True Reflections...A New Beginning
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2007, Volume 14, #11
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Sun November 4, 2007, 07:50 AM CST
Released on July 31, 2007 — three days after Siccature Alcock, better known as Jah Cure, was sprung from jail, after serving eight years of a sentence for rape, gun possession, and robbery — True Reflections…A New Beginning is a difficult and troubling record to assess. While his fans and many of his fellow singers, such as Capleton and Morgan Heritage, have championed his cause and protested in support of his innocence, the details of Jah Cure’s case are vague and inconclusive enough to cause a person to feel uneasy when listening to the album’s 15 tracks. The contents of True Reflections…A New Beginning were culled from the best of the singer’s recent singles, many of which were recorded while he was serving time at Tower Street Correctional Facility Prison in Kingston, Jamaica. While listening to the outing, it is often hard to reconcile Jah Cure’s heartfelt vocals and sincere songs with the horrible crimes of which he was convicted.
When considering True Reflections…A New Beginning strictly from a musical perspective, it is useful to look at it in the context of Jah Cure’s previous work. He had his first hit in 1997 with King of the Jungle, a duet he recorded with Sizzla Kalonji. He subsequently released a steady stream of singles, many of which were produced by Beres Hammond, a reggae legend in his own right. Ironically, however, it was not until Jah Cure was incarcerated that his career really took off. Until that point, he primarily was known as a singer of love songs, but the material that Jah Cure wrote, after he was given access to recording equipment while in prison, reveals a level of depth and maturity that previously was not evident in his work. The three albums that were issued while he was jailed — Free Jah’s Cure, Ghetto Life, and Freedom Blues — all served to establish his legend and solidify his career and reputation as a credible reggae singer.
Though Jah Cure always has maintained his innocence — and, to be fair, there were enough irregularities in his arrest and juryless trial to raise serious doubts about whether due process was followed — he thankfully doesn’t take a gangster stance in any of the tracks on True Reflections…A New Beginning. Rather, he focuses on the wisdom that seven years of incarceration have afforded him. In songs like the opening cut True Reflections, he describes his time in jail as providing him with a kind of grace, which he hopes will allow him to be a better man. On this selection, as well as on several others during which he focuses upon spiritual experience and the gaining of insight, Jah Cure is clearly at his best. Often supported only by simple instrumentation, such as an acoustic guitar and sparse percussion, Jah Cure’s depth of soul naturally and effortlessly emanates through his raspy, single-octave delivery. While it may be a tired cliché to assert that prison changes a person, there are enough instances of this being true — from men as diverse in their backgrounds as British writer Oscar Wilde and African-American freedom fighter Malcolm X — that there are grounds to hope that Jah Cure’s greatest work still lies ahead of him, and that it will continue to be informed by the humbling situation into which he was forced by his incarceration.
For music fans who grew up listening to reggae during the genre’s golden age in the 1970s, the Jamaican music of the 21st Century may be a little baffling. For all of the exoticism that roots-reggae albums afforded western music listeners in the early days, releases by artists such as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and Toots and the Maytals still sounded enough like rock, soul, and R&B records to provide a comfortable context in which the sounds could be heard. Furthermore, reggae outings at that time often were made using a house band. In the same way that Motown and Stax singles frequently employed the same players, reggae fans could count on a high level of musicianship from studio regulars such as Soul Syndicate, The Upsetters, and Sly and Robbie’s outfit. What characterizes so many of reggae’s newest hits are not the groups and musicians, but a single producer who creates much of the music on a computer without any contributions from live performers.
Bearing this new approach to recording reggae in mind, about half of the songs on True Reflections…A New Beginning were made with a live band, and they are by far the best cuts in the collection. While this is a matter of taste — many fans love the rhythms created by producers using computer technology — the nature of Jah Cure’s hard luck tales is much better supported by actual musicians than it is by mechanized beats. Simply put, all of the material that was created with a real group has a lot more punch, depth, and rhythm than those on which the backing tracks were manufactured by a producer. A computer cannot replicate or convey the feeling of a bass guitar or a drum kit; drum machines and faux bass lines sound cold.
Regardless, Jah Cure is a great singer. Sounding a little like Gregory Isaacs with his nasal drawl and lovelorn inflections, he never over-emotes or overreaches his voice’s capabilities. The result is that he sounds not just comfortable, but also in complete control of each track’s melody. Despite his somewhat limited range, he effortlessly seems to find the right intonation on each song, and his vocal prowess coaxes a subtle and sophisticated delivery that elevates each tune beyond his lyrics, which occasionally are pedestrian and marred by clichés.
Because True Reflections…A New Beginning is a compilation of singles rather than a conceived album, it often seems to have little unity. Spiritual songs that are full of depth and insight are often programmed alongside love songs that embrace some of R&B’s most cloying and melodramatic excesses. Still, there are enough great numbers on the effort to make it worth hearing. Roots-reggae fans wanting something to hold onto when diving into Jah Cure’s musical world may appreciate Most High Cup Full, an adaptation of Bob Marley’s classic Sun Is Shining. Many of those who have been attracted to Jah Cure’s music by the surrounding hype may be surprised to hear the work of a serious artist striving hard to define a sound and communicate a vision.
Jah Cure is an artist standing at the crossroads. Absurd as it may sound, one must wonder if his career can withstand his release from prison. Will he continue to make meaningful music when the cache afforded by his time behind bars has faded? What will he sing about when his store of jailhouse songs has been exhausted? One can only hope that the wisdom he gained while he was incarcerated will carry into his life as a free man. Jah Cure’s next release surely will be an important one, and it will be crucial in determining the next phase of his career. Let’s hope that he bides his time and considers his next move carefully. Until then, the jury is out. ½
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 © 2007 The Music Box