CD Reviews: Reggae – the authentic, the new, and the flamenco-flavored

Latin reggae with a salsa tinge; Augustus Pablo's trance-inducing tunes; edgy, synthesized dance-hall grooves from British label Greensleeves; and more.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

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    The Mystical World of Augustus Pablo
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    Spring Sampler '08
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    Putamayo presents: Latin Reggae
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LATIN REGGAE: Various artists (Putumayo)

You might expect from this title a disc of high-tech, hip-hop flavored, quasi-reggae (e.g., reggaeton), but the Spanish tinge distinguishing this suave compilation is more unfamiliar. Here's chiefly a collection of Iberian bands deviating from classic 1970s Jamaican reggae by having Spanish lyrics, but more crucially, highlighting salsa or jazz-flavored brass colors. Perky and piquant trumpet and trombone solos season tunes by Radio Malanga, Los Cafres, and Ticklah. This sunny sampler of diverse bands rooted in salsa and flamenco and Bob Marley makes reggae appealing to a new generation with pan-cultural proclivities.

SPRING SAMPLER '08: Various artists (Greensleeves)

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One popular myth about reggae is that it peaked musically in the '70s, then swiftly descended into stagnant decadence as a consequence of a Jamaican dance-hall scene dominated by computer-generated beats and psychopath-generated lyrics. This 12-tune sampler of 2008 releases from the venerable British reggae label "Greensleeves" shatters that myth. Not only do edgy, synthesized dance-hall grooves reveal reggae's founding contribution to the best of current rap and electronica, but Queen Ifrica offers perhaps the most scathing portrayal of incest in the history of popular music. By the way, Greensleeves was recently sold, alas, so don't anticipate future samplers.

REGGAE GOLD 2008: Various artists (VP Records)

Forget the crassly sexist cover photo and the throwaway "bonus" disk of remixes. See it as another worthy compendium of cutting-edge reggae. Some of the more talented of Bob Marley's seemingly endless offspring (Damian and Stephen) prove they're radio-friendly, even if not as charismatic as their daddy. Richie Spice is as lushly romantic an island crooner as one might wish for. And Fanton Mojah sounds inspired by the biblical book of Jeremiah as he tunefully laments the vulgar materialism the CD packaging glamorizes.

THE MYSTIC WORLD OF AUGUSTUS PABLO: THE ROCKERS STORY: Augustus Pablo (Shanachie)

Cheap plastic musical instruments hardly seem serious – yet Pablo (whose career spanned the '70s through the '90s) was the visionary virtuoso of the melodica, a breath-controlled plastic keyboard. This four-CD, one-DVD box of his hypnotic instrumentals, plus his productions of angelic vocalists like Hugh Mundell, might seem excessive for all but lovers of quasi-accordion sounds interwoven with taut rhythmic grooves crafted by ace studio musicians. Yet it's a fitting banquet for fans of otherworldly, trance-inducing, minor-mode, reggae tunes, splendid for spiritual meditation as much as for skanky dancing.

REAL AUTHENTIC REGGAE VOLUME ONE: COMPILED BY DAVID RODIGAN: Various artists (BBE)

Rodigan is an extremely knowledgeable British DJ for the BBC who knows reggae backward and forward. Mainly backward ... to the '70s, before drum machines and rapping transmuted the style. So he's a kind of fundamentalist or neocon when it comes to compiling what he considers "authentic." Nevertheless, he cherrypicks big hitmakers like Dennis Brown and places them in attractive juxtaposition with talented obscurities like Ernest Wilson and Suzanne Couch. Twenty tasteful, medium-tempo tunes marked by strong vocalists. Authentic? Real? Settle for "spirited."

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