man" magic (and it succeeds in its own right). But the rest are not great and easy to see why they faded into obscurity.

Still - I come back to the core album - now absolutely rocking with this new remaster. And I'm reminded of those singles on Fly with their script lettering and cool logo - and I'm a very happy (stepped on) bunny indeed...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 260 entries and 2450 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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