As the web has let nations see more of how their culture interacts with the rest of the world, there has been a noticeable trend among certain Jamaican dancehall artists to turn back to the foundation. Some would say this is a natural part of reggae music; a younger generation enjoying the rhythms of its parents isn’t new. However, lately, artists have become actively concerned that classical reggae needs support lest it die out on the island and remain a frozen foreign revivalist pastime divorced from its context.
Outspoken Dancehall singer Mr. Vegas is one such artist. He started both a petition to Save Foundation Reggae and, like Capleton and Busy Signal, planned his own one drop reggae album: in honour of Independence with producer Mikey Bennett. Yet Vegas’ dancehall hits – irrepressible as he – have a habit of taking on a life of their own (I Am Blessed brought him out of retirement in 2008) so a second set was incorporated into the release carrying said big tunes.
Now, the early Reggae and Rocksteady covers and do-overs on disc one were never going to be recorded in vintage purist pleasing fashion. Mr Vegas’ stated intention was to make the foundation relevant in the dancehall so everything is recorded in his customary day-glo, beverage in the air, Vegas style. Heavily-produced by Bennett at his Grafton studio these backings have a real groove courtesy of Steely and Clevie, Kirk Bennett and members of C-Sharp band. The overall vibe is a joyous parade through some of the best songs and rhythms ever written. There are slick but infectious renditions of Jimmy London’s remake of Eddie Arnold’s A Little Love, Alton’s cover of Brenda Holloway’s You Made Me So Very Happy, and Hopeton Lewis’ pioneering rocksteady Take It Easy. There’s Sweet and Dandy by Toots – whose revivalist style Vegas has carried into the dancehall – and even Paul McCartney’s Jamaica tribute Obla-di Obla da (fittingly, a phrase coined by “2 Tone” percussionist Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor). Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It is recast as the bittersweet Times Ruff; Desmond Dekker’s Israelites becomes the fragrantly, flagrantly herbal Give Me A Light. The title track assembles Josey Wales and Shaggy on the Lecturer rhythm, while spiritual closer Above The Water skanks to D Brown’s Some Like It Hot.
The dancehall disc is more of a recent hits package. We hear the aerobic Bruk It Dung, as well as humorous disses in the anti-metrosexual Certain Law and the anti-bleaching Black and Proud. There are a few newer tracks, however, including a swinging live version of I Am Blessed. Just as dancehall fans can enjoy the sounds of yesteryear, dancehall sceptics who enjoyed the first half can find a good “way in” here.
At the heart of it all is Vegas‘ voice, tart yet sweet, citrusy and clean, hitting the stress points of the uptempo numbers and taking ownership of the old standards. Does Reggae need saving? Who knows? But there’s surely value for money in this “play upstairs and downstairs at a party” double disc.
Mr. Vegas – Sweet Jamaica
2CD / DIGITAL RELEASE [MV Music]
Release date: 5/29/2012
01. A Little Love (That’s All I Want From You)
02. You’ve Made Me So Very Happy
03. Alive & Well feat. Luciano
04. Things Ruff
05. Sweet Jamaica feat. Shaggy & Josey Wales
06. Gimme A Light
07. Take It Easy
08. Roses In My Garden
09. Magical feat. Nadine Sutherland
10. Whenever You’re Lonely
11. Can’t Stop (Love You More Everyday) feat. Jovi Rockwell
12. Say Yuh Bad (Johnny You Too Bad)
13. Sweet And Dandy
14. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
15. Above The Water
01. Beautiful Life
02. Champagn Rose
03. Certain Law
04. Let The Music Play
05. Bruk It Down
06. Dancehall Queen
07. Party Tun Up
08. Whine For Me Baby feat. Patrice Robert
09. Call Me
10. Something About You
11. Talk Is Cheap
12. Black & Proud
13. Honey Girl
14. Get Ready (Hmmm)
15. God On My Side
16. I Am Blessed (Live)
Featured artists: Shaggy, Josey Wales, Luciano, Gyptian
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