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Friday, 22 July 2016

Album review: GREG KOFI BROWN – Rock ‘n’ Roll And UFO’s

Greg Kofi Brown’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll And UFO’s is an archtypal summer album, with a broad based appeal stretching from the beach to the dance floor.
The career anthology by the Osibisa vocalist is full of catchy songs, soulful grooves, funky dance floor friendly work-outs and whisper it, disco. His special guests do him proud , most notably The Chimes vocalist Pauline Henry on ‘This Guy’ and guitarist Dominic Miller on ‘All The Way For You’
On balance the album is top-heavy with excellent songs, but counter weighted by the commercial possibilities of the funky Bomb The Bass mix of ‘Take Your Time’, which aims squarely for the dance floor.
The fact that the latter immediately segues into a closing brace of introspective, unplugged acoustic tracks, illustrates an artist whose primary concern is with his own song craft. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll And UFO’s’ probably contains more musical UFO’s than die-in-the-wood rock and roll, but it’s none the worse for that.
Much like his career, Greg’s true musical forte initially seems hard to pin down on a wide ranging, but enjoyable anthology. He’s a smooth vocalist who dabbles in soul, funk, afro-rock, world music and west end musicals, but it’s when he assumes the mantle of a melodic, acoustic driven, singer-songwriter that he is at his best.
Better still, when he embellishes his core musical ideas with the kind of Afro/Latino arrangement of ‘Whisper in the Wind’ with his long time Ghanaian compatriots Osibisa, he steps up to another level.
Less impressive is his over ambitious attempt at a disco version of Pete Townsend’s ‘Listening to You’, which simply doesn’t fit either the sequencing of the compilation and would have been better off as a bonus track.
However, the strength of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll And UFO’ is the fact that over the course of 17 tracks he leaves his mark. There’s a welter of consistently good melodies and a set of engaging lyrics bolstered by articulate arrangements. His husky voice also draws the listener in, over deftly nuanced harmonies..
If anything, this anthology suggest he’s one commercial break away from stepping out in his own right.
The album is set to be followed by the release of Greg’s autobiography, which apparently features anecdotes about the likes of Billy Cobham, Elton John, Joe Cocker, Peter Green and Fela Kuti etc. But in truth he’s trying to hard to be too many things to too many people. The book will surely be of interest to rock fans, while the music here spans a much wider outlook.
On songs like ‘Summer Rain’ you’re hearing a mature songwriter and an expressive singer confidently shaping his emotions into meaningful songs. And it’s the strength of his material that pulls together even the most far reaching numbers into a coherent whole.
Denuded of the recurring dance beats, his craft comes to the fore on the unplugged ‘All The Way For You’, on which he finds the perfect foil in guitarist Dominic Miller. Then there’s the gentle acoustic throb of ‘Tender Eyes’, the percussive horn led funk of ‘NKosi Beat’ – which could be both Osibisa or War – the sinewy Prince style ‘This Guy’ and two versions of the poignant ‘Freedom’s Ring’, of which the unplugged and uplifting chanted version is superior to the falsetto led band version.
Despite the slightly misleading title, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll And UFO’s’ is a fine anthology that suggest Greg Kofi Brown is more than capable of stepping out of Osibisa’s shadow and into the light on his own terms.  ****
Review by Pete Feenstra

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