Various Artists

Strictly the Best, Vol. 48

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The VP label's annual overview of the year's best reggae singles continues to arrive at the rate of two volumes a year, with 2013's editions being 48 and 49. The high quality control is maintained and the label's licensing muscle is as strong as ever, but the big difference this year is that the soft and the hard have been split, with Vol. 48 offering mostly contemporary reggae and roots music while Vol. 49 goes for ragga and dancehall. Fans with a taste for the diverse will have to grab them both, but 48 is a cool ruler on its own, lifting spirits with a positive trilogy of tunes from Morgan Heritage ("Here Come the Kings"), Jah Cure ("Wake Up"), and Etana ("Better Tomorrow"). Sizzla's closing "Good Love" is a high-stepping throwback that finds the Bobo Dread bubbling over with sweetness, and when it comes to slick, Gyptian approaches Vol. 49 territory with the radio-worthy remix of "Vixen," while Jemere Morgan (extended Morgan Heritage clan) brings that teen-reggae sparkle during the highly infectious "Neighborhood Girl." Anything harder or more "up" and Vol. 49 is what's required, but this smoother annual is still highly recommended.

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