Duane Stephenson

From August Town

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The violent and senseless death of South African reggae star Lucky Dubé in late 2007 was not only a horrible tragedy for his family and friends; it also left a hole in the reggae firmament where once there had been a soaringly beautiful voice with a perfect (if rather repetitious) sense of pop hooks. Duane Stephenson doesn't fill that hole perfectly, nor would listeners want him to, but his singing does provide some of the same cathartic rush that Dubé's did, and on his solo debut (his first album since leaving his post as lead singer for To-Isis) he brings a variety of stylistic influences to bear on what amounts to a really rather unique take on modern roots reggae. His debt to Dubé is most clearly evident on "Misty Morning," "August Town," and the lovely "Heaven Will Rise Up." But on "Ghetto Pain" and several other tracks, the combination of rockish guitars and reggae rhythms makes for a fresh sound, and every once in a while he departs from reggae entirely, as on the explicitly soul-derived "Exhale" and the R&B exercise "I Don't Need Your Love" (neither of which is that great, frankly). There are a few other clunkers, including the plodding rockers exercise "Love inna di City," which neither Anthony B. nor Mystic Routes is able to energize. But the nice thing about a program this lengthy is that only about half of it needs to be great in order for it to offer good value for the money -- and more than half of this disc is great.

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