Suzanne Couch

In the Rhythm

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In the Rhythm, Suzanne Couch's second solo release, is that rarest of creatures: A pop album that integrates reggae rhythms into its natural flow, and while it definitely has a Jamaican lilt, it's probably closer to Carole King than it is to Bob Marley. Couch has a smooth, soothing voice with just enough rough grit in its timbre to make it amazingly expressive, and her songs -- tales from the romantic front -- unfold in long, flowing melodies with plenty of subtly placed hooks to bring them back around, all of this done over beds of reggae rhythms that seamlessly support the songs. The opener, "Smile," is a solid delight, and hearing it feels like stepping into the fresh ionized air that follows a summer night's rainstorm. Maxi Priest duets with Couch on "On the Right Track," the second cut on the album, and again there is that fresh, bright feel. "The Remedy" is probably the closest to a traditional-sounding reggae track here, but it still has the feel of a pop song, and this is Couch's true gift, to take these rhythms (supplied by the veteran Jamaican rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, with Mikey Chung on guitar) and have them support the melodies rather than bend the melodies to fit the rhythms. It sounds like a simple thing, but it isn't easily done, and Couch makes it all sound as natural as air. Toots Hibbert joins Couch on the beautiful "Load Is Lifted," giving the song a little bit of a gospel push, with the late, great Luther Vandross helping on background vocals. Monty Alexander adds melodica to "For Reasons Unknown," while Jamaican poet Mutabaruka does his thing on the remix "African Remedy." Another clear highlight is "What Tomorrow Brings" ("summer, autumn, winter, spring/there isn't any doubt what tomorrow brings"), which sounds like a great, lost Carole King song -- if King had been born in Jamaica. Richard Alderson co-produced the project with Couch, and he is very familiar with working Caribbean rhythms into a pop context, having begun his long career with Johnny Nash's "Hold Me Tight" back in the early 1960s. A pop masterpiece with enough melodic flow and freshness to allow it to play well on the radio, and with enough rhythmic punch to allow it to stand its ground in the clubs and dancehalls, In the Rhythm deserves to find a wide audience. If there is any fairness left anywhere in the world, it will.

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