Raised in August Town, Jamaica, and schooled in Florida, the duality of Etana’s upbringing is reflected in her soul-and-gospel-meets-conscious-reggae music.
Her third album for VP Records is her first with one producer (Shane Brown of Jukeboxx productions) taking the lion’s share of work. As a result, there is a singularity of purpose that previous efforts lacked.
Not that Better Tomorrow is monogamous in sound. Queen is scorching soulful roots, which fuses Bob Marley with India.Arie. All I Need is danceable early reggae with a doo-wop structure that pays homage to Jimmy Cliff; Whole New World pairs one drop with slap-bass funk.
The power-ballad pledge to Etana’s baby daughter, Til You Get Old, samples an actual birth – an open challenge to the days when pregnancy could end careers.
The tailor-made-sounding rhythms – players include C-Sharp’s Lamont Savory (guitar) and Aeion Hoilett (bass), plus Kirk Bennett on drums – have the crisp polish and fiery heat of Brown’s work with Romain Virgo and Busy Signal.
The recordings were made at Marley’s Tuff Gong, where Brown’s father Errol insisted on being part of the mixing team. Vintage dub-wise effects accompany commercial numbers like 4 Play 2 Love and Reggae, where Etana compares a lover to her backbeat. The latter is perhaps her finest piece of songwriting yet.
Meandering mission-statement Spoken Soul tests the patience a little. Originally written for the liner notes, it finds Etana sounding slightly uncomfortable speaking rather than using her room-shaking singing voice.
But the opener sets out her driving principles: respect for elders and the need for a popular alternative to the “selfish, sexual, demonic days” of dancehall.
Some reggae heads may struggle with the modern soul signifiers – forgetting that the two styles were partners from day one. Like Morgan Heritage’s output, there is a distinct lack of edge to Etana’s music – but only the supper club sax and platitudinous lyrics of Beautiful Day push this too far.
If you buy into her unique concept, this is Etana’s most vocally subtle and seamless album to date.
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