Bigger than Broadway? That's what MCA was banking on when they signed Barrington Levy in 1993. The singer had cracked the U.K. market in the mid-'80s, and returned with a vengeance with 1991's Divine album and the Top 20 hit single "Tribal Base." Now the label was convinced it was the U.S.'s turn, which explains the set's glossy sound and weighty guest stars. Still, MCA weren't total idiots, and with Sly & Robbie laying down the rhythms as well as co-producing alongside Lee Jaffe and Andre Betts, Barrington is not your typical leap to the big-time fiasco, but a superb set.
Points of entry for those already familiar with the artist were the recuts of "Under Mi Sensi" and "Murderer." The former, which helped launch the ragga age, is given a new dancehall workout that will leave you gasping for breath. While its roots are still showing, the latter's are barely visible, transformed into a hip-hop spectacular boasting vociferous raps from guesting Rakim. It's "Jeep" remix is smoother, lusher, and more R&B-flavored, but still propelled by Dunbar's crisp beats.
"Survival" trades rapper for toaster, with Otiyah Morgan delivering a tough cultural toast that strongly reinforces Levy's impassioned look at the pitiful state of the world, while on the lush "Nothing's Changed," Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid unreels languorous leads over the sumptuous backing. "Vice Versa Love" is another standout, a showcase for Levy's most inspiring performances as he soulfully cries out for love and unity. Spanish guitars flavor "Be Strong," romance features on "90% There," and educators are celebrated on the breezy "Teacher," all rich numbers aimed at an international audience. "Strange," however, celebrates the latest Jamaican dance craze, "the Bogle," while welcoming its newest contender, "the Butterfly." And as contemporary as that theme is, the rhythm resurrects the past and Levy's 1983 hit, "Money Moves." "Work," too, is built for the dancehalls with its stripped-back arrangement and vicious beats. Backed by a trio of gospel-tinged female vocalists, Levy forcefully commands that "every posse must work," a message that hits even harder on the DJ version, where DJ Jigsy King joins the workforce. As strong as this album is, MCA was unable to parlay it into a breakout. "Work," however, did give the singer another hit...in the U.K. ~ Jo-Ann Greene