Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Augustus Pablo

  • The Great Pablo [Music Club, 2000] A-
  • East of the River Nile [Shanachie, 2002] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Great Pablo [Music Club, 2000]
There was always as much homemade ska charm as space-bass version esoterica in Horace Swaby's primitive dub, which used a toy instrument to evoke a mysterious East that was big in Japan even though it never ventured far beyond his mind's Nile. More than Ocho's The Melodica King or Mango's Classic Rockers, this early-'70s mix-and-match strikes the right balance of tuneful and tricky, as serene as a six-year-old dabbling in the sand with his right hand as he holds tight to his mother's skirt with the left. A-

East of the River Nile [Shanachie, 2002]
I always thought Pablo's great album was King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, also due for enhanced reissue, but that was just his great dub album, because unlike most frequenters of the void that separates all notes, he also had a gift for whistling in the dark. Generally he pursued this pastime on his faithful melodica, but as someone who learned his trade sneaking into the school chapel to doodle on organ, he sometimes found a keyboard more melodic. Where his early hits were catchy novelties, by 1978 he was a natural mystic, and his first all-instrumental album sounds it. A strange, simplistic mood-music masterwork--calming, childish, and inexplicable. A

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1980s]: Before either route was more than a gleam in the zeitgeist's eye, the world's greatest melodica player set up house at the corner of "world music," with its vaguely folkie-futuristic aura, and "world-beat," a term favored by rockers dancing their way to the next big thing. By the middle '80s he was the greatest of all new-age musicians even though the new-age market didn't know he existed. It's entirely conceivable he'll prove reggae's most enduring artist a century from now, but I often feel he's a little beyond me, which I don't necessarily mean as a compliment, and would no more try to parse his oeuvre than I would, oh, Steve Reich's. When I'm in the mood for mood music, I think about him sometimes, only to put on Another Green World or something. King Tubby's Meets Rockers Uptown, which in 1976 made dub possible as a (highly specialized, I insist) subgenre, has the mark of greatness upon it. Also in my A shelves are 1980's Original Rockers (bracingly abrasive), 1987's Rockers Comes East (poppishly upbeat), and 1986's Rebel Rock Reggae (simply sui generis).