More Gregory

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The Cool Ruler, The Lonely Lover, Gregory or, to those gifted with sense, "Mr Isaacs, sir" is not a conventionally great singer. His voice is too brittle, his phrasing too formularised, his passions too recessed for that.

He is not, for instance, the reggae equivalent of Sam Cooke, despite a shared vulnerability to girls, guns and the Godhead, and a taste for lyric conceit. Similarly, any imagined correspondency with Al Green - another soft American tenor with a prominent spiritual/carnal complex - is entirely to be sniffed at. Gregory is no more a soul singer manque than Jamaicans are Americans in funny hats.

Even next to the great voices in his own field - Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Slim Smith, Leroy Sibbles, Toots Hibbert et al - Isaacs is a bit of an oddball. All of those singers are, to one degree or another, declamatory performers: real reach-out-and-touch merchants whose one purpose is to invade your space and get that song into your bod like a fever.

This has never been Gregory's way. He gives off no heat. He is all cool self-regard. A sort of inward-dwelling playboy. On the face of it, he is a complete lightweight, less interested in tangling with your most complex emotions than in getting your body, soul and pounds 10 notes onto his patch. Gregory is the most priestly of all singers.

Gregory's patch - at least, the patch he wants us to think he inhabits - is a sort of one-man mobile spiritual home adorned with Biblical imagery, extracts from the natural world, the tokens of slavery, Gregory's old school desk, a poet's tools, several huge hats and all the furnishings of the hermitic life arranged as acts of devotion to the twin causes with which he chooses to illumine his life - Virtuous Poverty and Getting Off With Girls.

Like most artists, Gregory had his purple patch. Unlike most artists, however, Gregory's went on for ages. From the thumping and thoroughly spooky dubbed-up Rockers material he recorded for DEB in 1977, through his own African Museum creations and those for Alvin Ranglin on GG's, to his first crossover hit album for Island in 1982, Night Nurse, it's a litany of classic reggae moves; moves so classic, in fact, that they transcend their own genre. The album he released in 1981 on the Pre label called More Gregory is nearly perfect. It's elegant, restrained, it hums with tension, Gregory positively floats in his parched, impoverished way over the thrum of the Roots Radics rhythm section and, on the fade-out to "Poor Millionaire", he exhales, repeatedly, "we'll get along somehow". It is the longest withdrawing sigh in pop history and the greatest.

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