THE season for a Jamaican holiday is fast approaching. If you're in the mood but can't raise the air fare, a couple of new reggae albums just might pass as a cheap substitute. Herewith a sampling:
TAXI CONNECTION --
"Live in London" (Mango MLPS 98004). It's live all right, and boisterous too. Reggae's premier rhythm masters Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare supply the motion, crooner Ini Kamoze the soul. Vocalists Half Pint and Yellowman add to the fun, but the real joy comes in hearing Sly and Robbie collaborate with a brash horn section, especially on Yellowman's "Calypso Reggae."
SLY & ROBBIE --
"Rhythm Killers" (Island-7 90585-1). A vast improvement over some of the duo's recent studio recordings, the sound here is far more punchy and elastic. The accent is still on electronic rhythms, but the mood is vibrantly expansive, ranging from a rap treatment of "Yes We Can Can" to the lavish "Bank Job." Bootsy Collins provides liquid guitar lines, jazz saxophonist Henry Threadgill jumps in every now and then, and DST keeps his turntable burning.
"Up Till Now" (RAS 3026). An overview of the band's career, this collection includes material from 1980 to the present. The sextet's use of synthesizers and electronic drums undermines some of their efforts, but if the textures aren't always appealing, the rhythms and harmonies are. Moreover, just when you think the band too often sacrifices the lyrics to keep the groove going -- the repetitive "I'm trying" is typical -- along comes a song as memorable and as pointed as "Peter Botha." Set to a nursery-rhyme melody, it's a story of a South African child grappling with the realities of apartheid.
BLACK UHURU --
"Positive" (RAS 3025). The cast is familiar, with Dunbar and Shakespeare joining the trio along with guitarist Chinna Smith and others. And the songs address the usual issues -- Jah, love, freedom and poverty. The latter, in particular, is poignantly expressed in two of Junior Reid's finest (and most tortured) lyrics, "Dry Weather House" and "Pain." Occasionally missing, though, is the sheer tunefulness the band has displayed in the past.
PETER BROGGS --
"Cease the War" (RAS 3022). One of the more socially conscious and compelling songwriters in Jamaica, Broggs doesn't downplay the influence American blues artists have had on his music. Instead, he emphasizes it. With the help of some of the Wailers, guitarist Andy Bassford and harmonica man Charlie Sayles, Broggs combines root rhythms with a bluesy insistence on this release. He really shines brightest, though, as a singer and lyricist who knows how to get his point across in the title tune and "Freedom for the People."
"Mass Out" (RAS 3023). Sly and Robbie are on hand here, so the rhythmic pulse is assured. And even without them, Pinchers' sharply clipped phrasing would provide more than enough impetus to dance. But fair warning: this young singer's staccato style and thick accent will take some getting used to. The standout "Turn Over," however, is every bit as intelligible as it is infectious.
INNER CIRCLE --
"One Way" (RAS 3030). Since Jacob Miller's death in 1980, not much has been heard from his band Inner Circle. Here the group bounces back with a collection of bright and tuneful dance tracks capped by the airy but soulful voice of new recruit Carlton Coffie. "Front and Center," already a hit in Jamaica, is a rhythmically bouyant call to arms, while "Champion" is a Rastafarian reworking of "We Are the Champions."
FRANKIE PAUL --
"Warning" (RAS 3027). Again it's the Riddim Twins (Sly and Robbie) who keep the music in constant undulation, inspiring Paul's handsome vocals. Often compared with Dennis Brown, Paul has obvious pop instincts -- a streak of romanticism runs through his music. Yet, his best songs are far more colorful and idiosyncratic than what you generally find on the pop charts today, especially his craziest cut of all, "She's a Maniac."
DON CARLOS --
"Deeply Concerned (RAS 3029). Arguably the best singer of the bunch and a former member of Black Uhuru, Carlos isn't nearly as well known here as he should be. "Cool Johnny Cool" is rooted in American street life, and like a lot of what Carlos sings, the tale has a tough cautionary moral. His best song, though, is the title track, a melodic yet forceful commitment to the anti-apartheid struggle. Also not to be missed is the dub version of "Ruff We Ruff."