Kinsella is pretty much on his own on Great Design, delivering what is at once a more subdued and more varied take on reggae, as distinct from the predominately roots output of his band 10 Ft. Ganja Plant. So this new album comes across much like the singer-songwriter albums of a few decades back, with real emphasis on the key elements: tunefulness, meaningful lyrics, sympathetic vocals and carefully chosen, highly varied arrangements.
Themes include spirituality and the human condition, along with more than the usual ratio of love songs. Happily, the latter never succumb to bland and tepid sentimentality. Instead we have such tunes as the bouncing “Lovers in a Time,” a truly lovely ballad called “Stars,” the calypso-flavored “Sunshine,” and of course the acoustic title song, a simple, touching and intimate confession of love.
Fitting nicely amongst the Kinsella originals, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” makes an unexpected appearance, and although you might consider Cash’s own version untouchable, this one will make you listen again. It has been slowed right down, with a stark arrangement backing a rough-textured and mournful vocal, which together force new meanings, or at least additional possible connotations, out of the (slightly altered) lyrics. It’s a weightier song than I realized.
Perhaps you want a rousing, party animal kind of reggae, in which case you’ll likely pass on Great Design, but that would be your loss. This one is for lovers and other thoughtful listeners.