Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Serious Times

This largely excellent compilation comes in some ethically dubious artwork. Who is the nude black woman on the cover? Not one of the performers. Why is she naked? It's gratuitous and unseemly. Inside the booklet, there are more images of anonymous black people, living their ghetto lives, shot by photographer Andrew Dosunmu. But the CD comes from British electronica label XL Recordings, and it's been assembled by Brooklyn-based critic Knox Robinson, who bought the original 45s in local stores. It feels like cultural tourism, like poverty turned into entertainment. The music conveys a very different message, though. Robinson hasn't chosen to showcase sexist, gun-talking dancehall; aside from a few odes to marijuana, the majority of the tracks on Serious Times are either love songs or spiritual in nature. Vocalists like Morgan Heritage, Fantan Mojah and Rob Symeonn, like the other lesser-known performers here, are all about rising above their homeland's dire economic and social circumstances, not wallowing in them for the voyeuristic pleasure of Brooklyn hipsters. Thus, the music on this set (disc one is a continuous mix; disc two compiles the individual tracks) is a superb showcase for some of the best in current reggae. Shame about the packaging.

No comments: