Music

Luciano: Jah Words

Mark Harris

Luciano is on a mission. Come join him, won't you?"


Luciano

Jah Words

Label: Sanctuary
US Release Date: 2005-04-16
UK Release Date: 2005-04-25
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

While the hyper-kinetic, computerized dancehall sound and in-your-face street personas of DJs like Elephant Man and Sean Paul have dominated the public image of reggae for the past two decades, a kinder and gentler sound has been quietly gaining momentum. Since the mid-'90s, traditional roots reggae -- the hiccup-rhythmed tropical sound made famous worldwide by Bob Marley (indeed, the sound that most people think of when they think of reggae) -- has resurfaced as a viable commodity in Jamaican music. And one of -- if not the -- driving forces behind this resurgence is Luciano.

He is perhaps the most universally revered, iconic figure to emerge in reggae over the past decade, and if you want to know why, just give Jah Words a listen. Luciano's voice oozes a serenity and righteousness beyond his 30-something years, but not at the cost of his passion or charisma. With his contemplative nature and contagious smile, he combines the austerity of a religious leader with the approachability of a drinking buddy.

This versatility is reflected in his music, which wafts between cultural, pious roots messages, crooning love songs, and even the occasional dancehall diversion. Fans know what to expect from Luciano -- they've eaten up this sound on some 20 albums since his 1994 debut -- and this one delivers no deviations from the script. What it lacks in originality, though, Jah Words makes up for in sheer quality. From top to bottom the tracks score, with only the most minor of missteps (such as, why is "Angel" basically the exact same as "Angel Heart"?).

The leadoff tune, "Are You With Me", establishes Luciano as a musical missionary, making clear that there's no room for half-heartedness from those accompanying him:

"People, are you with me or are you against me? /
Or do you shut the door in my face? /
Don't you know I'm here to uplift the human race? /
Come along and take your place."

"Many Things" furthers the conceit, calling on listeners to "Revolt against all evil / So our conscience may be free, / And fight if we have to, / To achieve our liberties."

Later, "Foot Soljah" shows the more humble side of the leader as he struggles "trying to overstand this thing called life". It's a moving testament to his servitude to Jah that could very well serve as Luciano's theme song.

"Perfect Love" and "Angel Heart" meanwhile present the other end of the love spectrum, as he professes his romantic feelings in a pair of dreamy lovers' rock cuts. The more edgy roots jams "Cry for Justice" and "Jah Words" prove that Luciano's no softy, though, while dancehall fans should get a kick out of the spirited, digital sound of "Why Should I" and "Look Deep Within". Even the risky remake of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (commissioned for the 2004 Bob Dylan reggae tribute album Is It Rolling Bob?) has a certain charm, despite covering a song that flirts with the type of overexposure that has blunted some of Marley's works.

When Luciano's career ends decades down the line, several of these songs could easily be remembered among Luciano's all-time best. If you're already a Luciano fan or are just looking for an introduction to what makes him so popular, Jah Words is hard to beat.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image