Gregory Isaacs

Greatest & Latest

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It seems perverse to be scathing about a live album wherein the audience is so obviously enjoying itself, but there you have it. Perhaps it just all worked better in person, but on album, the 1997-1998 tour was a horror show, and Gregory Isaacs had no one to blame but himself.

Obviously influenced by the hyperspeed rhythms storming out of the Jamaican dancehalls, the singer chose to drastically pick up his own pace. This may have worked if he'd transformed his early hits laden set via new modern arrangements, but he didn't. Thus the excellent backing Hit Squad band is forced to take gorgeous mid-tempo numbers and race through them, and even on songs not sailing by at hurricane force, there's still an underlying impatience to them all.

And so sumptuous songs disintegrate, the opening "My Number One" stunningly so, "Rumours" is an absolute abortion, but still Isaacs forces the band to hustle along. One is left to wonder in dismay what his hurry is, for the band are desperately trying to slow things down, with the singer forever a half beat ahead of them.

Perhaps Isaacs figures the faster he goes, the less fans will notice the dismal state of his vocals - Cool Ruler no more, more like the Raspy King. Which goes some way to explaining why only "Raggamuffin" sounds half decent. And just to rub in the sheer futility of it all, four new studio tracks are appended, taken from Isaacs' Kingston 14 Denham Town, which only further highlights the god-awfulness of the live material. However, as a plug for that new studio album, it works a charm.

Amazingly, Greatest recorded at two Canadian shows that November, is actually better than the Live at the Maritime Hall album released this same year. But that's not a recommendation either.

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