There are weird musical combinations, and then there are the downright freaky. Jamaican reggae superstar Luciano falls into the latter category. While his music may not have penetrated all that far into the international market, he's put out over 20 records and in the process acquired a solid reputation for doing his own thing. Tell It From The Heart
takes one more step down this road with a bolus of inviting, user-friendly soul jams.
Here's the mix. Take roots reggae and blend it in equal parts with Stevie Wonder, not over-stirring. Of course that's an oversimplification, but it works as well as any to describe this R&B/Motown collision with island music. It's something like rocksteady, if you're familiar with that particular flavor.
The striking feature of Tell It From The Heart is that the music makes absolutely no compromises on any level. The Rastafarian message comes through loud and clear in the form of spiritually and socially aware lyrics. "Another Moses" provides some of the most dramatic examples of a devotion to the higher power, most insistently its human form in the body of the prophet:
Wicked Babylon is just like wicked Pharoah
Who won't let my people go...
And now the time is at hand
When we shall get our redemption...
Jah has given his word to me and you
And so I know
Jah has given us another Moses
To redeem I and I from captive
Jah has given us another Joshua
To take I across the river...
Of course, when it comes in the form of swaying, honey-sweet vocals that extend held notes far beyond their nominal lifespan, the seriousness of Luciano's lyrics is camouflaged within inviting warmth. The embedded message always been an essential feature of reggae, and Luciano does not stray at all from this tradition.
"Ends of Never" builds upon the four-part harmonies of doo-wop unearthed and celebrated in the Motor City by the likes of Marvin Gayeand Stevie himself, of course. Extended legato lines, tremulous and constantly embellished, couch an uplifting message.
The slow-paced "Bombs" uses an ultra-minimalist reggae foundation to support paced, drawn-out vocals and an offbeat harmonized chorus. By this point, midway through the record, it's clear what's behind Luciano's particular style. Sure, he throws Motown wholeheartedly into the mix, but that's not the point per se. At its roots, the American Motown sound draws heavily from the African American gospel tradition. The warmth, revelation, and down-to-earth features of this spiritual music make a surprisingly effective partner for a host of identical qualities in reggae (and its corollary, Rastafarianism).
Luciano takes it all home.
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Personnel: Luciano and other uncredited musicians.