Abdel Wright

Abdel Wright

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U2's Bono might not have done Abdel Wright any favors by calling him the "most important Jamaican artist since Bob Marley," a comparison that is almost impossible to live up to, but Wright does have a distinct Marley-like feel for writing weighty, relevant songs that retain a certain Jamaican lilt even as they explore pop, folk, and country territory. Wright sounds a bit like a folk troubadour on this debut album, with his omnipresent acoustic guitar and harmonica (he also played piano, drums, and flute on these sessions) and a definite rebel's agenda as he tackles songs dealing with political and religious hypocrisy, government oppression, the high cost of health care, and the numbing effects of poverty, lack of housing and education on the island's underprivileged. That Wright takes on these kinds of issues (sounding at times like a Jamaican version of Tracy Chapman) and still manages to produce songs that have enough pop DNA to sit well on the radio is why Bono's prediction just might prove accurate. Among the highlights here are the opening track, "Quicksand," the vibrant "Loose Me Now," the violin-fueled "Dust Under Carpet," and "Human Behavior," which tackles the issue of healthcare for profit. "Paul Bogle" is another striking track, an almost straight-on country ballad complete with steel guitar that tells the story of Paul Bogle, a Jamaican national hero who was hanged in 1865 for his oppositional beliefs concerning the then British-controlled government. One could almost imagine Johnny Cash singing it backed by the Tennessee Two, and yet in Wright's hands it remains very much a Jamaican song, with just enough island rhythm to make it the kind of country/reggae hybrid that Willie Nelson was searching for (and failed to find) on his Countryman album. With surprising touches of fiddle and steel guitar, unexpected dub breaks and the Bob Dylan-like mix of Wright's acoustic guitar and harmonica playing, Abdel Wright makes a strong introduction to a performer who, although he might not be Bob Marley, certainly has the kind of vision and focus (and the pop smarts) to connect big with audiences outside of Jamaica.

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