Wyclef Jean's solo discography has been dizzying following the first volume of The Carnival. A series of label and distribution changes, stopgap EPs and stray singles, abrupt conceptual shifts, and announcements trailed by delays and title changes didn't make his moves easy to follow. A multitude of collaborative juxtapositions that seemed random rather than shrewd, and appeared on releases with lengthy titles containing colons and Roman and Arabic numerals, added to the confusion. Another factor was the alternation between prolific and dry periods -- three albums in three years, and then, as Jean juggled various political and charitable causes, and was entangled in a few legal and public relations messes, the next three albums were spread across 13 years. In one significant sense, Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee arrived right on time -- ten years after after the sequel, which followed the original by the same amount of time. It's a standard Wyclef Jean release, lively and positive, concerned with the upliftment of the everyday person, blending cross-continental sounds with a broad mix of well over a dozen guests -- this time involving the likes of Emeli Sandé, LunchMoney Lewis, and the Knocks, along with several relative newcomers. As with the first two Carnival releases, this isn't all fun and games. Odds-bucking prosperity, dream fulfillment, and mere survival remain themes for Jean. In the sonically murky if lyrically hopeful opener, "Slums," he plainly states "Statistically, I ain't even supposed to be here," while the part-acoustic ballad, part-regal anthem "Warrior" offers encouragement to the bullied and misunderstood. There are several upbeat grooves and romantic numbers, such as the frothy and escapist "What Happened to Love," the boisterous "Fela Kuti," and the Celia Cruz-sampling "Trapicabana" (indeed a fusion of booming/snaking trap production and vintage salsa rhythms). Carnival III isn't quite as thrilling as the 1997 and 2007 volumes. Now that the pop world has finally caught up with Jean's wild synthesis, it's certainly less novel in approach, but its high spirit nonetheless provides some lasting value.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman