Serious Times

Born a simple country boy in rural Jamaica, Jepther McClymont, aka Luciano, has become the premier roots singer of his generation. As one of the few top-shelf artists to hold firm to the traditional reggae sound in a dancehall-dominated scene, he has earned the conscious mantle once worn by Jacob Miller and Dennis Brown. Yet Luciano's highly consistent track record is even more of an accomplishment -- unlike the classic Jamaican Rasta singers of yore, he has had to carry the heavy load of Jah's message with far less peer support than did his predecessors.

By now, ten years after his breakthrough release Where There Is Life, you know what to expect: a mix of roots, dancehall, folk, country, and gospel, all delivered with his appealing voice and unflappable spirit. Serious Time doesn't deviate from that equation, but though it's perhaps a tad predictable, the album still compares favorably with the singer's best work.

Commandeering the riddim behind Tanya Stephens' recent hit "It's a Pity," Luciano comes up with a better song, pound for pound, with the single "Stay Away." Eschewing Stephens' scandalous talk, he pleads for Jah children to avoid war and strife, backed by a triumphant horn section. Elsewhere, what could've been a generic-sounding cover of the folk-rock classic "Echoes of My Mind" becomes a brilliant highlight that transcends the reggae genre without falling into the pop crossover muck. Other tracks hammer home roots themes ("Free Up the Weed"), encourage spirituality ("Just Talk to God"), or put the Rasta worldview in a global context ("Serious Times Serious Measures"). The album occasionally gets overly mellow -- there are about two ballads too many -- but Luciano's ability to inspire far outweighs any other consideration.


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