REGGAE MUSIC is both sacred and profane: On the one hand, it suggests the harmony and rhythms appropriate to man's place in Jah's creation. On the other, it makes for delightfully direct dance music. Some performers, Bob Marley for example, have managed to capture both aspects in the same songs. But it's more common by far to find reggae artists emphasizing either one side or the other.
Winston Rodney, better known as Burning Spear, keeps his songs focused on the spiritual. That may put off listeners without much interest in Jah Rastafari. But Rodney's gift for churning up deeply hypnotic rhythms keeps the material on "Resistance," his new album, from becoming buried under arcane references and indecipherable patois.
Even if you have little sense of what Rodney is singing about, his delivery digs deep enough into the groove to make the actual meaning of his songs seem secondary to the emotion that he invests in them. As a result, it's not hard for untutored listeners to feed off the pure energy of the music regardless of their understanding of the words.
Aswad, in contrast, takes an approach that's more consistent with pop tastes here in the U.S.A. In fact, the greatest strength of "Rebel Souls," the group's latest release, is the way in which it co-opts the conventions of American chart consciousness. From the righteous rethink of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me" to the Police- styled skank of "54-46 (That's My Number)," Aswad seems closer to the ultimate reggae-pop fusion than any Jamaican group in recent memory.
BURNING SPEAR -- "Resistance" (Heart Beat HB33);
ASWAD -- "Rebel Souls" (Mango MLPS 9780); both appearing Friday at the Warner Theater at 8 p.m.