Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Lady Saw "Give Me The Reason"

(VP Records, 1996) Lady Saw was one of the biggest names in Dancehall, ever, when she forsook secular music a few years back (she now goes by Minister Marion Hall), and I am familiar with her raunchy, rousing hits. But until recently I never listened to her sophomore album all the way through, and subsequently, I did not listen to much else for the next week. As far as her bold, strutting take on Reggae that would make her a legend, it's all here. Her phrasing on the spare, hypnotic "Darnest Things" is dancehall gold, and "Good Wuk" features some great work. On tracks like "Life Without Dick" we hear the explicit lyrics that became her signature, though the sexual content is mostly pretty mature, in the non-dirty sense of that word (advocating monogamy and contraception on "Condom," for example). But what makes this album so magnificent is how seamlessly, convincingly, and intoxicatingly it bounces around diverse musical styles. It is not unusual for Reggae artists, and Lady Saw in particular,  to make a Country song, but "Give Me A Reason" is not only the title track, it is also so twangingly Country, and more importantly, it is so good.  Few folks in Nashville were making tracks this traditional or this impressive in '96. The bouncing, grooving "Glory Be To God" is one of the banging-est sacred songs I've ever heard (it makes me want to check out her current gospel work).  And what really knocks me out is that side two opens with an un-ironic cover of the Drifters "Saturday Night at the Movies." While male singers cover the entire song, Marion pops in between verses to hype Denzel and Stallone and Sharon Stone and movie snacks, and the joys of getting down in the balcony with her date  ("You are my Batman, baby, so please keep me warm").  Sly and Robbie play on most of the tracks, though they are not credited with any production or arrangement, Garfield "Sampalue" Phillips is the main dude, a prolific producer who did a lot of her records in the 90s, but it really feels like it is the flexibility, creativity, and personality of Lady Saw that makes all these different tracks feel contemporary, powerful, and cohesive. While she will be making no new albums as Lady Saw, I am really grateful this one was new to me.

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