Ebo Taylor – Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980

In afrobeat circles, Ghanaian highlife guitarist Ebo Taylor has long been regarded as one of the scene’s most undervalued talents. During his golden period during the 1970s, Taylor was responsible for some landmark recordings – not just as an artist, but composer, arranger and producer. This comprehensive set from serial crate-diggers Strut revisits that fertile period, gathering together the best of Taylor’s solo, collaborative and production work. For those with a passing interest in afrobeat and highlife, it’s near-essential.

Highlights come thick and fast, from the strangely spaced-out grooves of “Peace On Earth” and lazy afro jazz-funk of “Ohiana Sua Efir” to the epic American R&B stylings of “Aba Yaa“.

Through the ’70s, he then recorded a number of solo projects, exploring unique fusions and borrowing elements from regional Ghanaian folk music, Afrobeat, jazz, soul and funk.

This compilation revisits this heyday of Taylor’s work, focusing on his solo albums and some of his lesser known side projects including the dynamite Apagya Show Band and Afro rock collective The Pelikans. The selection also touches on his writing and collaboration work with fellow member of early ‘70s band Blue Monks, Pat Thomas.

Tracks
A1 Ebo Taylor Heaven 6:06
A2 Ebo Taylor Atwer Abroba 8:15
A3 Ebo Taylor & Uhuru-Yenzu What Is Life 4:43
B1 Apagya Showband Tamfo Nyi Ekyir 3:57
B2 Ebo Taylor Peace On Earth 7:48
B3 Ebo Taylor & Uhuru-Yenzu Victory 4:23
B4 Asasse Ase Ohiani Sua Efir 4:02
C1 Ebo Taylor Aba Yaa 15:01
C2 Ebo Taylor Ohye Atar Gyan 6:09
D1 Ebo Taylor & Uhuru-Yenzu Love And Death 8:23
D2 Ebo Taylor & The Pelikans Egya Edu 10:01
D3 Pat Thomas & Ebo Taylor Ene Nyame Nam ‘A’ Mensuro 6:20

Review by Thom Jurek

Ghanian composer, singer, guitarist, arranger, producer, and bandleader Ebo Taylor came to the attention of DJs in the U.K. and throughout Europe in the early part of the 21st century. His legend spread among hip-hop and dance music producers in the United States as well, resulting in a sample from his slamming track “Heaven” in Usher‘s hit “She Don’t Know“. The seminal Strut imprint issued Taylor’s first transglobal offering, Love & Death in 2010: it was a smash in club circles internationally. Strut has gone one better with Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980, compiling of Taylor’s solo work and that of bands he’s led, taken part in, or produced. The music here leans most heavily on Taylor’s solo albums. It kicks off, of course, with the infectious, groove-laden “Heaven“, but this isn’t the high point.

Tracks like the strangely beautiful “Peace on Earth” and the 15-minute uber-charged, Afro-Latin, jazz-funk orgy, “Aba Yaa” which open the first disc are arguably better. Disc one also features tracks by Taylor’s side projects, the Apagya Show Band, and Assase Ase, and closes with “Ene Nyame Nam a Mensuro“, a killer collaboration between Taylor and Pat Thomas, a fellow member of another band Taylor played in, the Blue Monks.

Disc two focuses on side projects with a few solo tracks thrown in, including the original version of “Love and Death” that clocks in at near eight-and-a-half minutes. There two more excellent, funky tracks by the Apagya Show Band, and “Yes Indeed“, a burning stepper by another of his short-lived outfits, Super Sounds Namba. Another highlight is a later production he did of Ghana’s legendary C.K. Mann Big Band‘s “Etuei” (Taylor played in the band in the formative years of his career).

The set is closed by the strange, tortured groove that haunts the dark and edgy “Egya Edu”, by Ebo Taylor & the Pelikans.

Soundway’s Miles Cleret‘s liner notes are characteristically exhaustive in research annotation and presentation. They provide not only a solid biographical portrait of Taylor, but a cultural one of his region and times, as well. The deluxe booklet in Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 includes loads of rare photos to boot, filling out the profile of a true world music legend. Fans of Love & Death will most certainly want this. We might now reasonably hope for proper reissues of Taylor‘s solo albums, as well.