Artist: Various Artists
Label: IGrade Records
Time: 20 Tracks / 79 mins
The twenty tracks of this Caribbean roots reggae compilation are made up from four riddims (backing tracks), each with five different song versions. So your opinion of the value here might depend on whether you view this as a generous twenty-song collection, or a four-song EP with sixteen bonus tracks.
The "Harvest" Riddim is a gorgeous, summery piece of classic reggae. Jamaican Duane Stephenson kicks it off with the huge radio-friendly tune “Hard Times,” with horns filling in between his lines. Singjay Messenjah Selah’s version of the track features a stronger vocal that follows the horns themselves. He stirs his listeners to stop being wrapped up in their own lives, and instead deal with the problems around the world, such as AIDS, poverty, and homelessness. The other remarkable version is Arkaingelle’s infectious “Song of Praise."
The slightly darker "Discipline" and "Flying High" Riddims also feature up-front horns, but apart from some dubbier moments, these remind me as much of bands like the Specials as of authentic Caribbean reggae. Lutan Fyah’s eponymous track comes up with the most distinctive take on “Discipline,” along with Queen Omega’s rare female vocals on “Footsteps.” The most striking version of the other is Batch’s whingeing “We Want Reparation,” where he has a dig at half of the world.
The "Grasslands" Riddim rounds off the compilation with a more acoustic feel.
The front cover quotes a psalm, and songs name-check biblical verses, such as from Hebrews, but this is a Rasta compilation, not a Christian one. When praises are sung to a king, it is most likely to be Haile Selassie.
There’s no question that this is musically excellent and there is a fine selection of individual voices. It is listeners’ view of the lyrics and variety that will determine how highly they rate this.