Frankie Paul


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Freedom is a warm, emotive album, filled with marvelously romantic numbers all set to extremely rich backings. In fact, producer Fatis Burrel has conjured up such a dense sound that one wonders if he's not attempting to re-create Phil Spector's famed Wall of Sound into the Jamaican dancehalls. And although many reggae fans, especially outside the island, may hope this is an omen of the demise of the militant rhythms then all the rage, one shouldn't be too quick to rejoice, for Burrell's production comes with a new set of problems. So busy are some of the backings, so intricate a number of the arrangements, that they border on irritating. This is particularly true of "She Don't Want Nobody Else," where the multiple riffs and beats, bubbling keyboards, brass, et al., don't so much blend into a sumptuous whole as into warring parts. For "real music" fans, the bigger problem is self-evident -- no matter how versatile keyboards are, the result is always a faux sound. Still, all but the fanatical will admit that when used adeptly, with subtlety and sensitivity, the instrument can be extremely effective. However, too often on Freedom it's heavy-handed and counterproductive. Take for example "What a Wonderful World," a lush number layered with orchestration. It should be a rousing piece, especially when the strings soar in, but they sound so false that they deflate any emotional buildup. On "Do It Anymore," the keyboard riffs sound totally out of tune. Can a keyboard actually be flat? Apparently so. While that's the downside, it's arguably outweighed by the upside, for elsewhere Burrell creates rich moods and much warmth to a number of songs. The cultural "Songs of Freedom" is particularly good, "So Cold" is sure to warm one up with its rich ambience, "No More"'s moody melody and deep roots flavor will heat up reggae hearts, while "Gimme That Potion" also sports a roots aura, albeit in a dancehall style. As one would expect, the purer dancehall numbers -- the invigorating "Dance Hall Nice" and the aggrieved "Rumours" (the latter a version of Gregory Isaacs' hit) -- come with none of the caveats noted elsewhere. Paul's performances throughout are so superb that for many fans any qualms about this album's sound and production will fall by the wayside. It's just a pity that the accompaniments didn't equal the vocals.

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