Odel Johnson Redemption CoverOdel: Redemption (OHM CD 009)
OHM Grown Records, 2010

This is one powerful reggae album. Not only does Odel have a big voice that he has no hesitation in using at full capacity, but the production (Odel is listed as producer too) is a perfect match for it. Together, that means it’s impossible to ignore this music –  not that you would want to, but if you happen to like your reggae as background for reading or studying as well as for dancing and listening, well, you’ll have to stick with the skanking and grooving this time around.

To Odel’s own songs in a moment, but first let’s tackle the two covers. This is the first time in years I’ve really enjoyed Jimmy Cliff’s classic “The Harder They Come.” It had become such a familiar sound (as sung by Cliff) that it didn’t register for me anymore. Not until Odel wrapped his voice and production around it, that is; now suddenly it seems fresh and vital once again. I wish I could say the same for the closing Isley Brother’s cover, but alas, mediocre soul has been reincarnated as mediocre lover’s rock. (Yes, I realize that mediocrity and lover’s rock often go hand in hand, but for a much more worthy and seductive effort give an ear to the second track, “Into Forever,” where the backing singers shine.)

The album’s many highlights include such Odel originals as “Chronicles,” which benefits from highly appealing horn charts (as do the majority of tracks, come to think of it); “Testify,” where stinging guitar and pounding drums emphasize the rock within the album’s roots-rock-reggae genre, and “Changes,” which fortunately is strong enough not merely to survive, but to benefit from, the all-out arrangement it gets here. As I said, this is not an album to be ignored; with impressive songs powerfully sung and treated to first-rate production, it’s going to keep you wide awake.