Spirits in the Material World: A Reggae Tribute to the Police


A singer’s voice is usually best served by his or her own writing, but some artists only win their justified props by teasing out fresh understandings from someone else’s. That happens unexpectedly often on these 13 reggae-ized selections from the Police’s songbook, featuring Jamaicans and others working off classically squishy one-drop instrumentals. It’s certainly true of the Wailing Souls’ Winston “Pipe” Matthews, a venerable figure on Planet Reggae who deserves a wider audience and might actually find it with his gutsy, soaring take on “One World (Not Three).” Massive Attack already bolstered Horace Andy’s career; his unnerving interpretation of “Invisible Sun” guarantees another boost. On the other hand, Junior Reid’s “Synchronicity” opener falls short of the endless rush powering his enduring “One Blood” megahit; another reggae “Junior”—Junior Kelly—would’ve been a more audacious choice.

“Roxanne,” from 1978’s Outlandos d’Amour, which debuted the blondie trio’s sleek mashup of punk, rock, and reggae, is mysteriously MIA here. But that’s barely missed, especially when you’ve got Joan Osborne’s ravishing “Every Breath You Take”: Sting’s original vocal was seemingly definitive, but Osborne opens up and wails right past him. The set ends on another high note, with Tarrus Riley, son of the legendary Jimmy, tearing up “King of Pain” and cluing in the unfamiliar as to why Jamaica is currently in the throes of Tarrus fever. No one takes outrageous musical liberties here—they don’t need to. After all, the Police bit reggae first; now roots rock is merely biting back. And these are love bites.