Luciano has long been a favorite. He is
a a great live performer and has a rich catalog of musical gems to
mine when on stage. This new Hail The Comforter collection adds
some nice jewels to his Regal Reggae Crown. With the roots and culture side of reggae music enjoying a new renaissance in 2005 it's fitting that the scene's most beloved artist, Luciano the Messenger, returns with a brand new album to take his place at the head of the charge.
Versioned over the mighty 'Hand Cart Boy' riddim, the album's title track gives a neat distillation of Luciano's own beliefs. Steeped in spirituality and divine inspiration, 'Hail the Comforter' is a celebration of Haile Selassie and all that he means to the Rastafarian race. Elsewhere, tracks like 'Father God', 'Crafty' and 'Stop the War' continue Luciano's intention to point out life's inequalities and man's inhumanity to man. Other highlights include a meditation on the Rastaman's sacrament in 'Herb Minister', the power of reggae music in 'Keep the Music Alive' and a blistering deejay version of 'Crafty' re-named as 'Too Greedy' and co-starring Anthony B.
Reggae is music and much more. It's a rhythm set to a poor man’s cry, a pledge from singer to struggler that “better must come.” No other reggae singer today delivers that promise with as much grace, power, and heart as Jamaican baritone Luciano. Serve Jah, his latest set, offers 16 tracks of buoyant inspiration that builds on his previous best-selling CDs 95's Life, 97's The Messenjah, and 99's Sweep Over My Soul. Both this new album and Luciano's career story testify to the depth and constancy of the singer-songwriter’s human commitment.
Ever since Bob Marley left this plane in 1981, at age 35, reggae had been searching for another prophet. That position comes at a heavy price. Marley himself survived a gunshot wound; his children still receive death threats. The late Dennis Brown reigned as Reggae Prince for a while, until industry abuses and a tenacious drug habit wore away at his talent. The thrilling voice of Garnet Silk was silenced when he died in a suspicious fire in late 1994. Into the void created by those loses - and too many others - came ‘95’s prayerful hit, “It’s Me Again Jah,” a stunning expression of pain and piety that seemed to have been ripped from its writer-singer's soul. With that single song, a 30 year-old upholsterer from Manchester parish became reggae's Annointed One. Born as Jephter McClymount and renamed Luciano for his luxuriant, near operatic vocal gifts, Luciano's several previous albums for producers Castor Brown and Freddie McGregor (also a legendary singer) had stirred scarcely a ripple. They were recorded during this self-styled "struggler's" second stint in Jamaica's music capital, Kingston. After his first but unsuccessful stay in the city, Luciano had returned to Manchester to sell food in the market place. The second time he tried to make it in music, "I came with more seriousness," he says. "I started doing upholstery, then went to the studios for work."
“It's Me Again” reflected its maker's struggles and newfound depth, and it struck a chord deep in the reggae consciousness. More uniquely radiant songs followed in quick succession, among them "Lord Give Me Strength," "Your World and Mine," and "Heaven Help Us All." It was soon clear that reggae's new hero was drawing from a bottomless well, and millions of international reggae fans happily succumbed to Luciano rapture. The U.K. branch of Island Records, the label that introduced Marley to the world, hastily signed Luciano through his home Xterminator label. Where There Is Life, released in '95, corralled Luciano's hit single, plus equally luminous new tracks, for one of the greatest reggae albums ever. “The sky’s the limit for Luciano, you could take him anywhere,” said legendary drummer/producer Sly Dunbar, who arranged and played on the album.
But Luciano remained earthbound, that is, another reggae secret. He toured in the U.S. and the U.K. in support of Life, but Xterminator, who also managed, produced, and booked him – and served as surrogate family - stuck to areas heavily populated with Jamaicans. In‘97, Island, together with VP Records and Xterminator, released Luciano’s sophomore Messenjah set. With tracks like "Never Give Up My Pride, "How Can You," and "Carry Jah Load," the album was a worthy follow-up to Life. Again, the album tour stuck to the usual reggae circuit. Once you've seen Luciano live in performance, you've witnessed reggae church at its most exhilarating, but without playing to alt rock and pop audiences, Luciano remained a secret to all but millions of reggae's already-convinced. “A man can have an impact from his little corner,” this humble man once has said.
That was a few years ago, and time has wrought changes. "My life has been likes a storm," Luciano succinctly observes. Today, the sun shines, and Luciano's direction is forward…in every direction. He's left Xterminator – taking the fabled Firehouse band with him. Back in ’97, as Luciano fever was settling into a chronic condition, the youngest Xterminator member, a firebrand named Sizzla, lit his own worldwide bonfire with lucid songwriting delivered in a mesmerizing, poetic chanting style. But when Sizzla's live, between-song diatribes began creating rifes within the Rastafarian community, Xterminator’s “family” ties unraveled.
"One pen cyann [can’t] hold two bull [cq]," Luciano succinctly explained. "I'll tell you the honest truth as a philosphical, Christian-like messenger on earth, I will not be hypocritical about certain things. After a while, me get [cq] to realize that the philosophy of Sizzla was changing toward another dimension. What I stood for all this time as a righteous singer and a spiritual man in Creation was being threatened by the overall aura of my brother. We all falter sometimes and transgress from the way of life and change side [cq]. But who don't [cq] know God's love have [cq] to take time out and search deep. It's not just about becoming involved in the music fraternity, 'cause at the end of the day, many people sing this and that and one got burnt, one got shot, one got poisoned. If we don't learn from all these things, something would be lacking in I and I [cq] own heart and mind. And once you say something must be done, you must do it."
Luciano has no regrets and acknowledges the benefits of his Xterminator period. "I have to say foundation is foundation and you cannot remove that," he says. "I have to give thanks for the work that Philip Burrell [Xterminator's head] did and all my Xterminator compareros. But we're like a tree and some grew new branches. I'm sending out my own roots at this time as a young vibrant tree. The work is the same; you just move from one place to another. I have to spearhead many things and make sure the work is lined up with my own philosophy."
So, while some roots reggae artists continue to shrink reggae's once-generous
vision, Luciano is intensifying his humanitarian commitment. Sweep Over My Soul
yielded a hit in its title track and "Ulterior Motive," a tune in
which Luciano shared a hard lesson about reggae stardom. At the same time,
Luciano was looking beyond the Jamaican music industry. Unlike many who only
write about Motherland roots, Luciano actually collaborated with Senegalese
superstar Baaba Maal and his Dande Lenol band on "Africans Unite," for
Maal's '98 Nomad Soul album. Luciano then visited Maal in Dakar, and appeared
onstage with the singer and his Dande Lenol band during at the '99 Air Jamaica
Jazz & Blues festival, essaying challenging Sengalese "Sabar"
dance moves and lending background harmonies.