20th Century Steel Band: Warm Heart, Cold Steel (Mr Bongo)

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20th Century Steel Band: Heaven and Hell
20th Century Steel Band: Warm Heart, Cold Steel (Mr Bongo)

The fate of this reissue by a mid Seventies steel band from the UK (in disco-funk outfits) is probably going to be on one of those summertime radio programmes where wild'n'crazy hosts play odd versions of big hits. And this group can certainly oblige because here are steel band treatments of the theme to Shaft, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, a dramatically brooding spoken-word version of Standing in the Shadows of Love and a party-down Land of a Thousand Dances.

All good fun -- and there are certainly tracks here (notably the cute Bonnie-and-Clyde-inna-poolside bar Lazy Days, the familiar Loues Theme and Dance Away) which sound like they have been beamed in from a band in some chintzy hotel forecourt in the touristy Caribbean.

With vocals and percussion alongside the steel pans, this is enjoyable stuff. 

But the key track here -- in the original five minute version and the 3.30 single edit -- is Heaven and Hell which has (I believe) been sampled by J.Lo, Black Eyed Peas and LL Cool J among others. It is pure Afro-funk soul with a period-piece falsetto by mainman Michael Olivier, distant pans and chant-like backing vocals, with a mesmerising and rolling beat. At times it suggests Dr John's smoke-filled voodoo-funk, at others a nyabinghi chant with a bit of Motown soul over the top.

Heaven and Hell is a killer cut and if the rest of the album only provides the soundtrack to a barbecue or those wacky-guy radio shows, it is worth the price of admission to hear this peculiar classic.

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