Ras Michael

A Weh Dem a Go Do Wit It

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The music of Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus has always been built on a different foundation from that of most reggae artists. Where reggae is essentially a slowed-down version of ska, which was itself an inside-out fusion of American R&B and various Jamaican folk music styles, Ras Michael's music takes the traditional nyahbinghi drumming of rural Jamaica as its basis, and adds reggae elements on top. At its best, the result is entrancing in an almost literal way. At its worst, it's long-winded and self-indulgent. There's some of each on this, Weh Dem A Go Do Wit It, Ras Michael's first new album in four years. The album opens with a minimalist, almost unaccompanied medley of traditional Rastafarian gospel songs: "Rastaman Chant," "Dry Bone," and "Jah Ark Is Movering." Those are followed by two straight nyahbinghi numbers: a lovely version of "Haile Selassies Is the Chapel," and a mediocre version of the old English hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful." The remainder of the program is more straight-ahead reggae, much of which consists of overlong two-chord riffs over which Ras Michael halfheartedly intones lyrics that sound like they may have been made up on the spot -- in any case, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that he put very little work or preparation into these songs. The exception is the very engaging title track, a sharp critique of short-sighted materialism. The dub versions are lackluster. Overall, this is an album that Ras Michael's many fans will welcome, but it may not be the best introduction to his often impressive art.

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