If you're a Tarrus fan, you won't feel let down.
Angus Taylor 2008
Meteoric though it may be, the timing of Tarrus Riley's success was a little strange. Second album, Parables burned slow before blowing up via the chart topping antics of She's Royal - creating a gap in the market while Riley and Dean Fraser work on something new. To avoid the hype going cool, VP have reissued his debut, Challenges, with two extra tracks - and it's a very interesting listen that will tell recent Tarrus converts plenty they didn't know.
The sticker on the packaging describes the 'critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Tarrus Riley' in what might be seem like the usual rockist PR guff. But in fact, there really is quite a lot of jangly, guitarry singer/songwriting to be found on this disc. The power pop of Jah Will and Don't Give Up deem the familiar Dean Fraser rhythms of Parables a work of reggae orthodoxy by comparison. There's also some darker, moodier material on display here including the magnificent Larger Than Life and hardnosed dancehall of Rasta At The Control.
Fraser's productions are as in thrall to his 80s background as ever. So super clean are these chorussy, middle-of-the-road arrangements that roots fans who like it raw will be forced to leave their preconceptions about successful reggae at the gate or move elsewhere. Yet there is real strength and diversity in the writing – check the jaunty I'll Be Your Friend with a melody reminiscent of the Temptations My Girl – not to mention eloquence in the lyrics to bonus ''Jah Live''-based Christianity critique, Love Created I.
Given that many 'conscious' artists are attempting to break free from the 'reggae' template and promote themselves as all-rounders – Jamelody, Morgan Heritage, Etana – this record shows how ahead of the game Dean and Tarrus were back in 2004. Bursting with ideas and gallery-playing hooks, while mixing major and minor progressions without fear, Challenges is as potent an album as the more mature, unified Parables. If you're a Tarrus fan, you won't feel let down.