UB40, “Who You Fighting For?” (Rhino Records)
Twenty-five years after their recording debut, Britain’s venerable pop-reggae group UB40 — perhaps best known for the chart-toping 1984 remake of “Red, Red Wine” — smartly plays to its strengths with politically minded originals alongside reworked pop and reggae classics on “Who You Fighting For.”
The best of the latter is an update of “Things You Say You Love,” The Jamaicans’ vintage roots-reggae hit from the 1970s, and a surprising Beatles artifact, “I’ll Be On My Way”; more obvious is Matumbi’s seminal ’70s British reggae hit “After Tonight.” “Duke of Earl” Gene Chandler’s “Groovy Situation” (title-changed here to “Good Situation”) seems an odd pick, but grows on you as the chorus repeats.
Sticking with the tried-and-true, UB40 (still in its original eight-man line-up) has already scored with its U.K. hit version of the Manhattan’s R&B smash “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” but their other British hit, “Who You Fighting For?” is original and more substantial.
The title track and “Bling Bling” are also originals, condemning war and oppression, but the better new track is “Reasons,” which employs an Indian vocal assist by hit producer/vocalist Hunterz and Punjabi drumming to enliven the group’s sometimes too-comfortable sound.— Jim Bessman
"The Greatest," Cat Power, Matador Records
Disclaimer: I love Cat Power. Admission: I don't love her latest release.
Cat Power, whose real name is Chan (pronounced Shawn) Marshall, plays piano and guitar, but she's best known for her immediately identifiable scratchy, otherworldly, love-it-or-hate-it voice.
Her latest release, "The Greatest," is heralded as the songwriter's return to her Southern roots. The Georgia native culled her band from some of Memphis' best R&B players including Al Green's guitarist and songwriting partner Mabon "Teenie" Hodges and his brother, Leroy "Flick" Hodges on bass.
And they sound great _ mournful and lonesome, bluesy and jangly.
But Power's vocals just don't mesh. It's a combination that could've been brilliant if a connection was made, but through most of the CD, I wondered whether Power was in the same studio with the band. On some songs, like "Could We," with its happy-go-lucky guitar and lilting horn section offset by Power trying to sound equally light, the result is downright discordant.— Kim Curtis