For If Jah, veteran conscious singjay Tony Rebel enlists a number of major Jamaican producers -- Philip "Fatis" Burrell, Bobby "Digital" Dixon, and Donovan Germain -- and comes up with a solid, unified disc. It's also pretty typical of this reggae epoch in that Rebel, aside from his early trailblazer role in bringing roots lyrical messages into the dancehall context, is less a true original than an artist adept at creatively recycling proven elements. "Jah Is by My Side" starts off with largely programmed backing (it's reprised later in an acoustic mix), but it's a very effective blend of lyrical and musical hooks. "Love Fountain" is built on Bob Marley's "So Much Trouble in the World" with Rebel's singing on the passionate pleading tip, and "Celebrate Life" introduces a gospel-soul flavor. "Africa" works off Marley's "One Drop" rhythm, just as the menacing "Warning" goes off "Heathen" with fuzzed-out psychedelic lead guitar, dubby arrangement, and nicely harmonized voices with Rebel close to the rough, hoarse Bounty Killer/Capleton mode. "Jah Will Never Let Us Down" gets into that almost '50s R&B dancehall style with DJ delivery, typical Rebel in pairing a strong lyrical message with more fun music to connect with the youth. "Know Jah" uses a very familiar keyboard bass rhythm (probably Studio One vintage) but dubbed out and chopped up, and the same bassline, this time complete, anchors "Bible Chant." There are guest shots from Marcia Griffiths (the buoyant, Zion-bound "Ready to Go") and Mutabaruka (the Ethiopia-themed "Mama Love"), with the latter triggering a string of electronic, programmed arrangements. The most interesting is "Keep Your Joy," with its aura of synth menace and oddball arrangement, but there's no denying If Jah is getting repetitious by the end. So what do you have here? Three pieces built on Marley songs, two mixes of one song, and two more with the same classic riddim foundation, some roots messages and veteran cameos to appeal to reggae old-timers, and some DJ delivery and electronic arrangements for dancehall youth. If Jah has a little bit of something for everybody, but it also makes you wonder a little where Rebel's originality falls among all this familiar synthesis.
If Jah Review
by Don Snowden