Stay Focus

Miguel "Sizzla Kalonji" Collins may never regain the form he had in his breakthrough years of 1998-99, when everything he touched turned red, green, and gold. But he keeps making album after album, and though there's nothing as catchy as "Babylon Ah Listen" or "Praise Ye Jah" to be found on Stay Focus, he still has something to say: We must never give up/even in tough times/We must learn to live up/even in rough times. However, the album's title seems ironic, as Sizzla switches from off-key falsetto to gruff growl with schizophrenic zeal, apparently more in a rush to finish each track than concentrate on the subtle nuances (or utilize the slower tempos) that made his earlier material so inspirational.

But while Stay Focus won't go down in history as an especially classic Sizzla album, it does have a certain kind of unpredictable, manic energy -- like someone spiked the ganja brownies with espresso triple-shots. At its best, it offers up hyperkinetic, contemporary roots reggae that matches the intensity of current dance hall fare, with the Exterminator crew blending live instrumentation, computerized riddims, and dubby rinses to often sublime effect. Songs like "Psalm 8," "Sound the Trumpet," and "Jah Will Be Done" find the Rastaman riffing on familiar, Biblical-influenced themes; on "Don't" and "We're the Ones," Sizzla trods into social awareness territory, his footsteps as heavy as Robbie Shakespeare's bass lines. But "Original" veers way off the mark trying to hard to be unique, and when the Rasta firebrand mellows out and ventures into love songs, it's strictly fast-forward time. Yet Sizzla blazes more often than he simmers -- he hasn't forgotten that reggae is, first and foremost, message music.


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