Various Artists

Conscious Ragga, Vol. 3

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Funny the difference five or six years can make; the whole idea of conscious ragga was novel when the first two volumes in this series were released and many of the artists were just starting their rise to reggae prominence. Now, Conscious Ragga, Vol. 3 almost seems like one of those innumerable greatest-hits compilation that flood the reggae bins, only Spectacular, Frisco Kid, and Bushman aren't major artists. At least it's not the nyabinghi variations this time out, with Capleton's "Man Bruk" the only entry in that vein. Sizzla's opening "It's a Scenario" is very strong with haunting minimal keyboards and "Hard Nut to Crack" is a really good track by mourned lost hope Garnett Silk. Beenie Man's "Ganja Farm" looks at the economic effects of the anti-ganja campaign in Jamaica; it's doubtful he can do this kind of pointed material on his releases for the U.S. market. Series newcomer Junior Kelly's "Word Power" is more DJ than singing, with a dub-flavored arrangement featuring a little bluesy lead guitar, while Morgan Heritage serves up the solid "Crystal Ball." The tag team "Peace Cry" is something like the conscious ragga "Stop the Violence" with a nice, driving backing track, and although Sizzla's guttural blasts on "Bust out a Dis" push too hard, they do set up Luciano's soothing vocals on the smooth "Blast Off."

Of the unknowns, Bushman's track is nothing special and Spectacular falls well short of his name, but Frisco Kid's "One and One" impresses in a post-Bounty Killer symphonic ragga mode with tough, grinding string riffs that lock down the groove very convincingly. But it's Capleton who shines brightest here on three appealing, varied tracks -- "Man Bruk" is merely good, but "Run de Place" is very strong and "Say What You Want" even better, more traditional reggae than his norm and boasting some excellent dub-style effects.

Even if time has stripped the conscious ragga concept of any innovative force -- these artists and the style basically rule reggae -- Conscious Ragga, Vol. 3 is a very good compilation effectively showcasing reggae's constantly evolving modern-day message music.

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