Livin' It Up
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu August 30, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Horace Andy has one of the most beautiful and versatile voices in all of pop music. It is smooth and seductive one minute, and it is gravelly and emphatic the next. Andy charted minor reggae hits for decades before lending his voice to the ambitious Blue Lines, Protection, and Mezzanine projects by British trip-hop sensation Massive Attack during the ’90s. Sly and Robbie are perhaps the most well-respected rhythm section in dance music today. Thirty-year veterans of Jamaica’s hardcore reggae scene, they not only have scored hundreds of hits, but they also have sat in on thousands of sessions as musicians, producers, and band leaders for pivotal Jamaican artists such as Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru. Like Andy, they have famously crossed over into music’s mainstream by backing artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Sinead O’Connor.
When rumors surfaced that Andy had gone into the studio to record a new album with Sly and Robbie, roots reggae fans everywhere couldn’t wait to see what they would produce. Unfortunately, Livin’ It Up — the fruit of their collaborative labor — demonstrates that the whole is not always the sum of its parts. Still, Andy is in fine voice. His 30 years in the business have not affected his ability to reach the celestial high notes that have become his trademark, and he sings with heart, soul, and commitment on every one of the disc’s 14 tracks. Sly and Robbie weigh in with some of the most inventive bass and drum runs imaginable — proving yet again that the well of rhythms from which they draw will never go dry. In terms of sheer musical inventiveness, the duo is in top form, and they have produced a set of tunes that swing, groove, and challenge the listener.
The problem with Livin’ It Up seems to lie solely with the songs themselves. Their lyrical alchemy is missing, and this prevents Andy from turning water into wine or from spinning straw into gold. Even though the music weaves magical spells around the melodies, and the rhythms pulse with a force that threatens to split the earth wide open, the lyrics are filled with clichés that trap the singer and give him nowhere to go. All of the themes explored on Livin’ It Up are overly familiar to reggae fans, and Andy’s exhortations concerning treacherous women, wicked men, and the deliverance promised by Holy Mount Zion have little poetry or interesting imagery to support them. Every genre — whether it is country, hip hop, or blues — develops certain core concepts and parameters over the years, and it takes a great artist to extend or create new metaphors to make an aging style sound relevant and viable. Unfortunately, all of the effort that went into creating this disc was spent on the singing and playing. Finding great songs to perform was — at best — an afterthought.
Livin’ It Up is certainly a reggae master’s summit, and Sly and Robbie have been touring with Andy this summer in support of the endeavor. Hopefully, the time that they spend together on the road will give them a chance to experiment with their new songs. Perhaps if they are better honed, the tunes will carry a stronger lyrical and emotional punch, thus providing a better showcase for the talent of the people who obviously worked so hard to create them.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box