Various Artists

Back to the Island: Reggae From Martha's Vineyard

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Here's what makes this album a little bit hard to take: Reggae is a music that emerged from a crucible of dire poverty, political violence, and racial oppression; it's a weird hodgepodge of disparate musical influences that came about primarily as a result of Jamaican youth taking local folk and calypso styles and combining them with the R&B they heard on clear nights coming over the airwaves from New Orleans and Miami. Now granted, Martha's Vineyard is an island, too. But there is tremendous irony in the juxtaposition (made explicit by the geographic double entendre of the album's title) of the Vineyard with Yard, given that the former is a longstanding bastion of white bohemian privilege every bit as rarefied as the white-shoe enclaves of the American mainland. Now, as for the music itself: There are some great moments on this album -- the Itals roll and skank effortlessly through "I Know a Place," Entrain gets nicely Police-y with "One Earth," and there's a very nice appearance by the gruff-but-genial Toots Hibbert. But there are also a few really embarrassing ones. There was probably no way to stop Carly Simon from trying to cover Bob Marley, but someone should have tried (she's saved, just barely, by Sly & Robbie and a great horn section), and David Mallett's "The Garden Song" sounds like Peter, Paul & Mary, only more earnest. But really, this isn't so much a reggae album as it is a Martha's Vineyard album, designed for baby boomers with memories of Camelot for whom the island itself has a totemic significance. And as such, it's not bad.

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