Beres Hammond has never been one of reggae’s most recognizable artists internationally but, in the singer’s native Jamaica, he enjoys an iconic status just a few notches below that of Bob Marley. A specialist in intimate love songs often told from the viewpoint of the blue-collar, "common" man, Hammond has been described as his country’s Marvin Gaye, and also its Springsteen.
At age 57, the crooner has just released one of the best albums of a four-decade-long career. Issued in November by VP Records, One Love, One Life is a double-disc set that breaks down between romantic (One Love) and more socially conscious fare (One Life). Produced mainly by Hammond himself and recorded at the singer’s Kingston studio, Harmony House, the LP spans not just lover’s rock – Hammond has been called the "king" of the romantic reggae sub-genre – but also dancehall, ska and gospel.
"There is no special or particular preparation for me going into a project," Hammond says when asked about the diverse-yet-coherent contents of his 26th LP. "What I do is sing songs every day. I try not to play any kind of role in selecting the songs. I leave it to some amateur ears – amateur meaning not in the recording business, just people – and they choose what they want to choose, and I will go with that. Because all the songs are my family. And I don’t really prefer one family member over the other."
With Otis Redding and Sam Cooke as his chief inspirations, Hammond began his career in the early 1970s fronting Zap Pow, a reggae-R&B fusion band. In the late Seventies, he recorded some of Jamaica’s earliest disco records. But it wasn’t until the mid-Eighties, when he adopted the dancehall style emerging in Jamaica at the time, that he gained widespread fame.
"People embraced me in Jamaica as a soul singer but it wasn’t the order of the day, musically, so I realized I had to do something else in order to be embraced across the board," Hammond says of his 1980s transition. "I’m still singing soul, but I’m singing soul on a different rhythm – a reggae rhythm. But the soul never left. It’s almost like my backbone."
Hammond reached his peak in the 1990s, placing his smoky sweet "Bourbon on the rocks" vocals over jagged dancehall rhythms from producers Willie Lindo and Donovan Germain. His hits in this era included "A Little More Time" and "Falling In Love All Over Again," duets setting his tenor against the gruff Buju Banton, and "Tempted to Touch," one of the most romantic and definitive dancehall songs of its era.
Hammond’s success in different eras has given him a broad, multi-generational appeal. Drake recently co-signed a fan’s tweet stating "Beres Hammond must sing at my wedding!" while Rihanna coyly addressed her rekindled relationship with Chris Brown earlier this year by tweeting lyrics to Hammond’s "They Gonna Talk." (After tweeting lyrics from several more of his songs, the Barbados-born superstar added, "Beres knows what’s up!")
"That is some kind of promotion that I could never pay for," Hammond says of the star-powered endorsements. "For them to even mention your name, that to me is too big of a complement."
Last Tuesday, the singer made his US network television debut, sitting with the Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The following night, he performed for more than 13,000 people at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where he was the top draw on a bill that also included Maxi Priest, Shaggy and Ali Campbell of UB40.
"It’s never too late for a shower of rain," Hammond says of these recent highlights. "Sometimes it comes and comes. There were times in my life – I never used to worry but I was concerned – where I’d ask why is it taking so long for certain songs and artists to be established. It seems like it is just beginning to happen a little bit more now. And to whom it may concern, I want to say thank you."
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