Various Excalibur Sound Vol. 2: Smile

In the time-honoured Jamaican tradition of one-riddim albums comes this second instalment from Buju Banton’s Gargamel label. This is a much different album from Vol. 1, with its tuff digital "100 Watt” riddim. This time around we get the sweet live band feel of the "Smile” riddim, a roots-y one-drop arrangement that offers obvious rhythmic and melodic nods to the Wailers’ "Duppy Conquerer.” As such, the album might feel at first blush to be light-hearted and breezy. Love and romance tracks like Banton’s "Come Back” and Chaka Chaks’ "Chevanae” support this, as will New Kidz’s title track, which is a "count your blessings” sort of inspirational bid. But one of the strengths of reggae artists is that they know how to make a song — in this case, the exact same song — entirely unique with each new reading. And so Vol. 2 actually offers a diverse amount of material for a one-riddim project. Anthony B delivers one of the album’s high points with his community-centric "Crime & Violence,” Galaxy P offers praises to Rastafari on "Love of Jah” and Tony Curtis seems to create a whole new vibe with his sativa savvy "We Be Smoking.” With 20 tracks based on the same song, there’s bound to be some uninspired material — Anthony Cruz’s disappointing "Jamaica, How You Doing?” and Alley Cat’s dull "War is Ugly” — but largely this latest release is worthy of the Gargamel name. (Gargamel)