Stalag 20, 21 & 22

Various Artists

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Stalag 20, 21 & 22 Review

by Rick Anderson

The "one-rhythm" album is a reggae mainstay, a holdover from the early days of dancehall. Typically it features a single instrumental track over which a succession of singers and DJs perform their own melodies and lyrics. At its worst, the one-rhythm album can be excruciatingly boring. But some instrumentals are so compelling that they can stand up to any number of interpretations; "Everyday Wandering" was one such, and it yielded an immortal album in the 22-track extravaganza Ire Feelings: Chapter and Version. "Stalag 17" is another, a classic roots rhythm that features one of reggae's most instantly recognizable basslines. When dancehall was young, Winston Riley produced an excellent album based on the "Stalag 17" rhythm and called it Stalag 17, 18 & 19. Stalag 20, 21 & 22 is essentially a tribute to that classic album; it brings together some of the leading lights of New York's reggae scene, who take turns chatting and singing over the "Stalag 17" bassline fortified by a hip-hop breakbeat. The tracks vary nicely in mood and flavor (an unusual achievement for a one-rhythm album); Jr. Demus contributes a bracing modern roots anthem with "Good Over Evil," while Ce'cile delivers a self-assured declaration of romantic intention on "Hot Gal" and Egg & Bred wryly reflect on their own desirability on "Ugly But Charmin'." There's a refreshing admonition from Chico, whose "Take Care of the Woman" advises young lovers to treat their girlfriends with respect, and a surprisingly fine vocal turn from the apparently preadolescent "Le'Ju" on "Dainty." Overall, this album is a consistent yet varied treat, an impressive contribution to a genre that too often disappoints.

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