In the '80s, Jamaica's veteran vocalists really were All in the Same Boat, and a leaky one at that, pushed out to sea by the DJs who now commanded the island's attention and affection. Many vocal groups called it a day, singers relocated abroad hoping to jump start their career in more amenable climes, and others decided to stay home but turned their attention to the international market. Freddie McGregor followed this latter course, and began openly courting stateside fans, although his first foray into the States was with the thoroughly Jamaican set Come On Over. The Boat, however, arrived decked in a crossover sound -- a reggae light styling with lush arrangements and plush production, even though its passengers were all Jamaican.
The Browne family -- Cleveland, Dalton, Danny, and Glen -- provide much of the instrumentation and backing harmonies, joined by bassist Bagga Walker, keyboardist Pablove Black, and a brass section led by saxophonist Dean Frazer. Others embarking with McGregor include vocalists Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Peter Broggs, amid a backing choir of voices that add to the luxurious sound of the set. The album is very much a child of its time, blending rich American R&B atmospheres with reggae rhythms, layers on the synths and harmonies, then sprinkles with percussion, brass, and guitars. It's all slickly done, as was the fashion of the day, but McGregor works hard to insure it's not soul-less, and his warm, soulful performances are the only thing that salvages this album for modern audiences. Still, the hook-ridden "I Don't Want to See You Cry" with its vehement rhythm and bubblegummy chorus is nothing if not infectious; "Hungry Belly Pickney" is a stellar sufferer's number, one of the few purer roots numbers within; "Jah Is the Don" is a stunning cultural dancehall piece, all slamming beats and lashings of brass; "I'm Coming Home"'s almost bouncy backing counterpoints one of McGregor's richest and most heartfelt performances; while the title track is so strong that even those not impressed with the sound of the time will be forced to make an exception for it. These latter three songs closed out the album, and it's best to work backwards from them. The CD adds four more tracks, a fine solo take on "Raggamuffin," the smash that McGregor and Dennis Brown had cut for Gussie Clarke in 1985 (and not to be confused with the Brown song of the same name which appeared in later years, and was actually a retitled "Big All Around"), a charming remodel of McGregor's own "Go Away Pretty Woman," a lovely cover of "I Can't Get You Out of My Mind," and the roots-flavored "Freddie." Well received in its day, the overall style has aged badly, but the singer's glowing vocal shine through even the most drippy of arrangements. ~ Jo-Ann Greene