At the St. Kitts Music Festival last month, guess who earned the biggest response from the massive? Not Lady Saw. Not Maxi Priest. Not Ne-Yo, Big Boi, or even Sean Paul. No, it was the same artist who headlined January’s Jamaica Jazz Festival to a similar outpouring of love: Michael Bolton. I mention this as evidence of a vital fact: From Jamaica to St. Kitts, sentimentalism reigns. Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, Air Supply— artists we might graciously deem “cheesy” around here—occupy hallowed ground in West Indian hearts and dance halls, where masculinity comes in polarized packages, gun-talking rudebwoys counterbalanced by sweet crooners oozing loving lyrics like corn syrup.
Two releases by reggae-r&b singers—one newcomer, one veteran—showcase how brilliant Jamaican schmaltz can be. Wayne Wonder’s trademark is a voice that’s utterly effortless: Whereas American r&b singers sound hot and bothered, Wonder’s honeyed tones are cool and kind enough to soften bass-heavy dancehall riddims like the one backing “Hotter Than Fire,” a stellar tune on his awfully catchy Foreva. It’s warm milk, this album, soothing and calming—like easy listening, but more intricately produced. All the lovey-doveyness here advances one lyrical sentiment: Because Wayne still believes that you love him, baby, he’ll give you nothing but love and affection, and because you stay together like a hand in a glove, you’ll fly away upon the wings of a dove. Into eternity. Never mind the banality—these beguiling melodies and flawless vocals will soften the hardest New York cynic.
Da’Ville broke out last year with two long-legged tunes, both featured on the dulcet set On My Mind. For “Always On My Mind,” he croons in a falsetto that might be studio-produced, but who cares? He sounds stunningly sincere, and Sean Paul’s chat on the remix adds a welcome shot of testosterone. Elsewhere, “Can’t Get Over You” features power-ballad guitar, über-sensitive lyrics about feeling lonely, and a melody you can’t get out of your head: all the ingredients, in other words, for the kind of guilty pleasure that Jamaican lover’s rock delivers in blissful doses.