Afro-rock royalty celebrate five decades on the scene with a not-so-rootsy, contemporary-styled work.
When this ensemble added a fresh number “Abele” to their recent rarities collection, it seemed the veterans were on a course to bringing the band’s past, present and future into a single context on next album, but “New Dawn” is almost entirely different from what that track pointed to. Geographically different – for the grooves oozing out of the fourteen pieces in offer here may have originated in Rio’s favelas, or even Copacabana, rather than Accra’s shanty towns, with the best of “Soul Train” thrown in: all informed by African music, of course. As a result, here’s a solid record, whose title references the first cut on the Ghanians’ eponymous debut from 1971, yet one which will, without further course correction, threaten to dissolve their unique individuality.
It’s not that there’s no flying elephant this time to take “New Dawn” off the ground – the infectious opener “Kpanlogo Chant (Are You Ready)” does the trick magnificently, albeit briefly, in under two minutes – and there are still fire and ire in the dryer, socially charged likes of “Paper Dey Burn”; it’s the fact that there’s a smooth, often polished sound in place of polyrhythmic grit and belligerent edge. And if the riff-driven, brass-kissed rhythm-and-blues of “Adjuwa Aye (Go With The Flow)” – as two original members, saxophonist Teddy Osei and keyboard player Robert Bailey, envision in the company of long-standing axeman Gregg Kofi Brown – feels incendiary enough, the Latin-tinctured “Douala” comes across as too breezy for the band’s character, while the ivories-driven urban vibe of “No Fit 4 Street” packs a much stronger punch.
Yet though it’s great to finally hear ladies’ voices on this collective’s songs, their soothing tones render the sultry sort of “Dark Matter” and “Yen Kita Yen Sa” somewhat soporific, despite the soaring six strings on the latter, which turn into a muscular twang on “O Brunye” and funky jive on “Lift Your Head Up” – that life-affirmingly picks up where JB’s “Get On the Good Foot” left off – and on “Ata Y Che” that’s elevated thanks to Gus Isidore’s stinging guitar. Still, “Wake Up” can be the silkiest ballad this combo have ever served up, yet the flute-flaunting, piano-sprinkled, chant-championing “Big Problems” sees the ensemble back on track, baring the edge which has always made them unique. A beach might be a perfect locale to greet new dawn, only OSIBISA’s erstwhile sonic specialness should require a special spot for the band to rise and shine.