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Unity Is Power
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Performer Notes
  • Personnel: Joe Higgs (guitar, congas); Stephen "Cat" Coore (guitar, harmonica, electric piano, synthesizer); Dalton Browne, Anthony "Sangie" Davis (guitar); Vivian Hall, Donald Greaves (trumpet); Nambo (trombone); Paul Dixon, Harold Butler (piano); Keith Sterling (organ); Carlton "Santa" Davis (drums); Alvin Houghton (percussion); Sylvia Richards, Blossom Johnson, Camille Lewis (background vocals).
  • Liner Note Author: Roger Steffens.
  • Recording information: Aquarius Studios, Kingston, Jamaica.
  • Illustrator: Granville McGibbon.
  • Photographers: Urbanimage; Johnny Black; Roger Steffens.
  • Deeply respected but largely unknown reggae mastermind Joe Higgs was a silent force helping to guide the shape of Jamaican music throughout some of its most fruitful periods in the '60s and '70s, working as a songwriter for superstar acts like Toots & the Maytals and as a vocal coach and guitar instructor for Bob Marley, and even filling in with the Wailers on their first American tour. His influential presence never equated to commercial success with his own musical career, but the efforts of said career left behind a handful of incredibly strong solo records, the second of which was 1979's Unity Is Power. Coming from a background that saw both the roots of ska as well as the evolution of rocksteady and what became roots reggae, Higgs incorporates all the various facets of his musical personality into this remarkably colorful album, injecting his rich reggae tapestry with elements of soca, American soul, and rock & roll. The set kicks off with the jubilant "Devotion." This is a chart-topper in some alternate universe, with its joyfully melodic reggae backbone driven by skanking guitar and curiously busy boogie-woogie piano. Ska-tinged horn sections back up Higgs' rich baritone, and the hopefully downtrodden character of the song casts Higgs as a Jamaican take on the ghetto consciousness of Curtis Mayfield. The midtempo rock & roll simmer of the title track enforces this comparison as well, with dazzling backing vocals and mournful guitar soloing adding flair to the song's message of struggle and hope for better days. Tracks like this and "Love Can't Be Wrong" are in line with the late-'70s love affair between reggae artists and rock bands, mirroring Peter Tosh's associations with the Rolling Stones that were happening around the same time Unity Is Power was put to tape. Standout tracks are bountiful here, with melancholy rocksteady tunes like "Think of the Moment" butting up against politically empowering slow-burners like "Sons of Garvey." Higgs tutored a young Jimmy Cliff, and some of the vocal inflections and phrasing on these songs give rise to the question of who influenced whom, especially in their more emphatic moments. Stylistically varied without losing too much focus, Unity Is Power is a rich and celebratory album that showcases Higgs' numerous talents as a songwriter, arranger, vocalist, and reggae innovator. His is a name and story known mostly by die-hard reggae heads, but albums like this are strong enough to be picked up on by even casual reggae listeners. ~ Fred Thomas
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