by: Jarret Lovell
Barrington Levy - Acoustical Levy - (Tafari Records)
Perhaps one of the most popular performers in reggae today, there’s little that this mega-star cannot do. Starting his career as a reggae vocalist in 1977 when he was just 13 years old, he became one of the most accomplished reggae singers. Period. While other performers were one-hit wonders or could not transcend the singular sound of a particular genre or generation, Levy owes his longevity not only to his amazing vocal talents – but to his ability to adapt to the times. Over his career he has recorded ballads, he has lent his talents to hip-hop artists, he has worked with mixers and remixers. All the while, he has avoided the trappings of other performers who felt the need to incorporate themes of sex and violence into the lyrics. Now, Levy offers his fans something new – which is really something old: stripped down, acoustic versions of his best songs. Gimmicky? Perhaps. But not when you have one of the best and most unique voices in reggae. Here, it is his vocals that really shine through, with beautiful arrangements guiding the songs. One listen and it becomes clear why his songs remain classics. Plus, there’s two new songs in this collection: “Life is Great” ft. Patrice (#2) and “Times Hard” (#10). The greatness of this artist and collection cannot be understated. This is simply a beautiful compilation.
Alpha Blondy - Positive Energy - (Imports)
Another reggae superstar, Alpha Blondy hails from the Ivory Coast (Africa) and infuses politics into his bi-lingual recordings. Here, Alpha Bondy is in good company, with help from Injahman Levi and Tarrus Riley, among others. Tracks #1, #2, and #4 are sung in English, the remaining in French. “Rainbow in the Sky” (#1) is straight-up reggae, and has a great vibe. “No Brain, No Headache” (#4) has a rock guitar riff driving the song. “Ingratitude” (#10) has great horns and background vocals that make up Alpha Blondy’s signature sound. One can really never go wrong with Alpha Blondy. So pick a track and enjoy. Good for world music shows, too.
Melbourne Ska Orchestra - S/T - (Imports)
While ska has had several waves of popularity over the years (the early 1980s with bands such as Madness, the Specials, and the English Beat; and the early 1990s with the Mighty Mighty Boss Tones and No Doubt – when they were playing ska), its origins are much older, dating back to the 1950s. According to jamaicanmusic.com, ska was a precursor to Jamaican rock steady. Specifically, ska “combined musical element of Caribbean Mento and Calypso with a bit of American Jazz and also Rhythm and Blues.” While the musical styles from the Caribbean continued to evolve, ska became popular in its own right and influenced bands around the world. All of this brings us to Australia and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. The history of the band can be traced to “a world-record attempt to have the largest number of horn players on stage at the same time playing the ska-skank.” (band bio) While no one knows if a world record had actually been broken, the coming together of so many talents led to the formation of the Ska Orchestra, and we are all better for it. This collection of 15 songs is fun, with a ska version of the “Get Smart” TV show theme starting off this great collection. Any track will do, so check out this great band… excuse me, ORCHESTRA!