A triumphant return from one of Jamaican music’s most consistent performers.
Angus Taylor 2010
The gritty yet soulful Junior Kelly has long been one of Jamaican music’s most consistent and well-loved cultural performers. A tantalising five years on from 2005’s Tough Life, Red Pond – named after his Spanish Town ghetto community and produced by Dusty Miller and the Firehouse Crew – marks his triumphant return.
Much has changed since Kelly last cut a long player. Poor physical sales, the resulting search for alternative music industry business models, and the saturation of Auto-Tune have all created a very different environment for reggae and dancehall artists to offer their wares.
But the lanky Rasta singer-deejay takes it in his stride. He and the melismatic warbler Lukie D claim ownership of a US hip hop-style rhythm on She’s Gone. There’s even a touch of Auto-Tune on his vocal for My African Child, yet never to the point where his distinctive tones get lost.
Lyrically, Junior is in punitive fettle. He castigates those who diverge from the righteous path, although the scolding usually comes atop an upbeat tune – check the ska-infused Slackness and first single Nuthin’ Wrong with the World.
His choice of duet partners is impeccable (a Sam Cooke-channelling Ras Shiloh and well-matched female chanter Queen Ifrica). And as with Tough Life, there are both perennial rhythms reworked (How Better Ah Go Home on Java; Murderer on a steel pan-garnished Heavenless) and flirtations with non-Jamaican sounds (Believe in Your Self). But at the heart of the album are rough-hewn sufferer’s roots pieces like Waan Lef’ de Ghetto and Stumblin Blocks, aimed at poor people around the globe.
Firehouse Crew's shiny, rather thin-sounding rhythms will be an acquired taste for some, but this is a minor quibble. Combining daring yet devilishly catchy vocal melodies and stress patterns with an unshakeable flow, Junior Kelly is back and maintaining his form.