Various Artists

Rhythm #89: Silent River

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It's rare that a one-rhythm dancehall album will yield anything very musically surprising: usually the music is relatively predictable and the interest comes from listening to how much variety the various invited singers and toasters are able to bring to a single backing track. But in this case the rhythm itself is surprising and so are one or two of the contributions on the program. "Silent River" starts out sounding portentous -- it builds slowly in intensity while the percussion part keeps hinting that it might explode into something dramatically drum'n'bassy. But instead, the mood hovers tantalizingly in a slowly lurching reggaeton mode, with big soft synthesizer washes that are punctuated by sharp electronic percussion. The strangeness of the rhythm stimulates several of the invited singers and deejays into some very fine performances: Mavado's "Dem a Pree" upholds his generally high standard, while DeMarco brings an excellent roots-and-consciousness anthem on "God Nah Sleep" and Christopher Martin plays the suave loverman on "Style and Swagga." Most interesting is Elephant Man, whose buffoonish persona has always disguised one of the most impressive dancehall talents of his generation -- notice how expertly he toys with the rhythm on the excellent "That Yu Fi Run." (Whereas Assassin seems simply to be ignoring the rhythm on the pedestrian "Inna Mi Room.") There's a bit too much Autotune propping up Busy Signal's "Money Wi Sey" and Mr. Vegas sounds unpleasantly shrill on "Blahdas," but overall this set is a solid winner.

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