When Third World first formed in 1973, the five Jamaican musicians soon hit on a formula of filtering the roots-reggae sound of their mentor Bob Marley through the pop-funk sound of Maze, the Gap Band and Kool & the Gang. This made Third World a presence on the U.S. R&B charts from the late '70s through the early '90s, even if its crossover arrangements won the group few friends among critics. Some of Jamaica's current hitmakers grew up on Third World, and three -- Beres Hammond, Wayne Marshall and Blue Fox -- pay tributes to their heroes by singing on the new Third World album, "Black*Gold*Green."
The title track, co-written by founding members Cat Coore and Richie Daley and sung by longtime lead vocalist Rugs Clark, describes the Jamaican flag. Unfortunately, the patriotic platitudes are as predictable as the synth samples and halfhearted grooves. The six other originals are marked by similar sentiments about universal brotherhood and romantic loyalty and by similar retro-funk arrangements.
Hammond contributed a comparable song of his own, "Love in the Air," but it's fun to hear him trade lines with Clark in their warm, soulful voices. Dancehall newcomer Marshall pushes the beat effectively on the party anthem "Touch the Road" but falls flat on the political slogans of "Writings on the Wall." Clark and Blue Fox re-create the Ashford & Simpson duet on "Solid" over a recycled Third World groove. But the attempt to remake Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" as a reggae number flops because all the danger has been squeezed out.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Sunday at the Crossroads.