Freddie McGregor is one of reggae’s great veterans. A recording artist since he was seven years old (when he started at Coxson Dodd’s famed Studio One), he has poured his smooth vocals over almost every style of Jamaican music since. Coming into his own during the later roots period, McGregor hit his commercial (and arguably artistic) height singing in the romantic lover’s rock style during the early 80’s.
His latest release, Di Captain, out now on VP Records, is another fine addition to this catalog. Featuring a healthy helping of his justifiably well-known balladry, along with a dash of more original, rollicking stuff (and righteous undercurrent of Rastafarian positivity), the album doesn’t really push any barriers, but in this case, it doesn’t have to in order to be a great time. The sweet, buoyant covers of LTD’s “Love Ballad,” and the Warwick/Vandross standard “A House Is Not a Home” are both familiar and fresh in the slowly churning reggae treatment they’re given here. The strident “Bag a Hype” ain’t what you think, if you’re thinking it’s a rote song about what comes in lickle bags. “Some a dem youths here dem naw live right/bright up themselves in a big man’s sight/Dem no know daytime different from night/Walk round everyday with a big bag a hype,” the former “Little Freddie” intones, weary in his delivery. It’s nation time on “Africa,” where McGregor sings, “Africa is a land of home/Africa is a land where I and I come from” in powerful, syllable twisting cadence. While certain cuts on the album are sometimes overly sweet to the point of becoming cloying, (particularly guilty is the 80’s-style R’n’B of “There You Go,”) on the whole, the album manages to avoid the sinkhole of smooth that so many veteran artists fall into headfirst.
McGregor, the captain of the Big Ship Recording Studio (named for his signature hit of the same name) has made the studio a space to mentor and collaborate with younger artists, namely Etana, Gappy Ranks (both of whom are featured on this LP), and his own children, Stephen and Chino, recording artists in their own right. Judging from the full-bodied collection of songs he’s assembled for Di Captain, that place is probably as lively as it comes. She same goes for McGregor’s spirit as a performing artist, as he has released, in his own way, a thoughtful statement on his recording life as he seeks to extend it.