David Rudder

Beloved

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Calypso historically was viewed as the people's newspaper in Trinidad, and David Rudder, easily soca's most wide-ranging social commentator of the '90s, seems even more focused on that aspect than usual on Beloved. The lyrical themes tackle social issues specific to Trinidad or more broadly Caribbean, even as the music is more measured and less dedicated to breakneck soca celebration. "Banana Death Song" protests U.S. trade policies, while "Montserrat" laments the volcanic eruption that made an entire island uninhabitable; typically, Rudder is more concerned with the effects on the poor, full-year inhabitants rather than the celebrity types who lost their Caribbean hideaway homes. "The Immigrants" is dedicated to Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant brutalized by New York cops, while calling for the acceptance of new immigrants in the U.S., even as "Destination Desperation" charges that economic opportunities are still limited by Jim Crow changing over to "designer greed." But Rudder didn't totally ignore the music -- far from it; horns are prominent on "Montserrat" and "Down Deh" (the latter also features a bit of distorted rock lead guitar, a first for him) and there's a bit of funkier bass undertow (almost late-'60s Motown) on "Immigrants." "High Mas" uses sharp wordplay in the techno soca style called mas, and the more electronic arrangement of "The Hurricane" also borders on mas territory. The reggae-tinged opener, "The Savagery" (the dub-style reprise, "Savagery II," throws the humorous reference to the movie character Chuckie into sharper relief), uses a "la la la" chorus hook resurrected for the title track, an optimistic statement of faith in community and Trinidad. Beloved may not be a flashy record, but it's an extremely well-crafted one that finds David Rudder stretching his musical boundaries without sacrificing the essence of his style.

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