Album Review: Mr. Vegas - Reggae Euphoria
by Angus Taylor
It’s always refreshing to hear him do his thing.
Since the 90s, singer Mr. Vegas has owned a unique space in deejay-dominated dancehall. A big part of this is his voice: as powerful and melodious as his “singjay” predecessors Tenor Saw and Barrington Levy - yet possessing a tart, stinging tenor at ease with the aggressive body-shaking rhythms of his era. No song illustrates this recipe like his Danny Browne-produced breakout Heads High.
An outspoken character, prone to extreme candour on social media, Vegas retired in 2008 only to return following the success of his dancehall spiritual fusion I Am Blessed. Post-epiphany his albums on his own MV music imprint have been interesting, diverse and of good quality. 2012’s Sweet Jamaica was a double disc - the first portion devoted to reggae (which, like Busy Signal’s Reggae Music Again set the ground for the island’s “revival”). Last year's Bruk it Down 2.0 was more dancehall focused but also indulged Vegas’ love of soca and rocksteady – including a cover of the Paragons’ On the Beach.
Latest album Reggae Euphoria is predominantly helmed by old associate Danny Browne and his brother Cleveland (of Steely and Clevie renown). As the title indicates, it has a heavy reggae component while combining the sonic diversity of Bruk It Down 2.0, with a host of female combination guests.
You’ll hear classic rhythms of the pre-roots reggae period. Check the gospel-dancehall God Good on the Answer; Love Yourself on Hypocrites; or the anti-cosmetic surgery Plastic Dolly over Frenchie’s reboot of Bunny Lee and Slim Smith’s Build My World. There are covers of Jamaican standards. Alton Ellis’ Girl I've Got A Date with Sherita Lewis reverses the gender roles from Alton’s original (however, Sherita accuses Vegas of cheating so the man remains at fault), whereas long-time collaborator Jovi Rockwell guests for a rework of Delroy Wilson’s Once Upon A Time.
And listen out for some unusual departures. Miley Cyrus’ The Climb (a song Vegas listened to when missing his estranged daughter) gets jaunty Casio reggae treatment. Groundation drums reposition Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah - whose combo of sacred sound and freaky bondage lyrics encapsulates Mr. Vegas expansive appeal. This can be heard in the catchy acoustic My Jam - reminding how Vegas’ influences span the spectrum of Caribbean and wider diaspora music history, reaching back to ska, mento, cumbia and other folk styles.
He also disdains his usual “singing in deejay stress patterns”. The Climb showcases a pure singer, while for the mournful Mr Shotta (built by Bristol dancehall radio personality Angel Camorra) he delivers a deep spoken prayer in the face of death that you may at first assume is another artist. He straight deejays on the amusing battle of the sexes featuring Latty J, Who Rule. But in keeping with his Christian faith this and the rest of the set are lyrically clean.
This is a slightly less unified affair than Sweet Jamaica Reggae which had a single producer, Grafton’s Mikey Bennett, in charge. Yet Reggae Euphoria is strong throughout, contains no fillers, and because no one is ploughing quite the same colourful furrow as Mr. Vegas – it’s always refreshing to hear him do his thing.
Mr. Vegas - Reggae Euphoria
DIGITAL RELEASE [MV Music]
Release date: 09/23/2014
01. Mr Shotta
02. God Good
03. Love Yourself
04. Plastic Dolly
05. The Climb
07. Thank You Girl
08. My Jam
09. I've Got A Date feat. Sherita Lewis
10. Who Rule feat. Latty J
11. Right Now
12. Once Upon A Time feat. Jovi Rockwell
13. If I Say
14. Luv Song feat. Krystal La’Reign
15. Real Don feat. Joe Lickshot