Buju Banton Unchained Spirit

Buju Banton makes a wrong move with this one. The treacle far outstrips anything resembling a tuff rhythm here. Unchained Spirit has a dispirited beginning: the first four tunes suck. It's a toss-up to what is worse, the Faith Hill knockoff that is "Voice of Jah" (although it might be intriguing in a perverse way to hear her sing about Rastafari) or flat MOR of "Sudan." The next few tracks pick up the pace, but give way to some very forced ska and rock steady tunes. The roots rhythms are not convincing to start with and are made worse by some questionable lead synth choices. Even over the good rhythms, Buju doesn't seem to have the command he once did, and his slight flatness as a singer is increasingly unpleasant from album to album. His strength has always been as a DJ and the best tracks are "Guns and Bombs" and the CD's closer, the dub inflected "Reunion," with Wayne Wonder. The live cut of "Pull It Up," with soul man Beres Hammond, shows Banton in full command in front of a crowd - it's a shame it doesn't translate to the rest of the CD. (Epitaph)