Born a simple country boy in rural Jamaica, Jepther McClymont, a.k.a. Luciano, has become the premier roots singer of his generation. As one of the few top-shelf artists to hold firm to the traditional reggae sound in a dancehall-dominated scene, he has earned the conscious mantle once worn by Jacob Miller and Dennis Brown. Yet Luciano's highly consistent track record is even more of an accomplishment -- unlike the classic Jamaican Rasta singers of yore, he has had to carry the heavy load of Jah's message with far less peer support than his predecessors.

By now, ten years after his breakthrough release Where There Is Life, you know what to expect: a mix of roots, dancehall, folk, country, and gospel, all delivered with his appealing voice and unflappable spirit. Serious Times doesn't deviate from that equation. Though it's a tad predictable, the album still compares favorably with the singer's best work. Other tracks hammer home roots themes ("Free Up the Weed"), encourage spirituality ("Just Talk to God"), or put the Rasta worldview in a global context ("Serious Times Serious Measures"). The album occasionally gets overly mellow -- there are about two ballads too many -- but Luciano's ability to inspire far outweighs any other consideration. -- Eric K. Arnold

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