Nasio Fontaine

Rise Up

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Reggae is not where one normally turns for innovation and originality. Notice the song titles on this Nasio Fontaine retrospective: "Crucial," "Africa We Love," "Jah Calling," "Jah Glory," "Rise Up," etc. Also notice that of all the many reggae singers currently jacking Bob Marley's vocal style, no one is doing so more consciously and explicitly than Fontaine: he's got Marley down cold, right down to the idiosyncratic diphthongs and the raspy little yodels at the ends of key phrases. Not everything about his recent albums has been Marleyesque, though. This collection's title track is much more soul-inflected than anything Marley ever recorded, and neither "She Lost Track" nor the lovely "When" is really a reggae song at all. (And if you listen closely, you'll hear pizzicato strings on "Crucial," which are certainly not something you hear in reggae every day.) Most importantly, about two-thirds of this album is pop music of the highest caliber, with hooks that bite deep and choruses that soar -- most notably on the swinging "African Spirit," the piously beautiful "Jah Calling," and the especially sharp "Living in the Positive," a track that Marley himself would have been proud of. When it comes right down to it, there are much more important things in pop music than originality -- and Nasio Fontaine demonstrates all of them. Excellent.

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