Monday, May 28, 2018
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CD reviews: Wyclef Jean gives hip-hop an uplifting reggae flavor

Wyclef Jean's latest release showcases his continued artistic growth, combining musical influences and instrumentation from around the world over hip-hop beats, together with messages of peace, hope, and love.

The disc shows a heavy reggae influence. On the title track the rhythm and bass are reggae-styled, while on “You Say Keep it Gangsta,” a soulful and funky cut, he sings and raps about all the fake gangsters in hip-hop, reggae-style.

Wyclef continues to fuse sounds on tracks such as “Party Like I Party,” where he uses a smooth hip-hop drum track overlaid by bongos, acoustic guitar, sitar, rap, and reggae vocalizations. And it works! On “PJ's,” Wyclef goes for a '70s funk feel, and on “Peace God” he uses a Far East flute over a looped hip-hop drum track.

Wyclef's message throughout the disc is an uplifting one. He raps about the harshness of ghetto life, but he brings an unusual dignity to the subject, particularly on the remake of the Bob Dylan classic “Knockin' On Heaven's Door.”

He covers rock, soul, rap, and reggae with equal aplomb - sometimes on the same track - showing himself to be a uniquely gifted and versatile artist and one of hip-hop's true gems.


With musicians including Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, Dave Stewart, and Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson, Ferry reaches for tougher, guitar-based sound. And the disc opens with a surprisingly rock-influenced version of Bob Dylan's “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Mixing original songs and covers, the disc ranges wide. There are some retro references, a medieval song, and a version of “Goodnight Irene.” Ferry pulls all these together with ease, creating a disc that has style and vitality.


Anyone expecting the bracing, raise-your-ale-and-bellow pop of “Tubthumping,” Chumbawamba's 1997 hit, will be sorely disappointed. The band is relentlessly serious, trading any semblance of fun for a set that piles misery on top of misery. Sonically, the disc is beautiful as synths burble amid samples and mid-tempo melodies. Unfortunately, the lyrics are so Anglo-specific as to be obtuse to anyone but the most avid student of British politics and history.


War movies have long been the inspiration for great soundtracks, but these three do not reach the genre's high standard. Their collective blandness and droning musical narrative is the overriding theme. Yolanda Adams offers some crisp vocals on “The Sum of All Fears,” but it's not enough to overcome the schmaltz. “Windtalkers” suggests Horner is a talented composer working outside his element. “We Were Soldiers” has its moments of intrigue and flirts with passion, but overall there isn't enough there to elevate the disc beyond the ordinary.


Russell's gravelly and slightly melancholy voice and delivery are ideal for these songs. Backed by the Nashville Symphony and guest artists Edgar Winter (alto sax) Jim Price (trumpet), and Bruce Hornsby (piano), he provides multiple levels of emotion revealed in these songs of love. Jazz standards include “The Very Thought of You,” “Round Midnight,” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” You've heard them before, but Russell makes them new again and somehow you just don't want to stop listening to him tell the stories.


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