Toppa Top 10: The Best Caribbean Albums of 2014

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1. Tarrus Riley – Love Situation

Tarrus-Riley-Love-Situation-Album

The push within Jamaican music during the last few years has been towards a return to the island’s musical glory days. Partly a response to the excesses of dancehall’s last decade (Kartel, Tommy Lee) and partly the same thing happening in every other arena of music, this impulse has found expression in any number of retro-styled singles (Aidonia’s “80s Dancehall Style”), albums (Mr. Vegas’ Sweet Jamaica) and fashion statements (the return of the mesh marina), and elevated an entire musical movement (the success of the so-called reggae revival is due in no small part to its artists’ timely embrace of retro styles). While it’s perhaps true that Jamaican music was better in these idealized eras (roughly the late 1960s through the mid ’90s), the pitfall to all of this has been a lack of forward movement, as trend-chasing artists blindly reach for the past without keeping an eye to the future.

Love Situation, the fourth, and easily best, LP from singer Tarrus Riley, is the album that finally gets it all right, and it will hopefully establish a template for other artists to follow. Musically, the 17-track LP, produced by Shane Brown, is firmly rooted in the past, dipping heavily into Jamaica’s brief but influential rocksteady era, even riffing on the early American R&B that inspired that movement first place (See the doo-wop melodies of “1-2-3 I Love You”). While the music might come from the past, Tarrus is firmly in the present on Love Situation. The album showcases a vocalist at the peak of his game doing what it is that he doesโ€”in Tarrus’ case making great love songs and break-up ballads.

That Riley is the artist who happened onto the formula for a modern, vintage-styled reggae album is not an accident. As anyone who regularly attends reggae concerts and festivals knows, Tarrus and his Blak Soil Family band have one of the tightest shows in the business. Led by veteran producer and saxophonist Dean Fraser, Tarrus shows are a well-oiled machine, and that machine is the engine on Love Situation, as well. Unlike other efforts by present-day reggae artists’ efforts to revisit the past, no outside intervention was required: Playing here are the same core of musicians Tarrus spends the bulk of his year with. Credit must also be given to Brown, expanding upon the back-to-basics vision he’s laid out with productions like Busy Signal’s Reggae Music Again. The result is an album full of rocksteady re-licks and vintage vibes that feels fresh and new, and nothing like karaoke. โ€”Jesse Serwer