Picks and Pans Review: Unity
The youth movement in reggae, spearheaded by the likes of Ziggy Marley and Andrew Tosh, is slowly gathering steam, and here come two more aspirants showing signs of upward mobility. The Jamaican-born Donovan Francis takes the conventional route by playing reggae close to the vest on World Power (Mango), with only minor modern flourishes such as drum programming. His tack is to play it safe but self-assured and hold the listener with an emotional depth that could make pioneers of the genre Bob Marley and Peter Tosh proud. Francis tackles world problems—the dangers of nuclear proliferation and economic inequities, for instance—but doesn't neglect a smaller concern such as romantic trouble (on Lover's Quarrel). It doesn't hurt him that he enlisted reggae veterans Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare as his rhythm section either. Shinehead, who hails from Kingston, Jamaica, and the South Bronx, is something of a Young Turk. Unity (Elektra) ventures further from the beaten path with Shinehead's rap-generated approach, and in the process he reveals stimulating possibilities. Snippets of Sam Cooke (on Chain Gang-Rap) and the Beatles (Unity) are used for inspiration and break up some of the melodic tedium of rap. It might just be posture for publicity's sake, but Shinehead takes an antidrug stand ("I'm real cool, I chill to the max/I might act crazy, but I don't smoke crack") and calls for a newer low-key rap order ("As for all the violence and negative hype/I want to kill that stereotype"). Credit the guy for also singing Golden Touch, a pretty ballad, with a crooner's panache. Take your pick of these two solid debuts or buy them both. Either way, the future of reggae takes on a glow like a Montego Bay sunset.
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