Alpha Blondy

Merci

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Since picking up the stylistic torch laid down when Bob Marley died in 1981, Alpha Blondy has had a rather strange career, one marked by significant commercial success worldwide even as the Jamaican market has looked at him somewhat askance. With Merci, Blondy celebrates his 20th anniversary as an international reggae star by going into the studio to record for the first time in four years, and he sounds as strong as ever. There are no surprises here: He still specializes in an aggressively old-school approach to the music, his sound dominated by horns, female backing vocals, and real drums, guitar, and bass. His voice is nasal and piercing, but not unpleasantly so, and he writes good melodies that are not quite enough to stick in the head permanently but are strong enough to hold your attention. As usual, his best lyrics are the French ones; on "Politruc" he offers the commonsense observation "Moi, j'ai peur des mitraillettes" ("As for me, I'm afraid of machine guns"), and he is joined by the excellent French toasters Saian Supa Crew on a strange but intriguing adaptation of the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money." Another fun but bizarre moment is his cover version of Free's "It's All Right," rendered here as "Hey Jack." The only misstep comes right at the end of the program, with the rather boring and superfluous "Le Feu." Highly recommended overall.

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