Personnel: Tarrus Riley; Lynford Richard, Gibby Morrison (guitar); Dwight Richards, Nambo Robinson (horns); Carol Mclaughlyn, Ryan Webb, Paul "Scooby" Smith (organ, keyboards); Maurice Duncan (bass instrument); Mark Clark (drum); Rochell Bradshaw (background vocals).
Tarrus Riley's contemporized roots reggae comes with a pedigree: his father is the Jamaican singer Jimmy Riley, best known for his early-'80s album Love and Devotion and its classy cover of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." The younger Riley stays close to the themes of Rasta, righteousness and romanticism on this likable set, but he's young and worldly enough to go beyond the clich‚s, both musical and lyrical. The songwriting on Parables is tightly constructed, melodic, smart and accessible, and while the themes are familiar, Riley is willing to inject some pop gloss into his music, avoiding the sanctimoniousness that often drives away non-devotees of hardcore reggae. He doesn't overdo it with the Rasta rhetoric, and although there are more than a few direct references to Bob Marley lyrics in Riley's own, he never gives the impression that he's following in anyone's footsteps. Like most Rasta artists, Riley does rail against Babylon, but then in "Micro Chip," he cautions just as vehemently against worshipping technology, particularly the computer (wonder if he considers the machines in the recording studio technology?). But some of the most satisfying material on Parables has nothing to do with theology or injustice but rather with the heart: Riley's cover of "Stay with You," made famous by John Legend, and Riley's own "Something Strong" are unabashed paeans to romantic love (although the latter may be the first love song to include the word "parasites"), and the title track brilliantly draws lines between classic morality tales of yore and life in the 21st century. Riley's voice is a strong and likable one, equally comfortable within the spiritual and the secular, and he knows where to go for help, too: the ubiquitous Sly & Robbie are among the ace musicians contributing to the album, hitmaker Dean Fraser produces, and the legendary Tuff Gong Studios is one of the venues at which Riley laid down tracks. A voice to carry reggae ahead, for sure. ~ Jeff Tamarkin