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Keys, Tosh re-issues mighty fine

July 31, 2011
By MARK J. MILLER - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

This week I give readers the lowdown on some great re-issues recently released by Columbia Legacy, the 10th anniversary edition of Alicia Keys fabulous debut "Songs in A Minor" and two classic titles by reggae legend Peter Tosh - "Legalize It" and "Equal Rights."

Keys' wonderful debut 10 years ago - damn, I feel old - at the tender age of 19 instantly gave music lovers a new prodigy to marvel at.

The title is misleading, as not all of the songs are in the key of A minor. It really doesn't matter, as Keys effortlessly combines an intoxicating stew of classically influenced piano with light hip-hop beats that was instantly original and exciting. It also was a message to the jaded and hated that not all pop music was garbage, and there still was something fresh to be said in modern R&B.

The multi-talented Keys, who also is a producer, author, news correspondent, philanthropist and actress, is a wonder, a perfect pop creation who, in my opinion, made hip hop relevant again, just when it was ready to totally burn out as an art form.

Her debut also was a strong statement that all the posers and talentless hacks in rap still couldn't hold a candle to someone who was a real musician with talent to spare. I've always lamented how rap and hip hop had deteriorated from its glory years in the late 1980s and to the mid-1990s into something stillborn and cliched. Alicia Keys debut gave me hope there was still life and intelligence in hip hop.

Her debut also was a declaration she wasn't to be treated as some sort of ghetto princess but as a strong, independent woman. It was a remarkable statement to make when women were routinely dissed and insulted in modern hip hop and rap.

"Songs in A Minor" was a pure pop treat from start to finish, with smart arrangements featuring Keys wonderfully understated and soulful vocals. No vocal acrobatics here - just great, straight-up singing from the heart. The 10th anniversary edition includes a bonus CD of remixes, live renditions of the songs on the original album as well as a fine duet with the philosophical rapper NAS. Also included is a DVD with interviews with Keys and other goodies related to the album.

Keys' stunning debut 10 years ago still resonates in the pop landscape, as well it should.

Peter Tosh was the "bad" reggae star, who had a somewhat rocky relationship with Bob Marley, the god of reggae. Both were part of the original Wailers with Bunny Wailer, the band that virtually invented reggae.

Splitting from the group that made Marley famous in the mid-1970s, Tosh - a member of the Rastafarian religion along with Marley and Wailer - took a more revolutionary tone as opposed to the peace, love and passive resistance stance that turned Marley into an icon. From Tosh's 1976 debut "Legalize It," he became a strong advocate for the legalization of marijuana, which is considered sacred among those of the Rastafarian religion. A powerful, politically charged voice for equal rights who was unafraid to speak out against the corruption rampant in his native Jamaica, Tosh didn't mind ruffling feathers, even after receiving beatings at the hands of the notoriously corrupt police force in Kingston, Jamaica, after a concert there in the 1970s.

Championed by the Rolling Stones, particularly Mick Jaggar - I remember watching Jaggar join Tosh for a performance on "Saturday Night Live" in the late 1970s - Tosh released "Legalize It," a fabulous reggae record despite its topical title. "Equal Rights" was even better, a great protest album with Tosh discovering his African roots along with an awareness of injustices throughout the world. Fearless, rebellious and angry, "Equal Rights" and "Legalize It" are two reggae classics that have received a great makeover by Columbia Legacy, with remastered sound and bonus discs featuring remixes and alternate versions.

For anyone truly interested in reggae as an art form, these two discs are essential.

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