Don Carlos / Gold

Ghetto Living

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Crediting this album to Don Carlos and Gold is a bit misleading, for, in fact, of the dozen tracks within, the latter man takes the lead on only two, although he does provide harmonies on several others. So, Ghetto Living is very much Carlos' show. Tamoki Wambesi was initially home for former Royals member Roy Cousins' own releases, and even as the singing producer widened his horizons to other artists, he never lost his ear for melody or his desire to showcase vocalists at their best. The Roots Radics, with their dancehall-friendly beats and melody-driven style, were the perfect vehicle for his sound, as is much evident on this set. Throughout the set, Cousins throws the spotlight on Wycliffe "Steely" Johnson's sumptuous keyboards, so reminiscent of Studio One, giving the Radics an even more incandescent sound. A clutch of numbers, including the biting "Go Find Yourself," "Promise to Be True," and "Tear Drops," are ripe with rocksteady. Others feature a positively pastoral atmosphere, fed by cloppity beats or faux flute -- "Every Time I Look at You" is a stellar example, adding to the richness of the set. "Come on Over" is an equal stunner, a gorgeous rub-a-dub offering to the sound systems. The cultural numbers are just as strong, from the gentle title track through the Western-tinged roots of "Them Say" and onto the dreader roots of the adamant "Never Run Away." Even more ferocious is "Plantation," a fiery roots number that Carlos delivers with passion. His vocals are superb throughout, ringing with conviction, emotion, and soul. The most startling track, however, is the cover of the Abyssinians' "Declaration of Rights," a masterpiece of rebellious intent, and arguably the most memorable version ever cut on this classic's rhythm. This is a phenomenal album from a singer who has never received the international attention he's due, a man who kept culture vibrantly alive through an otherwise dark decade for roots fans.

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