TOASTING IS the Jamaican reggae form of rapping, and one of the best toasting albums ever was last year's "Two Sides of Charlie Chaplin," which featured Chaplin (a k a Richard Bennett) improvising rhymes over a live band inside a professional studio with a host of friends to lend a party atmosphere. It worked so well that Chaplin repeated the formula for his new album, "Take Two."
In contrast to the usual Jamaican "dancehall" record, with its programmed drums and synths, "Take Two" boasts the humanized groove of the Roots Radics, one of Jamaica's best reggae bands. Chaplin is able to take good advantage of the situation, for he can sing as well as he can toast, and he quotes snatches of well-known songs (like "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") between his original toasts. In his thick patois, Chaplin toasts and sings about Rastafarianism, the ongoing party around him and the primacy of his toasting. As the beer-drinking crowd in the studio cheers him on and shouts back his chants, the ambiance resembles an especially festive go-go concert.
The Roots Radics have their own new album, "Forward Ever, Backwards Never," a more traditional reggae album in the Bob Marley style. Drummer Style Scott and bassist Flabba Holt now rival the legendary team of Sly & Robbie as Jamaica's foremost groovemakers, and guitarists Dwight Pinkney and Bingy Bunny write and sing songs that recall Marley's pop-soul melodies and prophet-like lyrics. The band handles political anthems and romantic pleas equally well; stand-out cuts include Pinkney's lustful boast, "Strong Like a Lion," and the biblical metaphor of Bunny's "Long Road."