"HOLD ON To Love," the 11th and latest album by Third World, is a slick and ultimately shallow synthesis of Jamaican and American music. With its muted rhythms and light soul tunes by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it's reggae gone pop -- an album geared more to the radio charts than the dance floor.
Philly soulmeisters Gamble and Huff have worked previously with this quintet. Of the five songs they've produced for this album, most are tuneful and accessible, equipped with lightly inspirational lyrics like "The Spirit Lives" (as in Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey). Gamble and Huff even offer some advice on hygiene and etiquette on "Manners": "Brush your teeth before you go to bed/When in the house take that hat off your head."
Granted, not every song is quite so trite. On "Corruption," the album's best dance track, Gamble and Huff compile a laundry list of social ills (though eventually they return to another string of platitudes in the final two verses). The remaining songs by Third World are just as disposable, performed with an emotional restraint that makes reggae seem a dull import at best.
By contrast Jamaican deejay Yellowman gives the music a distinctly colorful personality on his new album, "Yellow Like Cheese." Poet, rapper, social commentator, self promoter, showman -- Yellowman has been poorly recorded in the past, but this time around he's backed by Jamaica's premiere rhythm team, drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare. The beat is as thick as Yellowman's accent, pushing songs like the album's title track into one long, sensual groove.
THIRD WORLD -- "Hold On To Love" (Columbia FC40400).
YELLOWMAN -- "Yellow Like Cheese" (RAS 3019). Both appearing Sunday at DAR Constitution Hall.