Picks and Pans Review: The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra

updated 03/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra

No, you won't find "I Shot the Sheriff in A-Minor" on this odd concept album. There are, however, offbeat orchestral versions of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moodier" and "As Time Goes By," although only the latter works in its revamped reggae form. Former Steel Pulse co-founder Mykaell Riley organized the 15-member RPO, with violins, cellos and violas providing the melody lines while a persistent drum-and-bass track propels the 10 songs. Riley's arrangements cover a lot of ground; they can be airy and hypnotic or punchy, accentuated expressions. It's nice, too, to hear a song like "Scrounger" and to be reminded of that fine ska-reggae band, the defunct English Beat. Riley and RPO can also lapse into a monotony that's unrelieved by the novelty of piling stringed instruments on top of basic reggae tempos. (Electric Light Orchestra tried a similar approach in the '70s, and Jeff Lynne sold gobs of records—but try to name a tune they played.) Any classical music critic reviewing RPO might gag on his chardonnay. The musically adventurous who just go with the beat and the idea will find Riley's concoction easier to swallow. (Mango/Island)

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