Strictly the Best, Vol. 40

Many of the people who discovered reggae via Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, or Linton Kwesi Johnson tend to equate reggae with very sociopolitical lyrics. But romantic lyrics have always been an important part of reggae, going back to '60s rocksteady groups like the Paragons, the Heptones, and the Gaylords -- and the demand for what came to be called lovers rock (reggae that is romantic instead of sociopolitical) continued into the 21st century. Assembled in 2009, this addition to VP's Strictly the Best series focuses primarily on reggae's romantic side. Tough, aggressive dancehall has been a big part of many Strictly the Best compilations, but it isn't a high priority on this one -- and when listeners do encounter dancehall toasting on Strictly the Best, Vol. 40, it is usually done in support of a reggae singer (in much the same way that modern R&B singers often feature rappers). Although Vol. 40 never strays from its lovers rock orientation, this 61-minute CD isn't monolithic. Some of the tracks have an appealing classic soul influence, including Hezron' s "So in Love," Beres Hammond' s "No Goodbye," Fiona' s "Since I've Been Loving You" (not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin classic) and Courtney John' s "Lucky Man." But Jah Vinci' s "Baby Girl, I Am Alone" has more of a neo-soul/urban appeal, and there is a strong adult contemporary factor on Sherieta Lewis' "All in the Name of Love" and Busy Signal' s version of Phil Collins' "One More Night." So even though this 61-minute CD maintains a lovers rock focus, it doesn't offer one type of lovers rock exclusively. Some parts of the compilation are a little too middle of the road for their own good, but overall, Strictly the Best, Vol. 40 paints an attractive picture of the modern lovers rock scene. ~ Alex Henderson

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