The latest release from Jamaican dancehall veteran Everton Blender bears the title Visionary, which, after a few spins, turns out to be nearly as apt as it is pompous. Blender, born Everton Dennis Williams in Clarendon, Jamaica, filters smoke- and jah-induced visions through a techno mastery that rivals the skill of studio maniacs such as Lee "Scratch" Perry and even the Dust Brothers. Blender's days of hitmaking -- check Heartbeat's A Piece of the Blender: The Singles for an unstoppable overview of his best tracks -- ended in a nearly decade-long exile from music, and the work he's turned in since his return in 1994 with Lift Up Your Head, on through Visionary, will surprise listeners with what they've been missing. He deftly alloys fuzz bass, bubbly keyboards, DJ raps (notably from Beenie Man and Anthony B), female harmonies, horns and a fertile jungle of organic and inorganic percussion -- he's listened to as much Sly and the Family Stone as Gregory Isaacs -- into tuneful, varied and elemental grooves.Dancehall reggae, like its counterpart in the North American DJ and club scene, rarely puts a premium on such musical niceties as melody and singing (it's the beat, stupid), but that's where Blender truly dazzles. He has an old-school soul-meets-reggae voice, better than that of Garnett Silk (who helped revive his career) and as good as Peter Tosh's. On puff pieces such as "Lover's Holiday," he sails over the rank lyrics -- "It burning so much/It cuts like a knife" with an easygoing flair and supple, surprising phrasing. If choruses like "Jah never fail I yet" and "Marijuana marijuana/Shout it out I" are Blender's idea of lyrical catchphrases, his melodic hooks are, at their best, instant classics of hummable bliss. Conscious fans of dance music of stripe should not miss this rare appearance by a bona fide reggae prodigy.
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