"Live in San Francisco"
Luciano, the one-named reggae star once known as Jepther McClymont, became a huge star in his native Jamaica in the '90s when he countered the contemporary trend in sex-and-guns lyrics by returning to the positive spiritual messages associated with Bob Marley. But just as important as the content of his songs was their sound. Luciano had a knack for weaving the classic reggae lope and the leaner groove of the '90s with irresistible pop hooks. Often those hooks were lifted from other songs, but instead of merely sampling the songs, Luciano rewrote them and rerecorded the music tracks.
There are several examples on his new release, "Live in San Francisco." "Sweet Sweet" opens with the melody of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" tootled by Dean Fraser on his alto sax before Luciano launches into a song praising all the Africans who survived the slave trade. "He Is My Friend" borrows its jaunty riff from the Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof." "Good God" is built around the refrain from Paul McCartney's "Let 'Em In," but in this case it's a heavenly messenger who's knocking at the door.
These last two numbers are joined by four others from Luciano's most famous album, 1995's "Where There Is Life." The other six numbers include a version of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It" and of Luciano's gorgeous gospel hymn "Have Faith." "Live in San Francisco" comes in a DVD box with a visually perfunctory video disc of a recent California concert and an audio disc of the same performances. It's a good introduction to Luciano, for he is in good voice and backed by Fraser's superb band.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Saturday at Crossroads. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Luciano, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8129. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)