Jamaica notoriously refuses to settle for yesterday's riddims, but despite sounding like some half-forgotten mid-80s classic, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock" echoed through the island's yards all summer. And as both the homicide rate and the temperatures there soared, no cry could've sounded as current as the song's ancient Ini Kamoze sample: "Out in the street / They call it murder." No less powerful overall than its title track, Welcome to Jamrock (Tuff Gong/Universal) is the most consistent Jamaican full-length in a decade. Bob's youngest son can't channel his pa's suave, cracked wail as expertly as his brother Stephen, to whom he often entrusts vocal hooks. But he can deliver a line like "Verbal conflict is a waste of word / Physical conflict is a waste of flesh" with all the moral authority his surname has bestowed upon him. Not every track explodes with righteous social consciousness, but he consistently conveys a sense of decency without coming off like a prude--he's respectful to the ladies whether his love for them is carnal or fraternal. And though he doesn't back away from postcolonial militarism--the opening "Confrontation" samples Marcus Garvey saying "If you cannot do what other men have done . . . then you yourself shall die"--Marley doesn't endorse it either. His urban pacifism is altruistic yet pragmatic--he knows that in any riot it's the poor who die first. X-Clan opens. Sun 11/27, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, sold out, 18+.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/B+.