Lives The Flame
Serpent Wisdom
Format: Cassette

By Paul Moffett

If anybody tells you that worldbeat hasn't come to Louisville, just give them this cassette. Provided you're willing to part with it, that is.

You'll also do them the pleasure of introducing them to one of the most, if not the most, original voices now singing in the area. Jak Son Renfro's voice is immediately recognizable and might even qualify as one of a kind.

Fans of Serpent Wisdom, a.k.a. Snakeheads, will find many of their favorites, although in shortened versions, on this cassette, which was recorded at Allen-Martin studios in Jeffersontown, Ky. Noticeably absent, however, is "Soft White Underbelly."

Serpent Wisdom, which may or may not exist any longer as a band, is/was composed of Renfro, vocalist; Ken Lucchese, guitar; and Musa Uthman, percussion. Writing credits for the songs go to Renfro and Lucchese. The group's live performances are/were noted for extended, percussion-driven versions of their songs. With but a single guitarist, melodic variation depends on Renfro's singing and Lucchese's ability to get more than just chord blasts out of his twelve-string.

In the studio, this problem was less noticeable, as the songs were recorded in shortened versions to fit the recording format and, not doubt, the available funds. As a result, the songs are noticeably strengthened.

Lucchese's guitar work is very solid, but it would have been better to have had an occasional lead instrument. Uthman's drumming is also very professional, with occasional interesting inventions.

Side One opens with "Babylon," one of the anthem tunes of the group, in which the singer asserts that there is no escape from Babylon, where Babylon is the grand metaphor for evil in the world as represented by Western Civilization. Vocally, the song turns on the pun of "babble on" and "Babylon."

"Unapartheid (It Will Be)" is the requisite condemnation of the evils of apartheid. As it often happens in this work, the musical structure is more interesting and generally superior to the lyrics. Together, however, it can and does move the listener.

"I Walk the Land" is mostly Rastafarian-influenced commentary. This tune didn't really stand out as much as the others.

Side Two begins on a pleasant little love song, "Island." There then follows "One God," which argues that all deities are but manifestation of one supreme deity, hardly an original idea. Personally, I'm not prepared to equate Hailie Selassie with the Buddha, but that may just be a personal bias, unfounded in spiritual reality.

The album closes with "Spirit (Where It Matters)," which might very well be the finest tune on the album. The song has become a staple of open-stage jam sessions among an increasing number of musicians. The lyrics are to the point:

It' ain't in where you where born,

that don't matter,

It ain't in your skin tone,

that don't matter.

It ain't in your natty dreads,

or in your bonewhite bald head,

but in your spirit

where it matters.

That's a sentiment that's hard to argue with.

Lives the Flame is available at:

Kente International, Inc.

1954 Bonnycastle Ave.

Louisville, KY 40205