Kevin Kinsella came to national prominence in the 1990s as the frontman for America's finest roots reggae band, John Brown's Body (and, later, the mysterious instrumental reggae outfit 10 Ft. Ganja Plant as well). Now a solo artist, he has expanded his range without losing any of his ability to generate bottomless reggae grooves, and he exhibits both tendencies on Great Design. The album has a generally soft, peaceful vibe even when Kinsella's lyrical messages are relatively intense and homiletic (his songs have always tended to circle back to religious concerns). Tracks like "All That I Have" and "Lovers in a Time" deliver pure roots reggae bliss with a gentle touch, while "Light of Love" puts layers of acoustic guitar on top of a somewhat more driving rockers beat and "Sunshine" adds hints of nyahbinghi drumming. The songs that fall short of complete success do so nobly: his arrangement of the June Carter Cash composition "Ring of Fire" sounds nothing like Johnny Cash's hit version, and doesn't quite succeed at redefining the song, though it doesn't completely fail either; "No Battlefield" generates an excellent roots rock groove but never quite achieves liftoff. The song you're likely to keep returning to, however, is completely gorgeous: "Stars" is a love song that takes deceptively simple raw materials (a straightforward melodic hook, a shimmeringly beautiful guitar sound, a hushed but sturdy rhythm track) and spins them into pure pop gold. Several other tracks on this very fine album come close to that level of magic, and no song on the program is less than worthwhile.
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson