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Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars | Libation

album review by John Powell

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars | Libation

This is the best album the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have made. Libation is dignified, contemplative, and celebratory work from a group that understood the power of music for 10 years. Now, with the help of producer Chris Velan and a few weeks harbored in the Green Mountain State, they have reached a mature stage of their career.

Certainly, their past albums were good too; this is only to say that this is polished work, with excellent production. They do a lot of reggae, and then they do a lot of reggae-influenced folkier tracks, and then they do other kind of music, too. All seamlessly. Also, acoustically, and the acoustic guitars with light bass and drums makes for a unique sound.

“Chaimra” starts the album off with West African poly rhythmic funk and the band's distinctive guitar riffing. One thing the All Stars had perfected since day one was a method for danceable tunes, and this is no different, especially with additional horns. Throughout the album, even on the darker tracks, the instrumentation finds uplifting moments to spark energy.

Because of these sparks, this also makes for a tight album. Songs hang out in the three and a half minute marker, like the exceptional “Can’t Make Me Lonely”, a rootsy, gorgeous lovelorn song, with Reuben Koroma (in the finest of forms throughout) lamenting with heart and soul. The song is a summer evening’s soundtrack- a laidback adventure through the trials of the everyman.

The best track, however, may be “Rich But Poor”, a minor chord, fearlessly political, and spiritual consideration. “We live in it/ What a sweet, sweet country,” goes the chorus and then Reuben declaring, “We just came from war/ So we must have learned our lessons.” You can tell by the way he goes on that he’s not sure this is the case. The song speaks to a call for control of the future and an understanding of simple beauties. How can you beat that?

The All Stars have made their career on a mission to promote the healing of music, in the wave of Lennon and Marley, this group has a power beyond their control, a humble honesty that adds weight to their music. It’s all coming from the deepest, most rooted sense of obligation and determination. That, more than ever before, shines through on Libation.

They only falter on “Treat You Right”, with the group’s youngest member, Black Nature, taking lead vocals. While his voice in and of itself is wonderful- a lower register alto that buzzes and hums with heart- the lyrics are weaker than weak, although admirers of pop culture songs will eat up things like, “Promises, promises/ You are the one/ the diamond in the rough.” And later, “You gonna hold me tight.” It rides a wave of clichés that doesn’t fit the rest of the album.

Instead, I look forward to Black Nature growing as a songwriter, because the potential is there and the performance is great. Cut him some slack; he was 11 when he joined the All Stars. But songs like “Maria” are richer in character, songs that make you shake and shimmy while still do the love song thing.

I really can’t recommend this album enough. It’s approachable, catchy, sincere, and tidy. Not only is this the All Stars’ best record; it’s just damn good by any record’s standards. Enjoy.

Bottom line: A wonderful collection of worldly songs, hopeful and pensive, with much uplifting reggae-type grooves.

Comments  

 
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