by: Sugar Minnott

An album like International has one reaching for the thesaurus for enough superlatives to sum up the set. Sumptuous is a good place to start, for these dozen tracks are infused with rich atmospheres, eloquent melodies, and fabulous vocal performances. But sumptuous doesn't encompass the sharp, digitized dancehall beats that drive the set, or accurately express the sparseness of some of the arrangements. Mixmaster Hopeton "Scientist" Brown, Desmond Williams, who supplies most of the instrumentation within, and Sugar Minott himself join forces to oversee the album. Pick the numbers apart, and one can hear how each had a voice in the results: Minott expending much time and care on his vocals, while insisting that the rhythms and arrangements emphasize his words and showcase his performance; Williams working hard to lay down a backing that satisfies the singer while insuring his own excellent contributions receive equal pride of place; and Scientist bringing it all together with his typically creative flair. Their lavish efforts are especially notable on a number of songs ("International Herbalist" and "Ramdance Master" spring immediately to mind) that utilize particularly well-worn rhythms, for in this trio's hands even the most recycled of sounds and melodies suddenly emerge fresh and exciting. Yet for all the work that obviously went in, International never sounds forced or contrived, the songs flow effortlessly out, and with thoughtful sequencing, the entire set has a remarkably fluid feel, even as moods shift and the tempos quicken or ebb. Much of the album revolves around cultural themes, with Minott gently coaxing and reasoning with listeners to consider their actions. "The Wrong Thing" calmly addresses the rude boys, "A Just Rasta" his squabbling Rastafarian brethren, and "Brotherly Love" the world at large, while elsewhere he soulfully sings his praises to Jah. "Herbalist" finds the singer spluttering over his spliff on one of the most incandescent ganja anthems ever recorded. On the opposite end of the scale is "Ramdance," a stripped-down monster of a song, with Minott securely perched on top urging him on. Contrarily, its dub is fuller, the beast growing flesh before one's eyes, while the luxuriously moody "I'll Take Care of You"'s dub is bared to reverbing rhythmic bones and echoing rim shots. Minott continues to astound -- 1994's Breaking Free reestablished his reputation, and International proves it was no fluke. ~ Jo-Ann Greene

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