Catch A Fire

1970s reggae star Horace Andy came to the attention of younger audiences through his numerous 1990s guest appearances on Massive Attack albums, but despite the good source material he was working with on those cameos, he was in many ways misrepresented as an artist.

While Andy certainly has mined the dark hues of his voice in the past, his vocals exude a certain amount of joy as well — a joy that was all but bled out of Massive Attack songs like "Angel." Although Andy is now signed to the group's label, Melankolic, he isn't backed by them. Instead, he returned to the familiar stomping grounds of the Tuff Gong studios in Kingston, Jamaica. On Living in the Flood — his first album of new material in many years — Andy recorded with producer Clive "Azul" Hunt and the island's top session musicians, and judging by the performances on "Johnny Too Bad" (RealAudio excerpt), "Don't Blame the Youth" and "Smiling Face," he certainly made the right choice.

From the opening bassline that props up the album's first track, "After All" (RealAudio excerpt), it's clear that this is a reggae album, in the classic mold of Bob Marley and old Jimmy Cliff. The music emphasizes lovely melodies and good songwriting as much as it does a smooth groove, and among the best is the aforementioned "After All," a song about contemplating suicide sung from the perspective of a worried friend who sees someone slipping into darkness and possibly over the edge. In his soft, lilting, almost otherworldly voice, he empathetically sings, "I saw you on the field a little insecure/ I think I saw you out in the rain/ I know you're feeling small/ And tired of it all/ Looking for a softer place to fall." While the lyrics are depressing, the warmth of the music and the compassion within Andy's voice keeps the lengthy song from becoming an endless bummer.

Living in the Flood neatly brings together reggae's past, present and future, and nowhere is that more evident than on the album's title track (RealAudio excerpt). Though it channels the more rootsy, organic sounds of 1970s reggae, it features distinctly modern-sounding production values — and, furthermore, it was written by Joe Strummer, whom Andy inspired when Strummer fronted the Clash in the 1970s. The song — and, indeed, much of the album — has all the fire-and-brimstone urgency of early politically charged reggae, as Horace Andy attempts to purge all the evil in the world with the sheer righteous power of his voice. With his eyes on the prize and his sights on the wicked, he confidently sings Strummer's words: "With the fire of truth/ We will evaporate."