Beres Hammond "In Control" Elektra

Most of the songs here aren't much to speak of, the lyrics are nothing new, and the production varies from gimmicky to mundane. None of that, however, distracts much from the tremendous singing of Jamaican Beres Hammond.

Imagine a voice that sounds like a cross between the simmering sensuality of Teddy Pendergrass, the organic ebullience of reggae great Toots Hibbert and the overwhelming soulfulness of relative unknown Sam Butler. (If you haven't heard Butler, get thee hence to a CD shop and get "The Gospel at Colonus" cast album and Bob Telson's "An Ant Alone.")

Hammond may also be something of an unknown quantity in the States, but his recording career in Jamaica stretches back to 1975. "In Control" is his major label debut, and it's an auspicious one. Though the material often isn't much to sing about, Hammond's is a voice bursting with life and joy, overriding the songs and taking them to emotional reaches the lyrics and melody wouldn't go to unassisted.

On the stronger tracks, he really soars. "We've Found It" is a mid-tempo slinky soul burner in which the barely harnessed passion of Hammond's very Pendergrass-influenced vocal pushes up against the rhythm as if they are a pair of tango dancers.

"Just Say No" verges on being a novelty tune, propelled by the manic toasting of guest Buju Banton, who has about the most growly voice this side of South Africa's Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgoashiyo. But when Banton finishes his echo-laden, humorous auctioneering and hands the microphone off to Hammond, the effect is majestic, as Hammond's pleading voice glides heavenward.

"Stop Them" and "No Crime" are also standouts. The latter would be just a rote indictment of violence were it not for Hammond's begging refrain of "Please not today" that puts the song on a human scale, implying you can't stave off the anger and evil of the world, just don't let it in right now.

If the remaining songs fall short, one needn't go far to affix blame: Hammond is also the writer of all the songs, and the producer of most of the album. There's nothing bad. Most of the songs are as good as mainstream American pop, and "It's Not Too Late," a duet with Marcia Griffiths, could easily become a soft-soul hit here. But if a voice as special as Hammond's were paired with equally powerful material, he'd be unstoppable.

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