Various Artists

Universal Message, Vol. 2

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The second installment of VP's Universal Message series is truly an amazing collection of reggae talent. The liner notes send along many tidings of goodwill and peace, including the inscription: "Remember that we all dance to one universal beat and there is no discrimination or prejudice in music." Both reggae's old guard and the genre's young guns are well-represented here. The album is not just your run-of-the-mill collection of fun party anthems championed by crossover acts such as Shaggy and Beenie Man, but an assortment of message-oriented songs, all done in traditional Jamaican rhythm fashion. The themes of the songs touch on hard-hitting issues, covering such complicated topics as personal morality, racial dynamics, social injustice, and political turmoil. While the questions the songs raise are complex, the simple, subtle melodies and musical accompaniments are smoothly constructed and just plain moving in a groovy way. Reggae's didactic method here is not to hit listeners over the head with preaching but rather gently feed the listener with hypnotic food-for-thought that can be absorbed and digested slowly over time. It is not hyperbolic to say that every track here is superb, but of the 12 cuts there are a few that are simply smashing. Up-and-coming DJ VC mixes harmony and teaching on the magnificent "By His Deeds," which also features some nice horn riffs. AJ Brown kills softly on the beautiful call for peaceful coexistence on "All Kinds of People" and two of reggae's unrivaled soulful ambassadors drive home the goods with the last two offerings: Garnett Silk's "Death Go Away" and Beres Hammond's "All My Tears." If this wasn't enough, there are also contributions from other reggae mega-stars, including Buju Banton, Capleton, Morgan Heritage, and Sizzla. The production is handled by reggae's top names: Bobby "Digital" Dixon, Stuart "African Star" Brown, and Steelie and Clevie. It is not unfair to say that most of these cuts will stand as time-honored reggae classics.

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