After a 5-year hiatus, African Head Charge returns with a revamped and rejuvenated sound on Songs of Praise. The second I pushed "Play" for the first time with this album, it blew me away. The sound was so unique and entrancing, with its electric mix of ancient chants and modern rhythms, it simply floored me. Once I got up off the floor, I tried to explain to people what it sounds like, but to little effect. Imagine someone coming up to you, showing you the cover, and saying, "Yo man, 'Free Chant (Churchical Chant of the Iyabinghi)' is the jam!" Indeed, I'd imagine that there's not a big market for religious African chanting, but Songs of Praise is easily more accessible than African Head Charge's earlier albums, as it incorporates a tighter, more cohesive, more musical sound. Much more than just African drums or chants, these songs are alternately funky, catchy, and beautiful. "Free Chant" is the first song you hear on the album, its drums and vocals doling out a great solemn melody backed by an unexpected Western piano and guitar. Following it is "Orderliness, Godliness, Discipline and Dignity," a funky East Indian-esque chant peppered with digital blips. "Hold Some More" and "Healing Father" are similarly funky, with the former actually containing coherent lyrics! "Dervish Chant," My God," "Chant for the Spirits," and "God Is Great" are also quite enjoyable and fun in their own way. Songs of Praise, like African Head Charge's previous albums, is a diaspora of sound, incorporating the feel of African, East Indian, reggae, dub, and Native American music rolled into one (The jazz fusion sound is relatively absent.), but this album is more suited to a mainstream audience (not that it's terribly accessible still).
Not very many reggae albums acknowledge Alan Lomax in the credits. But then, African Head Charge (a band with a constantly changing membership led by percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah) doesn't really make typical reggae albums. Although the one-drop beat (provided on this album by Lincoln "Style" Scott) influences everything and the basslines have a typical tidal undertow, the stuff that Noah layers on top of the mix has more to do with ethnomusicology than the dancehall. The song titles say it all: "Cattle Herders Chant," a field recording of call-and-response chanting overlaid with Nyabinghi drums and highlife guitar; "My God," eerie, minor-key African-American church singing supported by a chugging reggae bassline, bare-bones drumming, and the sound of running water; "Deer Spirit Song," an unidentifiable indigenous song in 9/8 meter with a gently driving rockers beat and occasional sound effects thrown in. This is an exceptionally beautiful album, but in a deeply strange way.
-Rick Anderson (All Music Guide)