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Messages that go down easy

Richie Spice

“In the Streets to Africa”

(VP)

* * * 1/2

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If ever there were an unlikely reggae ambassador, Richie Spice is it. Shy and unassuming, the Jamaican singer possesses neither the glitziness of a Sean Paul nor the blistering dynamism of a Buju Banton.

But therein lies his appeal. Where other socially conscious reggae acts such as Sizzla, Capleton and Anthony B specialize in fiery jeremiads, Richie Spice -- part of the Saturday lineup at this weekend’s Ragga Muffins Festival at the Long Beach Arena -- is more Isaiah than Jeremiah, humble and soothing even as he fervently decries social ills.

When his stunning 2004 album “Spice in Your Life” earned him a cult-like following in the reggae world, Spice seemed genuinely cowed by the attention, as if all he ever meant to do was set truth to music and offer plaintive paeans to Jah.

Spice’s second album (due in stores Tuesday) is as stirring as his first, but more well-rounded. Here, the 35-year-old artist is both lover and fighter, serving up roots-reggae that’s alternately sexy and spiritual. Lyrics are plain but pointed -- “In the streets it’s getting hot/ but the youth them a get so cold,” he sings on “Youth Dem Cold,” a spot-on lament over Kingston’s ever-rising crime rate. His tuneful, one-drop melodies are catchy enough to remove all hints of self-righteousness from passionate pleas for justice such as “Open the Door” and “Babylon a Gwaan”.

Spice’s love songs are unexpected gems: His signature solemn vocals sound downright sensual on the sweet standout single “Brown Skin,” and then playful and tender on “Groovin My Girl.”

Unfair as it is to set all contemporary reggae in the context of Bob Marley, it has to be said that Richie Spice has at least one thing in common with the master: Subtly and soberly, he makes message music you can hum along to.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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Ragga Muffins Festival

Where: Long Beach Arena, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

When: 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Price: $33-$60

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Contact: (562) 436-3661


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