Dennis Brown

May Your Food Basket Never Empty

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Dennis Brown left a vast canon of superb music behind, thus there's little fear that his work will be lost or forgotten, and so fans can celebrate his life rather than bemoan his much too early death. May Your Bread Basket Never Empty is the perfect place to start the festivities, and with all proceeds going to Brown's family, a beneficial one to boot. The album's intended title was The Remake, but it was changed after Brown's death as a tribute to one of the singer's own favorite phrases and a sign of producer Errol "Flabba" Holt's intentions towards the Brown family. The original title was apt, as the vast majority of this set resurrects old hits, both the singer's own, as well as other artists', strewn around a handful of new numbers. Bless Me Jah, cut for Holt the previous year, followed a similar formula with much success. Bread is equally powerful, although it's evident that some of the songs were still unfinished at the time of Brown's death. A couple are fairly raw, several others suggest that flaws were adeptly covered by production techniques, yet the performances still reverberate with or without Holt's help. One of the most surprising numbers in this basket is Brown's cheerful take on Israel Vibration's seminal, but rarely covered, "The Same Song," backed by the perkiest rhythm on the set. Ken Boothe's "Just Another Girl" is surprisingly close to the original, but a bit steamier and with more force to the rhythm, while a new take (Brown had a hit with an earlier cover) on "Make It Easy on Yourself" is graced with the breeziest backing, even as the digitized beats kick and the singer infuses the song with lashings of soul. The seething cover of the Crystalites' "Joy in the Morning" is a revelation, and even the half-finished quality of his version of the Gaylads' "Lady Madonna" can't detract from the shimmer of Brown's sweet love. The singer's own "Money in My Pocket" also gets a splendid makeover, with the stiff programmed beats offset by eloquent piano work, and featuring one of Brown's richest and warmest performances. "Why Did You Leave" boasts one of his most soulful, with the keyboardists at their most effervescent, and "Praise Without Raise" returns him to his militant roots, on a song he first cut back in 1975. Every one of these covers and remodels are top-notch, a further reminder of Brown's awesome ability to breathe fresh life and soul into old songs. The new numbers are equally diverse, shifting from the luminous "Straighten My Life," a perfect little pop ditty in a soulful mode, to the stop-the-fighting pleas of "Brotherhood Unite," abetted by plenty of steamy brass and a deeply dubby production. But "Emmanuel" shines brightest and is worth the price of the set alone. Resurrecting the dense militant sound of late-'70s roots, and fired by the tribalized beats, it is the most evocative, and haunting, number here. "No regrets, no sorrow, no pain," Brown insists, "there we are singing and dancing, together as one family...we all know what it's like to be free." Now the singer is forever free, leading a heavenly choir in song, beckoning to the faithful below. And if you take his words on faith, there's no need to mourn his death, for Brown has now found redemption, and as "Emmanuel" eloquently expresses, there's no need for sorrow at his fate.

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