At first glance, the overdue reunion of conscious reggae crooner Horace Andy with Sly & Robbie's Taxi Gang at Harry J's Studio in Jamaica had the potential to be the old-school roots master session of the year. Sadly, it falls far short of expectations.
An impressive revision of Radiohead's Airbag on last year's Easy Star All-stars' Radiodread disc showed the 56-year-old song stylist in fine form, but on Livin' It Up Andy sounds frighteningly frail.
Producers/arrangers Sly & Robbie obviously realized there was a problem and tried to cover it up by having backing singers Keisha Patterson, Carlene Levy and Dalton Browne double up his vocals at every turn, but the strategy only highlights Andy's weakness.
The song selection, which switches between lovers rock and Rasta hymns, is fraught with ill-advised attempts to update old faves like Skylarking, Zion Gates, Bless You and Holy Mount Zion, interspersed with generic filler.
Once, Andy's haunting vibrato could make even the most banal lyrics seem strangely profound, but not any more. An accompanying DVD includes over an hour of session footage, but it's in PAL format.
Horace Andy is scheduled to appear at the Phoenix Tuesday (August 21).