Strut Records surprises yet again with this date by Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band. Its frontman was dubbed "The Golden Voice of Africa" during his hitmaking days in the '70s and '80s (on three continents) and is one of the most legendary singers to come out of Ghana's Accra highlife scene. He and frequent collaborator Ebo Taylor (who provides horn arrangements here) have been working together on and off since the mid-'60s. This set was recorded at Accra's Lovelite Studios in analog -- there are no samples or digital sounds. The music includes reworks of some of Thomas' hits as well as new songs. It's played by a killer, young-ish band led by veteran guitarist/organist Kwame Yeboah (Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens) with very special guest appearances from drummer Tony Allen (who is half-Ghanaian), Hedzolleh Soundz trumpeter Osei Tutu, and Noble Kings' bassist Ralph Karikari. The set cooks from track one. "Mewo Akoma" features Karikari's trademark bass style, driving horns, grooving-chord Farfisa and guitar patterns, and a call-and-response dancing drum pattern. Over eight minutes long, it marries an Ashanti melody to third-generation highlife and Caribbean rhythms. "Odoo Be Ba" features Allen on drums. Based around a vamp created by saxophonist Ben Abarbanel-Wolff, it weaves together Afrobeat drumming, layered, fingerpicked highlife guitars, and knotty Farfisa, with Thomas -- still in gorgeous voice -- crooning, syncopating, and improvising through the lyric and refrains. "Me Ho Asem" is a funky groover marrying highlife to reggae and Philly-tinged soul with poignant lyrics. The reverbed electric piano and Tutu's emotional trumpet solo adds a post-bop jazz element, making it an album standout. "Oye Asem" is an excellent marriage of Afrobeat and highlife. The soaring organ, Allen's hypno snare beat, and Taylor's elaborate horn chart pave the way for Thomas to take off. He digs down into the lyric and liberates it with a sensual loverman charm. This makes a beautiful and contrasting intro for "Odo Adaada," a redo of one Thomas' '80s hits. It's joyous, tropical highlife, and the vocal interplay between the singer and his daughter Nannaya, combined with a skittering Farfisa and killer guitar playing, sends it over the top as a dance jam. Closer "Ama Ehu" is an even more overt tapestry woven from Afrobeat, thanks to Taylor's tough, labyrinthine horn chart and Yeboah's Farfisa and, of course, Allen's drumming -- and classic third-generation highlife. Thomas is so skillful in his delivery, he aims the melodic center of his voice at the mountain of rhythms, and it becomes yet another one. His singing is effortless; so reassuring in its soulfulness it edifies even as it exhorts. For a man in his seventies, Thomas remains a singer of astonishing power; his experience and musicality more than compensate for anything time has tried to steal from him. With this union of old friends and a younger group of disciplined players, his album represents not the glitter of highlife's legacy, but a new frontier. ~ Thom Jurek
Pitchfork (Website) - "Inspired at an early age by the likes of Nat King Cole, Miriam Makeba, and Stevie Wonder, Thomas was a more raw-edged singer and can be heard pushing the mic to distortion often on this set as he offers his own version of a Sam Moore-style croon."