The mercurial deejay Sizzla has never been one to follow a predictable path. After two reasonably roots reggae-oriented Greensleeves albums – Ghetto Youth-ology (with Firehouse Crew) and the compilation Crucial Times (with mentor Homer Harris) – his new long-player for King Jammys‘ son John John goes still further in praising the foundation, while being his most conceptually coherent recent effort to boot.
Sizzla’s singing voice can be a divisive topic for his followers. Yet John John complements his echo laden vocals with a lavish, lush soulful feel to the record, stacking gorgeous harmonies from Fiona Robinson, Camar Doyles, Connie Francis and Sherida. The combination of Sizzla’s modern slackness-free topics with digitally enhanced old rhythms (including some from John John’s father’s vault) gives a universal appeal similar to Peckings’ work with Gappy Ranks. Sizzla’s sense of humour comes through on the romantic I Love You where he appears on the verge of saying something coarse then pulls back with the line, “I wanna do you… the good favours girl”.
Moreover, whilst Ghetto Youth-ology and Crucial Times featured occasionally jarring switches between reggae and dancehall, old- and new-sounding material, The Scriptures stays fairly balanced throughout. Even the surprising grunge-rock track Jump for Joy pays tribute to Africa (Sizzla controversially spent six months visiting Zimbabwe in 2010), and fits well with the general flow.
Standouts include What a Whoa on Jammys’ Jah Fire Will Be Burning and the catchy ska of Happy Birthday. Fans of the harsh dancehall Sizzla may be disappointed (the only hip hop moment is Peter Jackson‘s rapping on the claustrophobic The World Is Watching), but overall this is the artist’s most unified and impressive roots album in years.