Monday, 4 October 2010

DUANE STEPHENSON: The singer-songwriter strikes rich chords with sophomore album ‘Black Gold’

Reggae singer-songwriter Duane Stephenson is not one to skimp on the social commentary in his music, greatly noticeable when he tackles such readily accessible themes as poverty, struggle and hopelessness as on his critically praised debut August Town and the new, soulfully profound sophomore follow-up Black Gold (VP Records). Simply, these songs are powerful messages, steeped in emotional honesty, deep introspection and concern for his fellow man – that at once recall conscious stalwarts like Tarrus Riley and Tony Rebel.

Most noteworthy among the album’s offerings is “Sufferer’s Heights,” a lush, hard-hitting anthem (peppered with horns and drums) that tackles inner-city hardship while managing to both sharply question authority and champion the rights of the less fortunate. Stephenson shines, too, on “Nah Play,” the gripping album opener that addresses youthful criminality, and drops introspective musings (“Is love just a myth?”) on “Deception.” Then there’s the haunting title track with its wonderful Nyabinghi-esque approach, plus other standout cuts like “Cycle Goes On” and “Jah Works.” Winning collaborations with Gramps Morgan (“Rescue Me”) and Queen Ifrica (“Stay At Home”) are also worthwhile listens.

Overall, Stephenson’s Black Gold is an impressive success for the former To-Isis frontman. Boasting 14 solid tracks, it’s a frequently melodic and mellow anthology of reggae, acoustic and roots-rock singles, which largely finds the experienced vocalist conducting his vocal executions with great precision and clarity without the overpowering the clout of the poignant messages at the core of his melodies. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

DOWNLOAD: The remarkable “Black Gold” and the repeat-worthy “Sufferer’s Heights”


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