The Congos / Sun Araw / M. Geddes Gengras, Icon Give Thank

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 11.29.12 in Reviews
An irresistible reggae collaboration

After six installments of Johnny Cash’s American series and well-received late-career efforts by Mavis Staples and Jimmy Cliff, there’s very little novel about a weathered pioneer musician teaming up with a younger admirer in the hopes of lending a bit of the old fog-and-polish to their artistic reputation. The results are, broadly speaking, similar: a restrained, tasteful facsimile of the artist’s best work, prim as a pressed suit and comforting as a cup of afternoon tea. Which is what makes the thoroughly batshit, opium-gobbling collaboration between reggae legends The Congos and the Austin musician Sun Araw so irresistible. Rather than focusing on the sound of their legendary Heart of the Congos, Araw set about to recreate the mood: murky, mysterious, vaguely occult and more than a little spooky. Like Heart, the songs still center around glassy-eyed, endlessly-repeated choruses, but on Icon Give Thanks they’re distended and wobbly, strange voices drifting eerily through some narcotic hallucination. And though it can’t rightly be called a resurrection – it’s stranger and spookier than anything the band did in their prime – Icon Give Thanks undeniably feels like the work of the undead, coming back for a final haunting.