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RAVER REVIEW: “WE REMEMBER DENNIS BROWN”

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VP Records has released We Remember Dennis Brown, a tribute album featuring some of today’s most popular reggae artists performing songs by the late, great “Crown Prince of reggae.”  February 1, 2016 marked Dennis Brown’s 59th birthday. Hailed by NPR Morning Edition as one of the 50 great voices of all time and by Bob Marley as one of the best reggae singers in the world – the revered Jamaican icon began his recording career at the tender age of 11 and has more than 75 albums to date. Even though he passed away at the early age of 42, his music and legacy lives on.

Dennis Brown at 16 years old.

Dennis Brown at 16 years old.

While the album features several stunning performances, in the end the listener is just left unfulfilled, longing for the days when Dennis Brown blessed the airwaves with heartfelt lovers tunes and inspired Rasta anthems. Each song was recut by Jamaica’s greatest living record producer Clive Hunt, who worked with Brown on his legendary Visions album. Clive does the best with what he is given, however, many of the songs fall flat, lacking the energy, soul, and spirit that Brown brought to each of his performances.

VisionsOfDennisBrown

There are moments of greatness on the album. I was so moved by Raging Fyah’s performance of “Milk and Honey” that I wrote Clive a note telling him how powerful the song is and how well it stands up against his original production (he informed me that Eric “Fish” Clarke, brother of Johnny Clarke, played drums on most of the tunes from Visions, a fact that still astounds me as I thought it was Sly who played drums on those tunes). “Milk and Honey” is Raging Fyah’s most remarkable song to date, which is a bold statement when one considers the quality of their career works. Although Raging Fyah’s performance of this classic tune lacks the exuberance and jubilation of Brown’s performance, and the blazing horns of Hunt’s production, the band makes this tune all their own, coming with a sublime version of the tune that even Brown himself would appreciate. The driving cadence of Hunt’s original production is replaced here by a downtempo riddim and extraordinary lead vocals underpinned by beautiful backing vocals. I love this performance.

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Bushman is strong on “Don’t Want to be No General,” one of the few productions where they stay halfway true to the original. The Green turn in an admirable performance on “Promised Land,” bringing a rock and roll sound to one of Brown’s heaviest and most rootikal tunes. Mykal Rose brings his trademark Waterhouse wail to “Easy Take It Easy” in one of the more noteworthy performances on the album. However, by the time you press play on Disc Two you just yearn for Dennis to take the mic back. Many of the tunes included on Disc Two should have been left in the studio in favor of one compact disc with a tight set of twelve to thirteen tracks.

Dennis Brown

Dennis Brown

The recuts of tracks like “Melting Pot,” “Caress Me,” “Have You Ever,” “Rocking Time,” “Love Has Found Its Way,” “Your Love Got a Hold On Me,” “If I Had the World,” “Stay At Home (Ghetto Girl),” and “Baby Don’t Do It” are lackluster, milquetoast and uninspired. Chino’s performance on “Melting Pot” is so subdued and forgettable that I had to wonder if he had ever heard the original. Perhaps it is just a testament to Brown’s charisma and talent, but many of the tunes lack that certain something that he used to bring to each performance.

I am disappointed that some of my own personal favorites did not make the cut. Songs like the Phil Pratt-produced “Let Love In,” “Oh What A Day,” “Revolution,” the Winston McAnuff-penned “Malcolm X,” “Whip Them Jah,” “Deliverance Will Come,” “Here I Come,” “Song My Mother Used To Sing,” “Three Meals A Day,” “Children of Israel,” along with the Niney-produced “Tribulation,” “Africa (We Want To Go),” “Run Too Tuff,” “Westbound Train,” and“Cassandra” are just a few of the tracks I would have liked to see included in the set.  Dennis Brown left with us a staggering list of hits and choosing which ones to include on a tribute album is a seemingly impossible task.

Dennis Brown

Dennis Brown

There are enough enjoyable performances on We Remember Dennis Brown to make it worthwhile, however, a fitting tribute to Dennis Brown it is not. While his spirit is felt on several of the more exuberant performances, the album fails to deliver the impassioned, spirited, and inspirational performances that the vocal master deserves. Hunt’s production work is rock-solid throughout, however, it is the artists who fail to deliver a fitting tribute to Dennis Brown. After listening to the album one thing became crystal clear.  Although it has been seventeen years since his passing, the reggae world has not yet fully come to grips with his loss.  As I eject Disc Two from the player I just miss the Crown Prince more than ever.

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