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Up Life Street

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Critics' Reviews

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Yami Bolo released three excellent albums between 1988 and 1991, but it was the following year's Up Life Street that was his first masterpiece. It's an extraordinarily powerful set, both lyrically and musically, and Trevor "Leggo" Douglas and Bolo, who co-produced, infused the entire album with a majestic, massive sound that demands attention.Andrew Campbell, Anthony "Benbow" Creary, and five percussionists' compulsive rhythms fire up the set, adding exclamation points to every track. The layers of keyboardists (six are credited, including Bolo himself) add a denseness to the sound and a vastness to the atmospheres, as well as an imperative air that just can't be ignored. Equally important is the track order, which is intriguingly sequenced by lyrical theme, and moves from the universal to the personal, the general to the specific, creating in its wake the feel of a concept album. And in a way Up Life Street is precisely that, as Bolo explores ghetto life and his own personal observations on living far from the rich and famous. The anthemic single "Blood a Run" powerfully opens the set, its thumping rhythm adding its own emphasis to Bolo's anti-violence theme that swings from the violent streets of Kingston to the equally blood-strewn Middle East. "Iniquity Work" also spun on 45, delves into the general suffering of the capitol's underclass, while the specifics are vividly illustrated on "Mama Cries," a song that virtually sucker punches listeners with the realities of poverty. "Greedium" is the cause of all this misery, and elicits emotive soul searching on Bolo's part, which spills over into "Pretty Looks," wherein the singer dismisses the facile in favor of purity and truth. Further in, Bolo's strong cover of "Life Is a Song Worth Singing" slots perfectly into the set with its positive message of love and self-empowerment. By that track, Street has shifted into the personal, with the singer deftly alternating between the romantic and religious realms before bringing the set to its powerful conclusion with "Time Heals All Broken Hearts," a potent song that mixes heartache and Jah's love. Bolo had developed an impressive Waterhouse style that enhances his emotional delivery here, and together with his insightful lyrics, the majestic production, and stellar riddims, this set packs a powerful musical and thematic wallop. ~ Jo-Ann Greene, Rovi