Nani Eh' Winin', She Gone and Sleep...
Ebony Steelband's more than somewhat pompously titled Best of Caribbean Steeldrums, originally released as Red Stripe Ebony Steelband - Best of Steeldrums in 1991 and 1995, was re-released by Arc Music earlier in 2005.
The recording quality is perfectly reasonable if nothing special, although the mix certainly gives the (rhythmic) percussion quite undue prominence if you want to be pedantic. No, nothing major to complain about here. It is the performance itself however that gives grave cause for concern. It should first of all though be pointed out that this recording was made with an absolutely minimal ensemble so the credit of "Ebony Steelband" is something of a misnomer for a start, surely.
As for the performance, oh dear! What can you say? Baron's Somebody certainly fails to make you "want somebody to jump up" with, you'd really rather not bother. Admittedly, it is almost impossible not to think of the mighty Renegades' inspired and spirited Panorama-winning performance of Somebody and Jit Samaroo's absolutely fabulous arrangement, or the mighty Despers' (Desperadoes) performance of the same tune. You really could not possibly expect those kind of standards from any non-Trinidadian panside, to be reasonable. All the same, you would expect something at least a bit more spirited than Ebony Steelband's half-hearted and lacklustre version.
When we come to Crazy's Nani Wine, woe is me! "Dis Nani eh' winin', she gone and sleep" would be more like it. Certainly, the lithe dancer that Crazy had on stage with him for his original performances during the (I think) 1990 season would have slumped over and lost all her snake-oil and snored like a hog! (Boy could that chick wine! Eh!) Even the smallest, lowliest panside from some village out in the sticks of Trinidad would have given this a performance with infinitely more "oomph" than Ebony Steelband. Sorry.
Rootsman's Wild Goose Chase fares little better and might almost be re-titled "Lame Duck Chase". Tambu's lively Roadmarch-winner (if my memory doesn't utterly fail me) Free Up likewise fails to make you want to jump up (dance) and free up. The feeling of Ebony Steelband's version of this is more like, "yeah ok, let's get this over and done with if we must, I'd really rather go have a nap". Sorry, no, this really fails to impress. And at over eleven minutes it even gets tedious. Any of Trinidad's pansides could keep Free Up going for easily half an hour and still keep the crowds happy and jumping up.
Not satisfied with all this, Ebony Steelband somehow feel compelled to include some real old chestnuts in the form of Island in the Sun and Yellow Bird.
If you don't hear much steel pan music at all or have never heard "the genuine article", that is, one of Trinidad and Tobago's Premier League or First Division steelbands, you may well think Ebony Steelband's Best of Caribbean Steelbands is a pretty decent recording and enjoy it. Otherwise, you may find that this is a good antidote to insomnia. That is, if it does not raise your pulse by annoying you through giving a pretty poor impression of what good steel pan really is. You have to admire the nerve of both the band (if indeed they had any say in the matter - probably not) and the label though, to re-issue this album.
Despite all that has been said here, Ebony Steelband's Best of Caribbean Steelbands at least plumps up the very sparse catalogue of British steel pan recordings a little.
It is very sad indeed that this review could not have been more positive. I have heard Ebony Steelband (by Trinidad standards, a small-to-medium sized band) playing on the road at the Notting Hill Carnival, and I have to point out here that really, they are nothing like as bad as this recording might make them seem. In fact, for a British steelband, they are really quite good. Hey, you wouldn't expect Despers, now would you?
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