No pain, no gain
First, the good news: Kings Bell, by St Croix reggae outfit Midnite, features impeccable production, with strong bass lines and lively percussion, nicely accented by keyboards and guitars. The musicianship, though not flashy, is never less than competent, while Vaughn Benjamin’s vocals contain just the right amount of gravelly world-weariness.
The bad news is that few of these sixteen tunes stand out from their brethren. Benjamin’s vocals, delivered in a rapid-fire string of rhymes over the instrumentals, touch on important topics: social justice, global poverty, arms dealers. But the sheer amount of verbiage threatens to sink these songs, and they soon start sounding interchangeable. This is exacerbated by the lack of instrumental solos or bridges within songs to lend any variety in their structure. Virtually every tune is played at the same middling tempo, with the same bed of instrumental supporting sounds. “The Quickening” is a rare exception, one that builds tension through layers of percussion.
It’s best not to think of this as a collection of sixteen songs, but rather as one long song that goes on for over an hour. if you enjoy the first couple tracks, take heart, because the rest of the album is virtually indistinguishable from them.