This is a unique and record. It combines two forms of music, reggae and country, that don’t generally get mixed together. Co-producer John Rich, of country act BC and Rich, worked with musicians from Nashville and Jamaica to record 13 reggae covers of country songs. While this is not the first time that reggae artists have revisited country hits, the two genres aren’t mixed together all that often. That’s not to say they don’t have something in common: both country and reggae are music forms largely associated with one geographic area (the American South and Jamaica); both genres are music for made largely by the rural poor; and both genres are stamped by unique vocal delivery, be it Jamaican patois or country twang. The question is, will the results be like peanut butter and chocolate or like vinegar and milk?
Things get started off with Romain Virgo and Larry Gatlin’s duet on a remake of the Gatlin Brothers’ “California.” The production is a mix of tastefully subdued country and tastefully subdued reggae. There are slide guitars from Nashville pros, there is the reggae one-drop lilt, and reggae legend Sly Dunbar’s drums hold it all together, but it is all done with restraint. Except for the guitar notes on the upbeat, you wouldn’t classify this as reggae.
Other songs are more pronounced in their Jamaican influence. One of the better tracks here is L.U.S.T.S.’s cover of the Statler Brothers sixties hit “Flowers on the Wall,” which I know from the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack. It’s a great song, and the Jamaican singers play up the incongruity of a group of young Jamaicans singing a song written by a bunch of white guys. Freddie McGregor’s cover of Roger Millers “King of the Road” also plays with the novelty of a reggae artist singing a country song, and McGregor makes it work. Busy Signal’s version of Kenny Rogers’ seventies hit “The Gambler” plays it straight, with Busy Signal’s Auto-Tuned vocals finding the resignation in the song about a professional gambler.
Both reggae and country love a good sappy love song, and there are plenty on this album. Luciano’s take of Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go” is one of the better tracks on the disc. Luciano has a gorgeous voice, and he makes this song of seduction sound like it was meant to be a reggae song. Richie Stephens also does a convincing version of Claude King’s “Wolverton Mountain,” and Beres Hammond nails George Jones’ tearjerker “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Not all of the songs are successful. Etana’s stab at the Patsy Cline classic “Crazy” sounds like a easy listening version, as does Tessanne Chin’s take on Crystal Gale’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Duane Stephenson sounds totally out of his element on Eddie Rabbit’s “Suspicions,” although he gives it his best. Part of the problem is in the production. The glossy Nashville sheen kills much of the passion and rawness that makes for strong reggae, and the reggae elements too often lose out to the Nashville ones. Being that I am not a fan of contemporary country, that was a problem for me.
On the tracks where the singer manages to claim the material for his or her own, “Reggae’s Gone Country” is the musical equivalent of salt and chocolate, two things that shouldn’t work together but do. I wasn’t always in love with the production style, and there were definitely tracks that didn’t work for me, but at the very least, “Reggae’s Gone Country” is an interesting listen.