Dusted Reviews

Ebo Taylor - Appia Kwa Bridge

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Ebo Taylor

Album: Appia Kwa Bridge

Label: Strut

Review date: Jun. 22, 2012

When musicians get to a certain age, it’s tempting to give ’em a pass just because they’re still standing, or at least sitting upright. It seems kind of rude to point out how far below their best work late albums by Lee Hazlewood or John Lee Hooker really are, but you know which ones you’d play.

So you have to hand it to Ebo Taylor. At age 76, he can still sing affectingly, pick a lyrical guitar melody, and ride the wave of a powerful band. The best moments on Appia Kwa Bridge stand up to anything he’s ever done, and while it purposely breaks no new ground, there’s something to be said for sticking to what you do best. Someone should have said that to Lou Reed before he made Lulu, but that’s a matter for another review.

Taylor, who comes from Ghana, is a contemporary of the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. In the ’60s, they left their respective homelands and attended music school together in swinging London. Each hoed a similar creative row during the next decade by combining the ingratiating sway of highlife with funk’s hardier bump. But while Kuti earned his notoriety and spent his energy naming names, fighting fights and marrying 26 women, Taylor walked a safer and more conventional path. Working as an arranger and writer as well as an occasional bandleader, he’s the hidden MVP making things happen all over other people’s tracks on those Ghana Soundz collections. Economic and aesthetic changes brought his career to a standstill for a while, but he has not only survived to see the ascension of the music he made back in the day, he’s ready to make a bit more.

In 2010, Taylor made Love and Death, his first album aimed at a global market, with Berlin’s Afrobeat Academy. Most of its material is re-recorded oldies, polished but not especially updated, and it’s a respectable effort. The Afrobeat Academy, which is led by American-born saxophonist Ben Abarbenel-Wolff, also back him on Appia Kwa Bridge, but he’s also pulled in drummer Tony Allen, percussionist Pax Nicholas and guitarist/bassist Oghene Kologbo. They are all veterans of Fela’s Africa 70 band; alongside the decision to record with a Farfisa organ rather than a digital keyboard and on tape instead of a computer, their presence clinches the album’s old school authenticity.

If you’re a highlife musician, things don’t get much more old school than “Yaa, Amponsah,” which is one of the music’s ur-grooves. Taylor performs it alone, with just his voice and a couple of guitars. But he isn’t just dusting off oldies here; he’s showing where the music began. As befits a man in his mid-70s, he’s looking back on his life and the world around him, and he has a bit to say about it all. Identity, memory, and the contest between good and evil are the themes here. “Assomdwee” ponders God’s intent for man, while the title song remembers the site of his first date. But since he sings in Akan as well as English, it’s not easy for non-Ghanaians to follow his thinking; what comes through loud and clear is the effortless bonding of fluid guitars and stark, punchy horns over stuttering beats, and the earnest soulfulness of his voice, which is weathered but not at all hollowed out by age. And his picking, while never showy, is just right; the weaving guitar patterns in the intro to “Abonsam,” a song that advises listeners to get on God’s side, gets me every time.

Appia Kwa Bridge ends on a melancholy note. Taylor’s first wife, Selina, died just before the recording session, and on “Barrima” he memorializes her with a quaver in his voice and a lonely acoustic guitar for accompaniment. It’s simple, sad, and as real as it gets.

By Bill Meyer

Other Reviews of Ebo Taylor

Love and Death

Life Stories

Read More

View all articles by Bill Meyer

Find out more about Strut

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.