Gregory Isaacs

Mr. Isaacs

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The Cool Ruler is not known primarily as a cultural roots singer. Instead, his bread and butter has always been a particular brand of seductive lover's rock, always delivered at languid tempos in a reedy, not-particularly-attractive voice. So the largely political content of Mr. Isaacs, while not unprecedented, was still something of a departure from the norm when it was originally released in the '70s on the Jamaican Cash & Carry label. It succeeds for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the rock-solid playing of the Revolutionaries. But Gregory deserves credit for understanding that trenchant political statements are sometimes most effective when delivered with the least amount of drama. The lines "I was given as a sacrifice/To build a black man's hell and a white man's paradise" are all the more biting when sung in Gregory's cool, lilting tenor-lesser interpreters would have clenched up and emoted; he lets the words speak for themselves and offers a vocal counterpoint instead of hammering the message home. "Story Book Children" is sweet and wistful; "Handcuff," like "Sacrifice," simmers with quiet outrage. And there are a couple of love songs, too, just so you don't forget you're listening to the Lonely Lover. Excellent.

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