Dennis Brown Sings Gregory Isaacs
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Dennis Brown
Dennis Brown Sings Gregory Isaacs

The similarities between reggae greats Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs are many. Brown passed away a few years back, but when both were with us they shared considerable appeal among female fans, popularity well beyond their Jamaican homeland and an ability to score with both love songs and socially conscious material. While that sort of common ground can make bitter rivals out of, say, rap stars, it has the opposite effect in the feel-no-way world of reggae. Brown and Isaacs were friends and occasional musical collaborators throughout career ups and downs that included substance abuse (more publicized in Isaacs' case) and changing tastes that made dancehall the prevailing Jamaican style.

So it's no surprise as to how good this release of Brown laying into some of Isaacs' most popular tunes sounds. There are absolute signature songs here--"Night Nurse," "Soon Forward," "All I Have Is Love," etc., and while all the warmth and intimacy remains from the way they were originally sung, Brown does not attempt any flat-out mimicry of Isaacs' vocal style, nor does the producer/arranger/Roots Radics bassist Flabba Holt feel a need to create rote updates of the original riddims. In other words, Brown made these songs freshly his own and did so with soul, style and respect. "Tune In" takes on a bright new sheen, and the likes of "Top Ten" and "Love is Overdue" likewise have a refreshing feel of heartfelt desire tinged with mild melancholy. With the exception of the opening "Border," it's all lovers' tunes, and while more variety in terms of subject matter could be wished for, this is a smooth and satisfying selection. Now let's hope Isaacs brings things full circle with a platter of Brown covers. - Tom Orr

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