Thursday, 4 December 2014

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Etana is at the top of her game on I Rise

MIND OVER MATTER: The singer stays on message on her latest disc.

When songstress Etana sings "I am black. I am strong in every way. Mi blessings tun up to the max," on "Jamaica Woman" off her terrific new album I Rise, she's only confirming what we've known all along ― she's a completely self-possessed and wondrously gifted daughter of Jamrock, continuously offering listeners potent samples of the artistic journey she's making. For the record, the prolific songbird's fourth album, released by VP Records, bears renewed testament of her vocal prowess and deft songwriting ability.

To wit, the album, which clocks in at 56 minutes, is teeming with highlights from among its 14 tracks ― none more compelling than "Emancipation," an uplifting, call-to-action number about freeing the mind. It's a sensibility that recurs throughout the disc, most poignantly on cuts like the classic remake "Stepping out of Babylon" and the title track, on which she reminds us "I was born for this." She'll get no argument from us on that score.

Etana's music has always been distinguished by a commitment to humanity and the heart-and-mind concerns she has for Jamaicans who share her humble beginnings. (Experience the relatable mother-son drama "Trigger, set in the inner-city.) After all, this is the chanteuse who gave us such sobering testimonies as "Roots", "I Am Not Afraid" and "Wrong Address." For the most part, she sticks to this tried-and-true formula, her soulfulness and social consciousness echoing at all the right moments, but especially on melodic jams like "On My Way" and "Passing Thru."

And the girl can't help it; she's still a romantic at heart, as evidenced by the stirring, heartfelt gems "Love Song" and "By Your Side."

In the end, I Rise becomes a worthy addition to Etana's impressively expanding discography, which already includes The Strong One, Free Expressions and Better Tomorrow. The album won't dramatically alter the arc of her career, but it's good music through and through ― the kind she consistently delivers with such gusto and passion ― and it certainly bolsters the argument that she's one of the most distinguished and important female voices in modern reggae. Tyrone's Verdict: A- 

> BEST TRACKS: "Emancipation," "I Rise" and "Trigger"

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