XL’s Serious Times compilation reveals unmistakable vigor and is a defiant account of a genre that is alive and getting on rather well. As the packaging indicates, Serious Times collects a wealth of reggae tracks of Jamaican origin, which appeared originally on 45. The first of the two CDs here is a label-sanctioned mixtape of sorts, hosted by Federation Sound’s Max Glazer, who links the release’s seventeen cuts with ongoing ambient audience noise, sometimes backing tracks of his own, and plenty of shout-outs between most entries. Not only is it a more exciting listen compared to the tracks as they appeared originally, here on the second disc, but the mix’s nuances are thrilling and noisy, with only a couple tracks that don’t quite match up to the excitement that the others present.
Reggae purists who turn their noses up at the contemporary joints might want to investigate at least several of the offerings collected on Serious Times. Nanko’s “Lucky You” is a heart-wrenching, heavily vocoded tale, boasting the kind of chorus-laden guitar licks that are often sounded generously at the hands of soul-playing radio deejays. It’s worth mentioning because it’s lovingly rendered and steers off the beaten and still traveled path of weed celebration that filters into at least several other entries here. “Lucky You” is weepy and stirring, but 2005’s “Poverty,” as delivered by a child called QQ who isn’t yet twelve years old, shares the Spiritual War riddim (which has recently seen controversy as to who the rightful producer is) with this compilation’s title track. “Poverty,” if anything, is an arresting sermon delivered by someone who really isn’t supposed to know better but does. Not only is its political voice clear, but it also breathes considerable life into this otherwise unmentioned reggae vigor.