Garnet Silk|Buju Banton 

Reggae Anthology: Music Is the Rod|Buju & Friends

When Garnet Silk passed in 1994, reggae lost one of its most inspirational artists ever, a singer-songwriter of such conviction and "kingly character" that comparisons with Bob Marley -- if not Jesus Christ -- seemed inevitable and obvious. Silk, a child prodigy who began as a deejay named Bimbo before becoming a singer, seemed poised to be the one to further Marley's legacy into a dancehall context. He was, as the saying goes, a natural mystic, as evidenced plainly on "Splashing Dashing" -- one of the best songs about nature ever penned in any genre -- whose lyrics captures the majesty of the sea, and its relentless, turbulent emotions. Never still, you seem to be sometimes angry, sometimes sad, he sang in a deceptively powerful vibrato.

Unfortunately, Silk never got the chance to fully develop into the type of artist he appeared destined to be, as his Reggae Anthology shows. Standout songs like "Mama Africa," "Zion in a Vision," and "Every Knee Shall Bow" still resonate with fervent spirituality, yet time and time again, his inimitable voice is sabotaged by subpar recordings or constrained by the limits of dancehall's riddim-driven format, making this two-disc set difficult to recommend to anyone but diehard reggae fans.

But while Silk's tragic death cut short his career, his music lit a roots revivalist flame whose torch has since been carried by Buju Banton. The two cross paths on Buju & Friends' "Complaint" (which also appears, sans Buju, on Music Is the Rod), a masterful reworking of the "Tempo" riddim. They should be thankful, our life's supposed to shine, Silk laments, while Buju's gruff baritone makes for an effective contrast. The other eighteen songs on Friends show why Buju is dancehall's collaboration champion. In addition to several outstanding duets with Wayne Wonder and Beres Hammond, he has made classic material with Terry Ganzie & Tony Rebel, Nadine Sutherland, Ed Robinson, Beres Hammond, Fat Joe, and Morgan Heritage, all of whom appear here. Versatile enough to brag about his "Wicked Dickie" or discourse on "Tribal War," Buju has done his part to keep roots reggae alive in a hi-tech age. Somewhere up in Zion, Silk is smiling down on him.

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