THERE ARE many practitioners of lovers' rock who can croon with cool assurance, but few who convey the soulful sincerity of Sugar Minott. Although his singing is done in a breathy baritone, there's an innocence to his delivery that recalls the quiet power of Clarence Carter combined with the sweet resonance of the Stylistics' Russell Thompkins. That's precisely what you'd expect of "How Could I Let You Get Away?" or "It Is True?," reggae love songs flavored with Philly soul and delightfully typical of Minott's general output.
Oddly enough, though, those two songs are exceptions on "Slice of the Cake," Minott's latest American album. Not that his vocal style has changed, mind you, for he still sings with the same gentle elegance as before. On much of this album, though, he directs that voice to issues more urgent than love. The title tune, for instance, addresses the injustices faced by cheaply exploited labor, while "No Vacancy" examines the way straight Jamaican society shuns the Rastas and others who don't conform to local norms.
Although he's clearly intent on making his points stick, Minott doesn't belabor these songs with lyrical dialectic or political sloganeering. Instead, he applies the easy access formula of lovers' rock to his new messages, and ends up with an album that's as listenable as it is enlightening. SUGAR MINOTT -- "Slice of the Cake" (Heartbeat HB 24); appearing Friday and Sunday at 9 at Kilimanjaro's Heritage Hall.