Joy and Blues is Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers' most personal album to date. Within the album, the group members explore their beliefs, adeptly expanding them into universal themes. Of course, they have done this from their earliest days, but now they've reached a new height of lyrical power. "Lies, they sell cheaper than bread, what they do starve the people of truth," is a line worthy of Mutabaruka, while "We are living in a partial world, they make so the fight is never done" equally resonates. "Mama," Stephen Marley's heartfelt tribute to his mother, Rita, has some of the most moving lyrics and is one of the most poignant songs on the album. Father Bob is honored by a cover of his "There She Goes," itself a song haunted by memories and emotions, which fits well within the album's own tendency to glance backwards while resolutely moving forward. A cover of Richie Havens' "African Herbsman" is similarly well chosen; Stephen makes the song his own, while Harry J.'s tribal drumming takes the track to its true roots. Previous albums have been acclaimed for their productions and intriguing crossover stylings, but Joy and Blues focuses firmly on the message. The arrangements are more subtle than in the past, quietly enhancing the songs' atmospheres and lyrics. This may disappoint the group's dance fans, while reggae aficionados will equally miss the heavier roots numbers. However, their more mature sound bodes well for the long term. There's still a sense of exploration, as on Stephen's bluesy "Rebel in Disguise," while songs like the funky "X Marks the Spot" and the bouncy title track keep the band in touch with its past. Although the album did not equal past records in sales, it proved that the band would outlive its pop past.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene