Some musicians are just meant to connect, no matter how long it takes for the results to hit a record store. This particular meeting of the minds starts back in late 1972, when the Rolling Stones hopped a plane for an extended layover in Kingston, Jamaica a fitting locale to simmer down and ease into the sessions for Goats Head Soup at Byron Lee s laid-back Dynamic Sounds Studio. As guitarist Keith Richards would jokingly recall later, it seemed the island was one of the few places north of the equator where the band s raunchy rockstar status didn t cause a stir. A stone s throw from the birthplaces of Burning Spear, Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey, the village of Steer Town overlooks the white sands of Ocho Rios, and lies at the virtual nexus of reggae music s popular roots. It also happens to be the home turf of a gifted singer named Justin Hinds, who cut his teeth with producer Duke Reid in the early 60s with the ska hit Carry Go Bring Come. Hinds and his vocal group, the Dominoes, exerted a profound influence on a young Bob Marley so much so that in a chance encounter years later, Marley was moved to leap from behind the steering wheel of his BMW so he could share his gratitude with Hinds personally. In 1972, Hinds was 30 years old a year older than Richards, but still a young dread with his perennially youthful good looks. He d just split from Reid and was between recording projects, so he spent a lot of time up in Steer Town, drumming and chanting with the local Rasta elders. Meanwhile, down on the beach at Mammee Bay, Richards had met a few of Hinds neighbors, and was invited up the road to sit in on a real live Nyabinghi grounation (celebration) circle. He was hooked immediately. Eventually the drums were brought down to Richards house in Ocho Rios, and over the next 20 years or so, whenever he was in Jamaica (and sometimes when he wasn t), a core group of drummers and singers, including Hinds, would come over to his house to play. A full-length album was in the cards, and one day in 1995, the planets aligned when Richards, in the middle of an all-night jam, got a knock at his door. Friend and engineer Rob Fraboni, who had worked with the Stones on Goats Head Soup, happened to have a few days free with a mobile recording truck, and he liked what he heard. He set up three microphones in the front room of the house, and within a week the raw tracks for what would become the first Wingless Angels album were committed to tape. As Richards saw it, the name he d chosen for the group was apt: each member sang and played as if possessed by a higher power, but they were all right here, walking the earth. Of course, many rivers have been crossed since Wingless Angels debuted in 1997 on Richards Mindless imprint, through a deal with Chris Blackwell and Island Records. Original group member Vincent Jackie Ellis passed on just before the album was released. In 2005, Justin Hinds succumbed to lung cancer, and within months of Hinds, drummer Locksley Whitlock died. The story might have ended there had Richards not already had the foresight to roll tape the year before Hinds death, this time with a slightly more professional studio setup. It s been a long time coming, but this second chapter of Wingless Angels is a fitting tribute to Hinds and his brethren. By turns sacramental and bluesy, elegiac and uplifting, extra dry and heavy, the songs here burn with the unwavering flame of rightful conviction that fuels all Rasta beliefs.
Keith Richards is revisiting another decades-old project, releasing new music with the Wingless Angels. Wingless Angels II, an album of Rastafarian spirituals, is the group's first release in 13 years. <P> Richards began playing with Jamaican singer Justin Hinds in the early 1970s, when he visited KingstonTogether with Hinds, a celebrated ska and rocksteady musician, Richards jammed with neighbours, local fishermen and divers, exploring Rasta chants, Nyabinghi drumming and the country's devotional traditions. Although amateur recordings of the sessions began in 1972, formal studio production didn't happen until 1995, when a friend of Richards arrived at his Ochio Rios home in a mobile recording truck. The first Wingless Angels album was released in 1997, on Richards's own Mindless label. <P> Hinds, former leader of ska group the Dominoes, died in 2005. "He [was] a diamond," Richards said. "When you hear his voice, you just get a nice warm glow. He was always incredibly attuned to what was going on around him, and he would calm other brothers down if they were getting too jumpy, or stop a fight from going on if he had to." But Hinds was also a remarkable singer. And in the year before he died, Richards had once again been recording their collaborations, preparing for a possible release. <P> Now, those tapes will see the light of day. "It was very organic"Richards explained. "Justin would just say, 'OK, let's take up a beat', and he would start chanting, with the drums going. We'd start in the afternoon and go 'til 11 or 12 o'clock at night."; Nothing was planned, Richards said. "You can't get artsy with the tracks or anything. It is what it is. I realised early on that this was the way I wanted to record this band. They've got to feel free just to do it, and that's it." <P> The result is a world away from the Stones' blues rock. "[Wingless Angels] play deliberately at just slightly under heart rate," Richards said. "The drumming goes deeper than your bones. It's marrow music." --guardian.co.uk - Monday 7 June 2010
The drumming and singing of Jamaica's Nyabinghi ceremonies, part of reggae's roots, can sound like gospel hymns en route to Africa. <P> Keith Richards found a Nyabinghi group including Justin Hinds, a ska hit-maker in the 1960's, and recorded it to sound even more otherworldly, adding Irish pennywhistle and his own guitar: not ethnomusicology but a fond, romanticized homage.- Jon Pareles --New York Times - January 14, 1998
It shouldn't be a surprise to hear the sounds of Caribbean nightlife on a record produced by Keith Richards. But when those sounds are made by crickets and tree frogs, something strange is at work. In the case of Wingless Angels, Keith's recording of a Rastafarian Nyabinghi drum group, it's a prelude to some of the most beautifully organic music ever waxed. This isn't a star's attempt to appropriate roots music. It feels more like a campfire documentary. Richards plays on the record, and he brought along a few friends. Wingless Angels mostly bases itself in quietly sensuous rhythms and sinuous vocal harmonies. <P> Parts of it sound so ancient it's easy to imagine they originated in Africa. Other parts are unmistakably the roots of today's reggae. Songs like "On Mount Zion I" and "Rasta Army" are buoyed by abundant mysticism. Richards and his friends join in mostly to make sure the spirit translates to our ears. To me, it sounds as if for Keith, songs such as "Roll Jordan Roll" and "Rivers of Babylon" are as close as he gets to prayer. --Playboy - 1997