It’s hard to resist an album with a title like “Covers for Reggae Lovers,” but in truth the title was a little misleading. As I first cracked open this album from the famous VP Records imprint, I was under the impression that reggae stars from this century would be covering famous reggae songs from the last century. In other words, “reggae lovers” would be pleased to hear new interpretations of the classics by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, so on and so forth. As it turns out the “covers” in question aren’t of reggae classics, and the artists BEING covered aren’t known as reggae artists, but the end result is still easily recognizable as music reggae lovers will appreciate.
Clearly further explanation is required. Take the second track “Ribbon in the Sky” for example – if the title sounds familiar to you it probably should. Stevie Wonder reached #54 on the pop charts and #10 on the R&B charts with the song back in 1982. While no artist ever would or could hope to outsing the great soul legend’s original version, that hasn’t stopped the song from being frequently covered in R&B by everyone from Boyz II Men to Intro. The revelation of Jamelody’s take isn’t that the crooner compares favorably to Wonder – if he didn’t it would be insulting to try. What’s special about the song is the Caribbean take on the melody, as arranged by Bobby ‘Digital’ Dixon for Digital B productions. The song is transformed from a standard of rhythm and blues into a swinging reggae groove, floating in the air to your ear like the breeze through swaying palm trees. Wonder surely never imagined this interpretation of the song, but one can’t help but think he’d love it.
The success of the “Covers” on this album owes a great debt to that ability to translate chart-topping hits into cool island tunes, but it takes the right combination of song and cover singer to really make it special. While there aren’t any truly horrible covers to be found here, there are clearly a few that rise above and stand out as compared to the rest. I never considered myself a fan of Kenny Rogers in the past, but Luciano’s version of “Through the Years” may make me reconsider that stance. To date my favorite thing about Foreigner had been their samples in the M.O.P. song “Cold as Ice,” but I have no doubt I’ll be listening to the reggae version of “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by One Third again and again. Even songs from this century find their way into coverage, as John Legend’s “Ordinary People” is taken on by Lee Vinchee and he proves to be up to the challenge.
In conclusion, I think VP Records has hit upon a fine idea here, and though it wasn’t what I was expecting at all I’m pleased (though not overwhelmed) by the results. I’d still like to see them do an album for “Reggae Lovers” with REGGAE covers though, hopefully using many of the talented artists found on this compilation – Jamelody and Luciano in particular. Perhaps a few of the better known modern day reggae artists like Beenie Man, Sean Paul and Lady Saw could join the project as well. As like as Lee Francis, Sly Dunbar, Bobby Digital and others are providing the melodies I’m sure it will be a success. For lovers of pop and R&B, these “covers” will be right up their alley. For lovers of reggae, these “covers” will be an unexpected but mostly pleasant revelation.