RAS Portraits: Gondwana

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After releasing Gondwana's first three albums, the RAS label gathered up the highlights for this latest entry in their Portraits compilations series. With a mere 11 tracks and clocking in at just 50 minutes, the album will leave listeners wanting more, which is precisely the point. The sleeve notes, penned by Doctor Dread, who oversaw all three sets, never get around to actually listing the bandmembers, but one can forgive that oversight, as his love and enthusiasm for the group is so evident. And what reggae fan doesn't feel the same way? Since their debut, Together, in 1999, the Chilean band have brought reggae back to its finest roots. And even though Gondwana were not Made in Jamaica (although that set, their third, was recorded there), bar the mostly Spanish lyrics, they are so true to reggae and its sensibilities that it's hard to believe they weren't raised on the island. That said, Gondwana do bring a subtle Spanish shading to their sound, a delicate twist of styling mostly found around the brass. With a styling gravitating toward the '80s, it's evident that most of the members were inspired by the Roots Radics, but they create a warmer, fuller, and more textured sound than the Jamaican veterans. Portraits features many of the band's gentler numbers, including the richly romantic "Armonia de Amor," the infectious "Antonia," and the lilting "Dulce Amor." "Chainga Langa" and "Felicidad" showcase their more upbeat and breezier side, while the emotive "Jah Children," with its superbly smoky sax solo, finds them at their most soulful. And even those who speak no Spanish will find their souls stirred by "Libertad," a number as powerful as Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." If one hasn't yet discovered the delights of Gondwana, this is the perfect introduction. For those who have, but haven't completed their collections, this is a potent reminder to do so.

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