The title of Maxi Priest's new album is "CombiNation," presumably a reference to both the themes of unity that have characterized his lyrics and the variety of music genres he uses to enliven his reggae lite. "CombiNation" draws on traditional reggae as well as reggae dancehall, hip-hop, R&B, acid jazz and new jack swing.
All these genres are put to the service of Priest's mission to uplift your soul and be your unctuous Mr. Loverman. The problem is that it's all so overproduced and overprocessed, slick to a fault. Listening to this album is like being dipped in a vat of perfumed Mazola oil.
All but two of the 16 tracks concern romance or the appeal of women's bodies in "iceberg tights." And while "What a Woman Needs" asserts that Priest knows what females are looking for in a partner, "Mary's Got a Baby" suggests maybe he's not so sure. A collaboration with dancehall star Beenie Man, "Mary's Got a Baby" takes a playful look at the roles played by the "baby mother" and "baby father."
"Lord I wish that sweet, sweet Mary could be my cherie/ But my Mary's got a baby and it's not for me," Priest sings, and even the always-engaging Beenie Man doesn't help much (women, he suggests, "jump pon we like ants").
Maybe it's time for Priest, who performs at the 9:30 club tonight, to move out of the boudoir. The album's strongest songs are the inspirational "We Tomorrow's People," recorded with acid-jazz ensemble Incognito, and the Blackstreet-styled "Try," which exalts education rather than Priest's bedroom skills.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8154.)
Steel Pulse, which also appears at 9:30 tonight, has immodestly titled its new album "Living Legacy." Recorded in Paris, Amsterdam and San Juan, this is essentially a greatest-hits, live collection that includes such longtime concert staples as "Bodyguard" and "Ku Klux Klan."
"Living Legacy" underscores both the strengths and weaknesses of Birmingham, England's, most famous reggae act. Steel Pulse tours with a crackerjack nine-piece band. But many of songwriter David Hind's songs suffer from sound-the-sameness, and, like Priest, Steel Pulse can be too smooth for its own good. Still, there's no denying the power of songs like "Ku Klux Klan," which hasn't lost any of its urgency.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8155.)
CAPTION: As the title of his new CD, "CombiNation," suggests, Maxi Priest mixes various musical genres, including dancehall, hip-hop, jazz and R&B. This time, though, the result is a bit too smooth. Priest performs tonight at the 9:30 club.