Since born rebels see comrades in every other outlaw and country & western’s twang once ran Jamaican airwaves, our own roots ‘n’ ganja man’s reggae album isn’t strange, just overdue.
Planet Reggae maintains no tune ever lived that couldn’t benefit from a one-drop injection, and that bias holds up here, though to be fair, Willie’s music is comfortable in any world he chooses to visit. Mostly reggaefied c&w chestnuts, these 12 tracks smoothly fold in home comforts—acoustic guitar, pedal steel, dobro, and harmonica. He revives his oft covered “One in a Row,” “You Left Me a Long Time Ago,” and “Darkness on the Face of the World,” trailed by a juicy dub. A do-over of Johnny Cash’s “I’m a Worried Man” blends Toots Hibbert’s gutsy preacher style with Willie’s mellow warmth. But it’s Willie’s versions of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo” and “The Harder They Come” that take his full measure. Where most reggae guys rail against bad fortune, Willie’s more likely to lay back and roll one. So Cliff’s cathartic originals remain definitive. But the remakes’ power creeps up on you—an easy, inevitable build that testifies to the glories of musical sincerity.