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» CD REVIEWS, GUEST RUNDOWNS » ALBUM REVIEW BY AUGUS TAYLOR: “ONWARDS AND UPWARDS FOR ETANA’S I RISE!”

ALBUM REVIEW BY AUGUS TAYLOR: “ONWARDS AND UPWARDS FOR ETANA’S I RISE!”

Etana – the soft-spoken singer songwriter with the room-shaking voice – had a promising start with albums The Strong One and Free Expressions. However, she really came into her own with Shane Brown produced third effort Better Tomorrow, where she reoriented her soul-reggae fusion towards fierier roots.

It was a side to her always evidenced by moments on her earlier records such as Jah Chariot or War. And with fourth album I Rise she takes it even further: reflecting the shift in Jamaican reggae away from pop and R&B to the harder sounds of decades gone by (a change Etana often supported in interviews – asking why the foundation didn’t get more radio play). Project manager here is the great Clive Hunt – producer of the Abyssinians, multi-instrumentalist and horn arranger extraordinaire.

etana A melismatic opening intro of Mortimer Planno/Artie Glen’s Selassie is the Chapel might suggest an hour of gospel balladry – but no, the first stanza of I Rise is strictly roots. On the muscular lament How Long, and a cover of crucial influence Marcia Griffiths’ Stepping Out of Babylon, her vocal is at home over these brassy, bottom heavy dance-rocking rhythms.

The middle section yields powerful love songs with complex contemporary hooks (the anti-materialistic Richest Girl and Love Song, the Answer-based By Your Side). Yet their foundations are sufficiently bolstered by chest-hitting drums and velvety bass. Just as her modern R&B delivery sat well with Shane Brown’s backing’s – mixed by his father Errol in a Tuff Gong style – once again the old-meets-new collaboration with Hunt strikes gold.

It’s back to hard roots and reality with the trauma tackling Ward 21 – where Etana even turns her lungs and tongue to some deejaying – and the pugnaciously drummed, openly Rasta, Emancipation. As the whole experience draws to a close Jam Credits gives her a chance to hail Hunt and the bevy of constituent musicians in a far more confident speaking voice than on her previous work. (These include Wya LindoHandel TuckerScully SimsBongo Herman, Kirk Bennett, Sly Dunbar, Flabba Holt, Robbie Shakespeare and master mixing engineer Stephen Stanley).

The only disappointment is that the title track is not a cover of Maya Angelou’s famous poem I’ll Rise. Though Etana’s Angelou-inspired original composition is still excellent it would also be great to hear her interpret that empowerment anthem (as she has Marcia, and the Wailers).

Onwards and upwards for Etana – she just gets better with each album. This bigger step into classical roots territory while maintaining her soulful edge demonstrates an ever greater command of her sound.

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