Even before it was finished, Tippa Irie was touting his collaboration with Germany's Far East Band as his "best work". Of course, such claims make basic promotional common sense, but now the set is available for scrutiny, it's hard to deny it's his best in recent years at the very least.
The emcee's connection with the group comes through his friendship with German singer Gentleman, and the solidification of bonds that stems from time spent with likeminded people on the road. For there is a definite synergy between Tippa's vocals and the light springy rhythmic constructs for which the band are renowned.
As the title suggests, there is plenty of cultural content in the lyrics, while the rhythms are rootsy, organic and live. A rousing revisit to U Brown's Horns Man Blow will be an immediate hook for roots music aficionados. Only Jah Jah thanks The Most High for Tippa's continued success, whereas Truth & Rights promises to keep talking just that - over the rhythm immortalised by Alton Ellis' Breaking Up.
However, dancehall is represented too. Badman 2.0 gives the earlier version (which appeared on The Far East Band's 2007 ensemble album Tough Enough) an Auto-Tune makeover a la recent work by Vybz Kartel. Yet unlike Kartel, there are no slack or negative lyrics to be heard here: unless you count reproaches to crooked promoters and critics on In My Way and One of Those Days, which come firmly from the moral high ground. Tippa even revisits the swinging serenades of his pioneering 1986 hit Hello Darling with Just My Lady, the retro arrangement of which veers towards muzak but is rescued by his twinkly yet earnest tribute to the woman in his life.
Only time will tell if this is really Tippa Irie's best work in 25 years, as the liner notes claim. But one thing's for sure: this hands-across-the-water effort should be on your stereo right now.