You're Safe
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You're Safe (10 Records, 1985)

Maxi Priest's debut album, You're Safe made much less of a splash in the U.S. than in the U.K. and much, much less of a splash in the U.S. than his later albums would make.  Produced by Paul Robinson (AKA Barry Boom) and backed by the band Caution, this album has much more of a live-instrument, rootsy, "real" reggae sound than the R&B-flavored lovers rock for which Priest would later become famous.  While later hits like "Close to You" and "That Girl" aren't readily identifiable as reggae, the standard reggae sound is apparent throughout You're Safe, which, along with his increased use of patois slang, gives it a rawer sound and a harder (well, as hard as Maxi Priest can be) edge.  The titles of the songs alone indicate the edginess: "Sensi," "Throw Me Corn," "Fatty Fatty," and "Stand Up and Fight" (Incidentally, "Fatty Fatty" and "Throw Me Corn" are not the famous Heptones and Larry Marshall tunes you might think they are.).  Nonetheless, having said this, You're Safe still has a largely light, lovers-esque vibe running through it (He is still British, after all.).  Priest's soulful voice and melodies (co-written by Robinson) don't allow the songs to stray far from the lovers realm where he is most comfortable and most adept.   It's no surprise that the best song on the album is the one that is most true to the lovers rock sub-genre, the swaying, slow-wining "Dancin' Mood."  Also good is the celebratory "In the Springtime" (although the chorus of people tweeting like birds can take some getting used to), while "Should I" and "Hey Little Girl" are nice also.  Priest's sound is still raw here, though; his full potential would be realized only when he accepted his role as King of Lovers Rock.

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Track Listing
1. In the Springtime
2. Should I
3. Hey Little Girl
4. Fatty Fatty
5. You're Safe featuring Paul Robinson
6. Caution
7. Dancin' Mood
8. Throw Me Corn
9. Sensi
10. Stand Up and Fight
You're Safe
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Intentions (10 Records, 1986)

Maxi Priest drops Caution and gains a smoother, crisper, more produced, less live-band sound -- for the first half of the album, at least.  The standout cut here is the tender "Woman in You," while "Love Train" (no, not the O'Jays' "Love Train") is a nice lovers jam also.  "Jehovah" and "Cry Me a River" meanwhile foreshadow hits like "Close to You" in that they are heavy on the R&B (Also like "Close to You," they are good.).  Certainly a contributing factor to the shift in sound is the fact that Paul Robinson produces only a couple of the songs on Intentions; most of the tracks are actually produced by Aswad member Drummie Zeb (Fellow Aswad members Brinsley Forde and Angus Gaye also co-wrote some of the tunes.).  More consistent with the material on You're Safe is "Strollin' On," which, along with the last five songs on the album, has a more traditional, live-band sound.

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Track Listing
1. Love Train
2. Woman in You
3. Crazy Love
4. Jehovah
5. Cry Me a River
6. Strollin' On
7. Pretty Little Girl
8. Let Me Know
9. Festival Time
10. Must Be a Way
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Maxi Priest
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Maxi Priest (Virgin, 1988)

This is the album where Maxi Priest finally immerses himself in the sultry lovers rock groove.  Not surprisingly, then, his first taste of pop success in the U.S. came from this set, in the form of his remake of Cat Stevens' "Wild World."  He would soon become one of the most popularly known reggae singers in the States since Bob Marley -- perhaps because disturbingly many of his U.S. hits have been distinctly non-reggae in nature ("Close to You," "That Girl," etc.).  Maxi Priest, however, remains true to the reggae genre.  The remaining tracks may not have had the popular appeal that "Wild World" had, but they are every bit as solid, particularly "Suzie -- You Are," "Marcus," and the magnificent duet with Beres Hammond, "How Can We Ease the Pain?"  With help from some big names in the reggae biz -- Sly & Robbie, Pam Hall, JC Lodge, Dean Frazer, and the aforementioned Hammond -- here is where he staked his claim as a lovers rock maestro and a force to be reckoned with in reggae.

Track Listing
1. Wild World
2. Suzie -- You Are
3. Goodbye to Love Again
4. Problems
5. Same Old Story
6. Marcus
7. How Can We Ease the Pain? featuring Beres Hammond
8. It Ain't Easy
9. Some Guys Have All the Luck

Maxi Priest
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Bonafide (10 Records, 1990)

Maxi Priest built on the success of "Wild World" with the smash "Close to You," which hit #1 in the US.  Some reggae purists may have been turned off by the Soul II Soul-ish song, but the mellow music and buttermilk vocals proved too infectious to withstand.  Similar can be said about one of my favorite cuts on the album, "Space in My Heart," a wrenching R&B-styled tune with a heartbeat-styled rhythm.  For those opposed to these mainstream sounds (Indeed, "Peace Throughout the World" and "Prayer for the World" sound a bit tired.), Priest throws in some good old-fashioned lovers rock on "Best of Me," "Human Work of Art," and "Just a Little Bit Longer."  But frankly, if you're only into the hardcore reggae sound, Maxi Priest is not who you want to be listening to.

Track Listing
1. Just a Little Bit Longer
2. Close to You
3. Never Did Say Goodbye
4. Best of Me
5. Space in My Heart
6. Human Work of Art
7. Temptress
8. Peace Throughout the World featuring Jazzie B.
9. You
10. Sure Fire Love
11. Life
12. Prayer for the World
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Best of Me (10 Records, 1991)

This compilation features the "best of" Maxi Priest's first 4 albums: You're Safe, Intentions, Maxi Priest, and Bonafide.  Although not arranged in chronological order, it's evident in this collection how his music has shifted over time from a more traditional (albeit light and airy) style of reggae -- as heard on "Caution" and "Strollin' On" -- to a more popular crossover style that came to fruition on Bonafide, with hits like "Close to You" and "Peace Throughout the World."  Of course, many of Priest's later songs aren't as thoroughly non-reggae as these two; indeed, his best tracks combine his reggae and pop influences.  The selection of songs on Best of Me is a pretty good one, but missing are a few cuts that weren't popular but that nevertheless are amongst his best: "Space in My Heart" and "Human Work of Art" from Bonafide, "Jehovah" and "Cry Me a River" from Intentions, and my favorite cut from You're Safe, "Dancin' Mood."  Almost as if to make up for these omissions, though, there are a couple of solid duets included that aren't available on any of his other albums: "I Know Love" with Tiger and "Housecall" with Shabba Ranks, a sultry groove reminiscent of Ranks' "Mr. Loverman."  Since Priest's first two albums received little attention here in the US, this compilation is a good way for us Yanks to to sample his earlier material (7 of the 16 tracks are from these first two albums), which, as I mentioned, is a bit more "true" to the reggae genre, but also a bit weaker overall than his later stuff.  The best of his earlier works included here are "Woman in You" and "In the Springtime," both happy mid-tempo jams.

Track Listing
1. Wild World
2. In the Springtime
3. Should I
4. Close to You
5. How Can We Ease the Pain [Adam Mosely Mix] featuring Beres Hammond
6. Let Me Know
7. Housecall featuring Shabba Ranks
8. Just a Little Bit Longer
9. Caution
10. Some Guys Have All the Luck
11. I Know Love featuring Tiger
12. Strollin' On
13. Best of Me
14. Crazy Love
15. Woman in You
16. Peace Throughout the World featuring Jazzie B.
Best of Me
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fe Real
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fe Real (10 Records, 1992)

Maxi Priest's most under-appreciated album, fe Real received considerably less airplay in the US than Bonafide, due to the lack of a "bona fide" crossover hit. While this may be true, there is also not as overt a sense of crossover material as on the previous release.  It's a mellow, solid experience with few holes and two standout songs as engrossing as any he has ever performed: "Sublime" and "Amazed Are We."

Track Listing
1. Can't Turn Away
2. Promises
3. Just Wanna Know [UK Mix]
4. Groovin' in the Midnight
5. Make My Day
6. Ten to Midnight
7. One More Chance
8. Sublime
9. Amazed Are We
10. Hard to Get
fe Real
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CombiNation (Virgin, 1999)

Although I don't review Maxi Priest's 1996 album Man With the Fun on this site, I did at one time own it (See the "Sellables" section.).  I was hoping desperately that that excruciatingly pop-laden album was an aberration in Priest's career, but CombiNation shows that it was not.  Like Man With the Fun, CombiNation largely abandons Priest's classic lovers rock style in favor of icky pop/dance tracks that make you want to take a bath after hearing them.  Although he had thrown in a dose of R&B with a crossover appeal on his earlier albums (as with the hit "Close to You"), he had never quite fully crossed that line into sheer pop-dom.   But now his music has become a disturbing mix of Shaggy on a bad day and The Spice Girls (Listen to "Mary's Got a Baby" to see what I mean.).  I can count on one hand the number of songs on CombiNation that are identifiable as reggae.   I suppose the worst thing that could've happened to Maxi Priest occurred when his non-reggae songs "That Girl" and "Summertime" (with Shaggy) became popular, thus giving him license to officially sell out.  The odd thing, however, is that he throws in duets with some hardcore, well-respected dancehall DJs here (the duets presumably the meaning behind the title of the album): Beenie Man, Red Rat, General Degree, and Glamma Kid.  But in the end, all guest stars are lowered to the level of this banal material.  I don't mean to make it sound like every track is bad, though.  Priest delivers a few memorable performances, mostly on the slower, more sultry R&B cuts that showcase the smoothness he displayed on his great lovers rock works: "Here We Go," "So What If It Rains," "Wasn't Meant to Be" (an unabashed attempt to go after the Soul II Soul-esque sound of "Close to You"), and "What a Woman Needs."  He even treads into rare religious territory on the solid but borderline sappy "God Watches Over Us," and he packs a likeable Jamiroquai-like sound on "We Tomorrow's People."  Still, though, any pleasure derived from CombiNation is purely coincidental.  Bad songwriting is predominant, and Priest can seemingly sense this, for he resorts to pedestrian remakes of Roberta Flacks and Donny Hathaway's "Back Together Again," Kool & The Gang's "Ladies Night," and George Michael's "Father Figure" (the melody of which is used on "I Only Have One Heart").

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Track Listing
1. We Tomorrow's People
2. Mary's Got a Baby featuring Beenie Man
3. What a Woman Needs
4. Back Together Again with Elisha La'Verne
5. She Wants to Dance featuring General Degree
6. Golden Lady
7. Wasn't Meant to Be
8. Try
9. It's a Lady's Night featuring Glamma Kid
10. I Only Have One Heart
11. The One
12. Tell Your Man To Take a Walk featuring Red Rat
13. Here We Go
14. So What If It Rains
15. God Watches Over Us
16. Mary's Got a Baby [Neptunes Remix] featuring Bennie Man

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