The gritty yet soulful Junior Kelly has long been one of Jamaican music’s most consistent and well-loved cultural performers. A tantalising five years on from 2005’s Tough Life, Red Pond – named after his Spanish Town ghetto community and produced by Dusty Miller and the Firehouse Crew – marks his triumphant return.
Lyrically, Junior is in punitive fettle. He castigates those who diverge from the righteous path, although the scolding usually comes atop an upbeat tune – check the ska-infused Slackness and first single Nuthin’ Wrong with the World.
His choice of duet partners is impeccable (a Sam Cooke-channelling Ras Shiloh and well-matched female chanter Queen Ifrica). And as with Tough Life, there are both perennial rhythms reworked (How Better Ah Go Home on Java; Murderer on a steel pan-garnished Heavenless) and flirtations with non-Jamaican sounds (Believe in Your Self). But at the heart of the album are rough-hewn sufferer’s roots pieces like Waan Lef’ de Ghetto and Stumblin Blocks, aimed at poor people around the globe.
Firehouse Crew’s shiny, rather thin-sounding rhythms will be an acquired taste for some, but this is a minor quibble. Combining daring yet devilishly catchy vocal melodies and stress patterns with an unshakeable flow, Junior Kelly is back and maintaining his form.