...the effect is of monotonous and relentless jollity...
Alwyn Turner 2005-02-14
Reggae veteran Winston Francis is probably still best remembered for his work with Coxsone Dodd on Studio One back in the dawn of the 1970s. In those rocksteady days, when he released his classic Mr Fix-It album, he was known for having one of the richest voices on the scene,his music teacher even compared him to the young Nat 'King' Cole.
The good news on this new album is that the voice is still in fine shape. Older, of course, and slightly more ragged than the pure instrument you may remember, but still capable of effortlessly dominating a bustling rhythm track.
Unfortunately, that's just about the only good news. Because the problem with this release is that the entire project feels misguided. What we have are 31 songs crammed into an hour-long medley, a format that allows little breathing space for either material or musicians. Over a looped drum pattern, the Ruff Cutt band play decent enough versions of the tracks, but there's no variation of tempo, texture or instrumentation, and the brevity of each song ensues that there's barely time for a couple of verses and choruses; certainly not for instrumental passages that might pace the thing.
The material too leaves something to be desired. Francis was never averse to taking on songs from well beyond reggae (his British break came when Tony Blackburn made his cover of "California Dreamin' "record of the week on Radio One), but too much of this is drawn from the stock repertoire of the cheesy cabaret circuit. Do we need reggae versions of "Gonna Get Along Without You Now" or "Raindrops Keep Falling"? Only if there's sufficient adventure in the arrangement and production, and sadly here there isn't.
By the time we get to "Can't Help Falling In Love," followed by "Red Red Wine", its feeling like an MOR tribute to UB40.
Reduced to half the number of songs, and with a bit more imagination, this could have been a decent late effort by a much-loved artist. Instead, the effect is of monotonous and relentless jollity, the soundtrack to a party you'd rather not attend.