Richie Spice - Together We Stand
After the brief invocation "Blessings" Spice begins the album in earnest with the title track, "Together We Stand," a hopeful plea for unity that channels Marvin Gaye as filtered through Jimmy Cliff. The joyous reggae lilt of "Di Dub Dance" is as bright as a sunny Saturday morning and perfect for a quick dance around the kitchen or wherever you may be starting the day. Spice shows appreciation for all that's around him on "Beautiful Life," a catchy uplifter where he shares vocals with Kathryn Aria who is currently the lead singer for Canadian band Highgate Road. Also guesting is Chronixx who sings on "Unity We Need" and Dre Island who joins on "Murderer" where the effects include simulated police sirens. Lots of songs here carry a message of social change, something Jamaican artists and Rastafarians have spoken out about for a long time, and American ears will hear sentiments that are very timely with the state of the nation right now. But positivity comes in other ways here too, as in the ganga-positive "I Use the Herbs" where saucy saxophone parts augment the melody. Spice wrote everything here and he continues to display incredible talent with this set of extremely soulful old school reggae songs with hints of hip-hop, tasteful dub effects, and plenty of his trademark honeyed vocals.
Clay G - Forged in Fyah
Dallas-based Clay G begins this album with a bright reggae bounce and a positive message of unity in "God Army," a cut featuring guests Tony B and Peetah Morgan of Morgan Heritage. It's a fun one to sing-along to and one of Clay's metaphors for unity is "we all dance to the same beat;" indeed it is hard to keep still when "God Army" plays. "No Idiot" has a rhythm perfect for skanking, "2 Palm Trees" is an airy ode to enjoying a sunny beach day with a lover and "Reggae State of Mind" is a roots-rock-reggae high time that nicely sums up the overall vibe of this impressive set.
Jah Sun - Magic & Madness
Jah Sun has toned down the rap aspect of his vocal presentation here, resulting in a smoother, more melodic sound than heard on his previous albums. Always with a positive message, the California-based singer begins the album with "Hold a Vibe," an advisement to humanity to chill out, to take a breath and appreciate the universal good. The very gentle melody and beat of "Wasted Time" has the same vibe as the big Johnny Nash hit "I Can See Clearly Now," although a little more subdued in delivery, while "Sunshine" is a bright love song augmented with a sexy saxophone solo. While sublime vocal work set to old school reggae melody is the hallmark here, "Tomorrow" and "Law of Attraction," both of which already feature elements of dub, are presented in very cool, full-blown dub versions to end the album.
Dre Island - Now I Rise
Long a fixture as a producer, songwriter and session musician in Jamaica, Dre Island finally pops with his debut album. The vocal style and arrangement of opening cut "Kingdom" often reminds of the way The Police interpreted reggae, "Now I Rise" is part Marley and part modern toasting and "We Pray" is a mellow groove featuring guest singer Popcaan. A perky synth beat introduces "My City," a cut about loving Jamaican capital Kingston even through its grit and trouble. Soulful moments abound in this set, including on "Run to Me" (with Alandon), the relaxed R&B of "Favorite Girl" and with the quiet longing that is "Calling." Clearly crafted to put Dre Island on the charts beyond the reggae list, Now I Rise will easily live up to its title.
Lila Ike - The ExPerience
Hailing from the hills of Jamaica, Ike relocated to Kingston where she made fast friends with "reggae revival" artists like Jah9 and Protoje, and she has sung on numerous cuts by Protoje and others. With an extremely soulful voice, Ike brings a shiver with cuts like "Solitude," a slinky R&B/pop/reggae groove, the dub-by pop/reggae of "Stars Align" and the old-school reggae seduction of "I Spy." With talent galore and the power of major label RCA behind her on this seven-song debut Ike is likely to build a massive fan base quickly.
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