One Way Ticket

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One Way Ticket (VP, 1994)


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Luciano will inevitably be compared to the late Garnett Silk, not so much because of his voice as his style and lyrics.  Dancehall these days is dominated by DJs spouting slackness, so a conscious singer like Luciano or Garnett Silk stands out.  That Luciano can hold his own with these DJs is a testament to his powerful appeal.  One Way Ticket gives the audience a glimpse of why he remains so loved; he manages to harness the digital sound of the dancehall DJs and mold them with his peaceful spirituality into a form of modern psalms or sermons (much like Silk).  Songs like "Jah Is Alive" and "Black Survivor" attest to this talent.  Luciano even manages to throw in a couple of slower R&B-ish tunes -- "One Sweet Day" and "That's the Way Life Goes" -- that lack nothing in power and that may pack even more of an appeal.  The best song here, though, may be his version of the standard "Nature Boy," an entrancing parable with the echoing, beautifully simple chorus, "To love...and be loved..."

Track Listing
1. Black Survivor
2. Chant Down Babylon
3. One Way Ticket
4. Ragamuffin
5. Bounty Lover featuring Lady G
6. Jah Is Alive featuring Charlie Chaplin
7. Nature Boy
8. Turn Your Life Around
9. Throw Out the Life Line
10. Give Thanks
11. That's the Way Life Goes
12. Some Sweet Day
13. Mr. Governor featuring Cocoa Tea
14. Iah
One Way Ticket
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After All (VP, 1995)

Luciano the Lover? Well, maybe not, but about half of the 12 tracks here are love songs -- and I don't mean love of Jah. The even bigger surprise, though, is that it works very well.  Perhaps its the production of lovers rock superstar Freddie McGregor that caused Luciano to explore his romantic side -- and that bumped the songwriting up to the level of classic material.  Whatever the cause, he should go back and repeat it.  His version of Cheryl Lynn's "Shake It Up Tonight," for instance, sounds even better than the (relatively obscure) original, and is probably the best song on the album.  In fact, it's easier to name the songs that aren't excellent -- "Baby I Can't Believe" and "I'm Stepping on It" being the only two.  As for the rest of After All, it's filled with emotive vocals, well-chosen music that is alternatively strong and subtle at appropriate times, and heavenly melodies (that aren't necessarily about heaven).

Track Listing
1. Shake It Up Tonight
2. Baby I Can't Believe
3. Hold on to Your Dreams
4. All I'm Living For
5. I'm Stepping on It
6. True Love
7. It's a Jungle Out There
8. After All
9. Try and Remember
10. Took Me for Granted
11. Hold Me in Your Arms
12. Try and Remember [Remix]
After All
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Messenger (Island, 1996)

I hope that Luciano doesn't release any more albums on Island, since the label seems to bring the worst out of him (I didn't care for his Where There Is Life album either. There's a fine line between consciousness and corniness, and he crossed into the cornfield on that album.  The messages of love and praise were so saccharin sweet, hit-me-over-the-head simple, that it was like listening to some retro-hippie spouting mantras of "Give peace a chance."  We now return to our regularly scheduled program ...).  Actually, Messenger isn't a bad album; certainly not as bad as his previous one (don't get me started again).  While he still puts forth some drippy sentimentality, this ickiness is tempered by better songwriting.  For example, "Mama," a slow, not-quite-reggae tribute to his mother, is genuinely touching, while "Never Give Up My Pride" is just plain catchy.  Also solid are "Carry Jah Load" (not the Ijahman song) and the Buffalo Springfield-ish "Guess What's Happening," is good enough to overcome some annoying "Zippedy Doo Da"-style whistling.  Still, though, Luciano can't help but sting us with the occasional dose of cheesiness, such as the chorus to "Friend in Need": "A friend in need is a friend indeed, and that's my philosophy."  Indeed.

Track Listing
1. Messenger
2. Life
3. Mama
4. Over the Hills
5. Never Give Up My Pride
6. Rainy Days
7. Friend in Need
8. How Can You
9. Feel Like Moving
10. Carry Jah Load
11. Guess What's Happening
Messenger
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Great Controversy

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Great Controversy (Jet Star, 2000)

Taking a break away from Jamaica, Luciano traveled to England to record Great Controversy for Jet Star.  However, you can't tell that this album wasn't recorded in Kingston for Island, VP, or Xterminator; the sound is typically Luciano.  That is, righteous, mellow modern roots with a touch of dancehall and even some rock steady/ska.  His remake of Peter Tosh's legendary "Legalize It" was featured on Jet Star's Reggae Hits Volume 28, but while his straightforward interpretation is nice, it seems quite unnecessary to revisit such a well-worn song with such little variation.  Similarly, his covers of The Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon" (although I do like the the grounation feel) and the traditional hymn "Amen" feel too familiar.  But, luckily for fans, there's enough original material to go around.  Anchoring Great Controversy is "Call On Yahweh" (although the chorus sings, "Call on Jah"), a powerful testament to Luciano's appeal.  Sure, it sounds similar to some of his past hits, but what a great sound to have!  Likewise, "Are You Ready," "Why?," "Bandits," "Patiently," and the title track all sparkle in Luciano's inimitable style, and on a more consistent basis than some of his previous albums.  The only significant exception is "Good Papa," an antiquated '50s R&B/doo-wop-esque tune that is as out of place here as Rush Limbaugh at a Nation of Islam rally.

Track Listing
1. Legalise It
2. Call On Yahweh
3. Bandits
4. Good Papa
5. Rivers of Babylon
6. Great Controversy
7. Patiently
8. Faith Move Mountain
9. Are You Ready
10. Empress Love
11. Amen
12. Why?
13. Road Block
Great Controversy
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A New Day (2001, VP)

You pretty much know what to expect when you listen to a Luciano song: pious messages of faith, love, and peace, subtle yet catchy melodies, mellow, soulful vocals, light, laid-back roots or rootsy dancehall music.  Ho-hum.  It's sad to say, but it's sometimes boring how consistent he is.  I often hear a Luciano tune and think, "Yup, that's pretty good. Yup, that's Luciano. Next!"  His music is neither overly exciting nor overly adventurous, rarely venturing outside of the airy modern digital roots sound that he ironically helped popularize in the early/mid-'90s.  Still, I shouldn't complain as long as his output is still good, as A New Day is.  In fact, if combined with Great Controversy, which was released only a few weeks prior, you'd have a classic set.  As it is, A New Day is very good, featuring some of Luciano's best work to date, like "Spring Summer" (also found on Universal Message as "Winter & Summer"), "God & King" (also on Kings of Reggae), "God Is My Friend," and the lush "African Skies."  As the cover implies (and as Luciano fans are used to), the mood here is largely meditative and righteous, although harder-edged tracks like "Nah Give Up," "Hardcore," and "Road of Life" shake things up a bit, balancing out solid yet borderline sappy sentiments like "Is There a Place" and "Happy People."

Track Listing
1. No Night in Zion
2. Oh Father I Love Thee
3. Is There a Place
4. Happy People
5. Road of Life
6. Nah Give Up
7. God Is My Friend
8. Only a Fool
9. Traveler
10. African Skies
11. A New Day
12. Hardcore
13. Spring Summer
14. God & King
15. Tell Me Why
16. Save the World
17. Journey
A New Day
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Jah Words (RAS/Sanctuary, 2005)

Luciano is perhaps the most universally revered, iconic figure to emerge in reggae over the past decade, and if you need to know why, just give Jah Words a listen.  His voice oozes serenity, respect, patience, and righteousness.  He seems like the type of guy you can sit down with to share a laugh or a lesson.  His versatility is evident on this album, as he shifts adeptly between love songs and cultural messages -- just as he's done throughout his career.  Jah Words falls in line with Luciano's previous work and is actually one of the strongest in a string of remarkably consistent albums.  Fans know what to expect, and the get it: tranquil modern roots and lovers rock with an occasional dancehall diversion.  What it lacks in originality, Jah Words makes up for in sheer quality.  From top to bottom, these tracks score, with only the most minor of missteps (such as why is "Angel" basically the exact same as "Angel Heart"?).  Even the risky remake of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (included on the Bob Dylan tribute Is It Rolling Bob?) has a certain charm.  Several tracks here could easily fit amongst Luciano's all-time best, most notably the dreamy lovers cut "Perfect Love," the evocative "Foot Soljah" -- a statement of his humble servitude to Jah -- and the more edgy roots jams "Cry for Justice" and title track.  If you're already a Luciano fan or are just looking for an introduction to what makes him so popular, Jah Words is hard to beat.

Track Listing
1. Are You With Me 
2. Many Things 
3. Knockin' on Heaven's Door 
4. Angel Heart 
5. Never Giving In 
6. Foot Soljah 
7. Jah Words 
8. Feed the World 
9. Why Should I 
10. Perfect Love 
11. Prophecy 
12. Cry for Justice 
13. Look Deep Within 
14. Angel 
15. In God Or Man
Jah Words
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Live in San Francisco (2b1, 2006 [orig. released 2004])

Those who didn't get enough live material from Luciano's guest spot on Junior Kelly's Live in San Francisco can nestle into the nooks and crannies of his own live San Fran set. Over the past decade, Luciano has been one of the steady forces in reggae, leading a roots revival with unrivaled humility and righteousness. A single disc can only scratch the surface of the songs with which he's scored hits -- particularly if there are only 12 tracks, as is the case on this album. As if he himself realized the futility of trying to run the gamut of his career in one sitting, Luciano here focuses on a relatively narrow selection of material, primarily from three albums: 1995's Where There Is Life, 1999's Sweep Over My Soul, and 2001's Great Controversy. Thus, those searching for a true "greatest hits" should go elsewhere (although there are several popular tracks included, like "Sweep Over My Soul," "Ulterior Motives," and "One Way Ticket" -- here titled "Back to Africa"). But those who just want to hear Luciano sing sweet melodies from lush songs that you might have otherwise overlooked, Live in SF is where it's at. The buoyant "Sweet Sweet," the effervescent ska of "Have Faith," the rich roots of "Good God," and the dancehall-edged, eight-minute medley of "Who Could It Be Now," "Messenger," and "Final Call" all score on this reliable set.

Track Listing
1. No Night in Zion 
2. Sweet Sweet 
3. Ulterior Motives 
4. Sweep Over My Soul
5. He Is My Friend 
6. Legalize It
7. Have Faith
8. Who Could It Be Now/Messenger/Final Call
9. Good God
10. Back to Africa 
11. Lord Give Me Strength 
12. In This Together
Luciano Live in San Francisco
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