Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band

Sweet Sweet Jamaica

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Mento, a folky indigenous music that developed in Jamaica in rough parallel with the calypso traditions of Trinidad, has come to be associated with tourist hotels. But the music has a rich history, and that heritage is celebrated on this winning album by one of the island's foremost mento ensembles. Bandleader Culture George plays guitar and sings most of the lead vocals; he is accompanied by 80-year-old banjo player Wesley Balds, singer and shaker player Donnett Leslie, and singer and rhumba-box player Courtney Clarke. Their sound can be, frankly, a little bit creaky and out of tune at times -- in fact, the album-opening "Crying" sets kind of a low standard for the rest of the album. But once you adjust your ears and your expectations, some brilliant songs start to emerge: several are either calypso-flavored or simply straight-up calypso, like the classics "Hill & Gully," "Liza," and "Brown Girl in the Ring." Others, such as "Gungu Walk," expose the rhythmic roots of reggae. And still others will be familiar to anyone who ever spent a week at summer camp -- most notably, "Wings of a Dove." "Dream of Me," which features Donnett Leslie's lead vocals, is one of the album's strongest tracks and will make you wish she took the lead on more of them -- but Culture George is a singer of significant charm as well, and the whole album has a loose-limbed and good-natured feel that ends up being pretty irresistible.

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