An uplifting and positively fun album from a pair of artists who are clearly meant to work together.
If the three volumes of Strut Records' Inspiration Information series released to date are any indication, the recently revitalized label has hit on a winning idea -- bringing "together current artists and producers with their musical heroes for a mouth-watering one-off collaboration recorded in an intense week-long studio session." Hyperbole aside, the results thus far have more than delivered on Strut's promise. Combined with a reissue series that has brought back gems like Lafayette Afro Rock Band's Darkest Light and the essential Afrobeat compilation Nigeria 70, the Inspiration Information discs show a label ready to capitalize on its second chance.
This second volume of the series pairs legendary reggae vocalist Horace Andy with UK-based producer Ashley Beedle. Beedle is somewhat of an underground legend -- he worked with the Black Science Orchestra in the 1990s and continues to receive steady acclaim for his remixing skills. Andy, on the other hand, needs no introduction... at least to anyone who has heard a Massive Attack album. And while his voice lends Massive Attack a considerable amount of its magic, Andy's legend goes much farther back than his work with that group in the 1990s and 2000s, a fact to which his 1977 reggae masterpiece In the Light surely attests.
One of the most amazing things about Andy's voice, besides its timbre and the tremendous amount of passion he conveys with it, is its malleability -- as his work with Massive Attack has proven, he can sing on top of any number of styles and totally own the song. Beedle appears to understand this all too well, as his backing tracks exploit Andy's strengths as a vocalist without resorting to obvious retreads of the work upon which Andy has built his fame. Taken as a whole, the duo's collaboration reaches a level that can only be achieved by two artists with similar senses of boundless versatility.
The album's 11 songs rarely stray from the reggae/electronic axis drawn by the duo's respective backgrounds, but the hybrid produces results far more infectious than a simple mash-up of two sympathetic styles. As proven almost immediately by the first two tracks ("When the Rain Falls" and "Watch Me"), Beedle's flair for wicked bass lines helps the transcendence in no small part, regardless of which side of that axis he's favoring. Andy's lyrical themes are the other key ingredient -- whether laying out the gastronomical tenets of Rastafarianism over a clubby backdrop on "Rasta Don't", or taking violent youths to task for not recognizing the value of education on "Seek It", the singer walks the fine line between didacticism and preachiness with as much finesse as ever.
The duo's only misstep occurs with their cover of the Rolling Stones' 1973 ballad, "Angie". Their upbeat Dancehall interpretation, while certainly original, saps the song of its emotional strength -- rather it sounds as if Beedle and Andy are trying too hard for a crossover hit. Without question, it's the only piece on the entire album that comes across as forced. It also lasts at least two minutes longer than necessary, causing a vortex near the album's center that spills tedium over into "The Light" and "2 Way Traffic", which surround it on each side.
Fortunately, Beedle and Andy bounce back strong for the album's three final songs, starting with simmering slow-burner "Babylon Don't Lose" and "Hot Hot Hot" -- "dedicated to all the conscious people of the Earth", it's also one of the album's hottest tracks (sorry). For the closing "Festival Song", Andy lets out some genuine enthusiasm for Beedle's work as the song begins, which makes me think I'm not the only one who would like to see these two collaborate again in the future. Because, in spite of its few shortcomings, Inspiration Information 2 is an uplifting and positively fun album from a pair of artists who are clearly meant to work together.