The Universal Cure
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2009, Volume 16, #5
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Mon May 11, 2009, 00:30 AM CDT
In recent years, Jah Cure’s legend has threatened to overshadow his music. Born Siccature Alcock, he has been singing since the age of three. He frequently has been cited as one of reggae’s great talents, and many fans of the genre are optimistic that he will rescue it from the nostalgic cage in which it has been trapped for far too long. As Little Melody, he made his first recording when he was 11, and he continued to work under this name until he was re-christened as Jah Cure by Capleton, another up-and-coming vocalist.
After crafting two powerful solo outings, which combined roots-reggae sensibilities with modern hip-hop and techno grooves, Jah Cure was sidelined by an eight-year stretch in prison for crimes he may or may not have committed. During this time, his legend continued to grow. He was permitted to write and record songs while he was incarcerated, and not surprisingly, the tunes he conjured reflected his immediate experiences. After his release in 2007, Jah Cure made up for lost time by issuing True Reflections almost immediately after he gained his freedom. The collection mixed jailhouse singles with new material, and it received a favorable reception from critics and fans alike.
In retrospect, True Reflections was not as good as all of the hype suggested. For many people, the vicarious experience of listening to Jah Cure’s hard-luck stories superseded any critical assessment of the songs themselves. For this reason, there’s a lot riding on The Universal Cure, which — other than a remake of the title track from True Reflections — represents the first full-length endeavor that he conceived, wrote, and recorded after his release from prison.
The good news about The Universal Cure is that — for the most part — fans of Jah Cure’s distinctive brand of reggae will find a lot to enjoy. As usual, he is in fine vocal form. His sandpaper-and-glue rasp is used to tremendous effect on many of the outing’s cuts. After hearing him swap lines on Hot Long Time with Junior Reid, one of the truly great singers of reggae’s modern age, one must concede that Jah Cure has grown to become a world-class performer. When he is focused — as he is on crucial selections like Mr. Jailer and his interpretation of Bob Marley’s Burning and Looting — his vocals are thrilling to hear.
Unfortunately, on songs like My Life and U Believe in Me, Jah Cure has a tendency to become overly emotive, and at times on The Universal Cure, listeners are forced to endure some of the sickliest vocals this side of Mariah Carey. It’s a shame, too, because, in addition to being a good singer, Jah Cure is a credible lyricist who specializes in the kind of staccato, stream-of-consciousness rants that made Tupac Shakur’s best music so exciting. The opening cut Sticky, for example, stands out as one of Jah Cure’s best recordings to date. Additionally, Call Me, his duet with soul singer Keisha Cole, sounds better than expected. Cole gives Jah Cure a run for his money, so much so that it quickly erases any reservations one might have had about the blatant bid for mainstream acceptance that this pairing represents.
If there is any weakness in the songs on The Universal Cure, it stems from their instrumental arrangements. While it is true that few reggae groups these days record in the traditional sense — that is, with a full band, performing live in the studio — the set desperately craves the sort of musical interplay that such an approach would have inspired. This is, of course, the primary difference between roots and modern reggae aesthetics, and how one feels about this distinction will most likely affect how one views the overall success of The Universal Cure.
In the end, The Universal Cure is a solid album with some very good songs and performances. Yet, one is left with the troubling feeling that Jah Cure is just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. With time and a sympathetic group of musicians, he just might record a reggae masterpiece. The Universal Cure, however, is not it.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box