"Throw Down Your Arms"

Rocket Science

"Throw Down Your Arms," a collection of reggae cover tunes, answers the question: How did Sinead O'Connor spend her short-lived "retirement"? -- or at least part of it. The Irish singer recorded the album at Kingston, Jamaica's Tuff Gong studios, collaborating with prolific riddim masters Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, who produced the session, and a cast of seasoned players.

O'Connor is no stranger to reggae. She has embraced the music in the past, and in 1992, when she notoriously ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on "Saturday Night Live," she did so after performing Bob Marley's "War." She reprises that song here, along with tunes written by Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear (including "Marcus Garvey" and the haunting, nearly a cappella opener "Jah Nuh Dead"), Peter Tosh ("Downpressor Man") and Lee Perry ("Vampire"), among other artists.

The good news is that O'Connor never sounds as if she's out of her element, idly indulging a whim. The spiritual and political themes clearly inspire her interpretations, and though the elastic pairing of Sly & Robbie is reason enough to keep listening, O'Connor's unmistakable voice often rings with passion and conviction. (Perry's "Curly Locks," a tale of forbidden adolescent love, is a sultry exception.)

Still, most of these performances are so faithfully rendered, as if designed to draw attention to the original recordings, that only devoted O'Connor fans will view this collection as essential listening.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Tuesday at the 9:30 club.