Luciano is little more than a voice-for-hire on his new album, "Jah Words." The one-named Jamaican singer, formerly known as Jepther McClymont, was one of the brightest lights on the late-'90s reggae scene, not only for his willingness to embrace socially conscious songs in an era of sex-and-guns lyrics but also for his ability to grace roots-reggae grooves with pop hooks and lustrous baritone vocals.
On his new CD, however, all the songs but one were written by producers Ian Clough and Calvini Bakker, engineer Kent Bryan or mixer Ricky Myrie. This team created most of the music on programmed synths and drum machines and then brought in the ostensible star to record the vocals.
The approach might have worked had the songwriting and arrangements not been so riddled with cliches. But the lyrics are full of hackneyed phrases such as "My angel heart, you make my dreams come true" on "Angel Heart" and "Youths of today, don't let the system get you down; put a smile on your face, plant your feet on solid ground" on the title track. The music is no better; the rhythms are monotonously mechanical, and the harmonies are thin and predictable.
The disc's anomalous track, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," has been recycled from last year's CD "Is It Rolling, Bob? A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan." Not only is the songwriting vastly superior to anything else on "Jah Words," but the production (by Doctor Dread) is fuller and livelier, allowing Luciano to prove how well he can still sing, given half a chance.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Saturday at H2O.