album reviews

Rasta Awake
I Grade Records
Inna Red I Hour
I Grade Records
A Different Age
I Grade Records

Although reggae was developed in Jamaica, a new movement has been blossoming in the Virgin Islands, nourished by the growing label I Grade Records. One of the more promising artists from St. Croix is Fritzmaurice Williams, who performs under the name Army. His warm, wise voice meshes well with his recurring themes of peace and harmony, and even when his lyrics sound obvious ("Always share your love for the rest of your days" on "Share Your Love"), he imparts his advice without sounding preachy or predictable.

Fellow Crucian Abja takes a different tack on his "Inna Red I Hour," singing songs of protest. With a voice shriller than Army's, Abja brings a sense of urgency to his rebel reggae, as on the song "War," in which he chants: "War for the money, war for the gold/War for the people and their mind control." Abja has a few less confrontational moments as well: The mellow "Still Have Love" features an enchanting, non-traditional guitar line, while "Love Jah" sets the reverential spirit of Abja's lyrics against a restrained yet riveting drum beat.

Dominican-born Nigel Olivacce (aka NiyoRah) blends reggae with hip-hop on "A Different Age." Although the laid-back melodies of "Reality Check" and the R&B leanings of "Twisted Atmosphere" might seem out of place on a reggae album, NiyoRah melds these genres with surprising fluidity and grace.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 24 February 2006, Page WE06