Various Artists

Riddim Driven: 12 Gauge

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The Riddim Driven series of one-rhythm albums is showing itself to be a bit more subtle and elegant than many others of its kind. The "12 Gauge" rhythm, despite its aggro title, is surprisingly gentle, with acoustic guitars central to its sound and a percussion part made up of quietly roiling bass drums and skittering handclaps on the top. The chatters and singers who were gathered into producer Michael Brissett's studio to voice the rhythm took their cues from its unusually restrained tone: Nicky B opens the program with a sweet-voiced performance (though someone needs to send word to Kingston that those tweaky Autotune effects are passé), and he's followed immediately by the similarly lyrical Mr. Easy, whose strong singjay delivery on "What Take Some Idiot" masks the sharp ill will of his gunman lyric. Bounty Killer appears twice, once on the excellent "From Dem Dis" and once on the surprisingly pedestrian "Bullet," on which his phrasing is uncharacteristically blocky and awkward. Vybz Kartel is similarly disappointing -- his lame "12 Gauge" leads one to wonder if his quick rise hasn't gone to his head and left him complacent. Other high points include a very fine combination track from Delly Ranks and Wayne Wonder, as well as a top-notch DJ performance from Elephant Man on "In Deh." Recommended.

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