The comfy but earthy governor of grown-up reggae, Beres Hammond has long been the last word in laid-back lovers serenades. However, he also has views on other matters. So his 20th album is a gentle grower sprawling across two carefully demarcated “love”- and “life”-oriented discs.
Since he blossomed from Zap Pow frontman in the 1970s to computer-age megastar, Beres can work at his chosen pace – hence the four-year gap between 2008’s A Moment in Time and this set. Most tracks here are self-produced with a top-flight team of engineers and musicians, many of whom are producers in their own right.
Their rhythms are a fitting live/digital balance, sitting between the skeletal beats of his rise and the increasingly lush organic sound of more recent albums. They sometimes cross the line from jaunty and playful to twee, yet the grain-and-strain of Beres’ voice and his ability to fashion a lyrically strong song from the most basic or over-refined backing can’t help but impress.
Hammond is a deft depicter of situations – such as a party (the self-aware while self-deprecating Lonely Fellow) or sound-system dance (the thumping rub-a-dub of Prime Time).
He’s also wise on disc 2’s bigger picture, giving avuncular chastisements to the pessimistic (the US soul-soaked Still Searching) or morally weak (Family, engineered by Tuff Gong’s Errol Brown with Sly & Robbie on drums and bass).
Even when calling out fakers and critics on the Love Me Forever-rhythmed title track – with its worrying suggestion “I’m leaving” – his message is magnanimous love. Elsewhere, the socially conscious Don’t You Feel Like Dancing and the cheeky Can’t Waste No Time represent timely “Jamaica 50” forays into ska.
But Beres’ strongest statements are on familiar territory – the muscular lovers of In My Arms (co-produced by Bulby York) and the synth-string-driven No Candle Light (with Donovan Germain, who produced 1990’s smash Tempted to Touch).
As an introduction to the man, there’s probably a bit too much Beres here for one sitting. However, fans who have been waiting for four years should be overjoyed at two relaxed, thoughtful helpings of Hammond side-by-side.