Following a series of early single releases for various Jamaican engineers, singer Dennis Brown entered a particularly prolific partnership with producer Joe Gibbs. The two worked together from the mid-'70s to the early '80s. Visions (1977) presents Brown as a roots-based singer with major crossover potential. The smooth, reassuring quality of his voice and his comfortable range would seem to make him the obvious choice for an American label seeking an international success story. Brown's subject matter spans the spectrum of Rasta concerns, detailing economic suffering, African oppression, deep religious conviction, and a strong political consciousness. The potency of such themes is tempered only by the inevitable lovers rock of "Love Me Always" and a take on Ray Charles' "This Little Girl of Mine." Throughout, Brown delivers pleas to his people to follow the virtuous path. It's a sentiment that becomes particularly poignant with "Stay at Home," the tale of a young runaway. Carrying the musical weight is a typically seasoned set of session players including appearances by the dream horn team of Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Vin Gordon (trombone), Herman Marquis, and Tommy McCook (saxophones). Though the musicians rarely extend themselves (preferring to stay respectably anonymous), their effortless flexibility is well suited to Brown's polished delivery. They soak songs like "Oh Mother" and "Malcolm X" in the sadness of the blues and provide the lighter material with the appropriate lift. Two years down the road, Brown would score a hit with "Money in My Pocket." At the start of the 1980s, the singer's albums would find U.S. release through A&M. Like many of Jamaica's most promising stars, however, the singer's music was largely mishandled, suffering from poor promotion. Visions, however, finds him in his prime and on the verge of the international success he deserved.
by Nathan Bush
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