Gregory Isaacs

Poor and Clean

Song Review by

The Roots Radics are at their loosest limbed best, Gregory Isaacs at his most inspired, and together the men create a cultural masterpiece. Spun off the rather inaptly titled The Lonely Lover album, this 1980 single was a major hit in Jamaica, and reflected just how far the singer had come over the last few years.

His self-productions now boasted a much denser sound, and here he fills the grooves with an evocative and nuanced sound. He's helped by the Radics' phenomenal backing, an inspired arrangement that stirs together a militant rhythm, a C&W atmosphere, and a moody roots ambience. Lincoln "Style" Scott's stiff beats sharpen the edge, Errol "Flabba" Holt's hefty bass line anchors the roots end, while Eric "Bingy Bunny" Lamont and Dwight Pickney's twangy guitars pull the sound into the expanses of the US west.

It's a superb rhythm, and met by one of Isaacs's most heart- felt performances. "I'd rather live poor and clean, than to live rich in corruption," he calmly explains, for "a rich man's heaven, is a poor man's hell." But what begins as a potent sufferer's song, soon turns into an impassioned cry. "I want to be clean," Isaacs exclaims, his voice almost choking with emotion and desperation, transforming the song into a personal struggle towards righteousness. It's a stunning performance, and one of the singer's most powerful songs.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Once Ago 1990 Frontline 3:38
Mr. Love 1995 Caroline Distribution 3:38
Mr. Brown 1999 Disky 3:38
Night Nurse: The Best of Gregory Isaacs 2011 Spectrum Music / Universal 3:40