There isn’t an aspect of romantic relationships that Beres Hammond hasn’t transformed into a classic (reggae) song; whether written from the perspective of a keen observer or willing and sometimes unwilling protagonist, each is delivered with Beres’ signature smoky, soulful grit. Beres can’t stand leaving his woman so early in the morning on the sultry, R&B tinged “No Disturb Sign,” taken from his 1993 Elektra Records release “In Control.” He takes over showing a misguided brother how to treat a woman” on “Step Aside,” yet he fails to heed that song’s counsel and regrets doing so on “I Could Beat Myself.” Beres professes the outrageous lengths men will go to impress women on “Full Attention,” displays a sentimental unwillingness to leave after years together on the gorgeous lovers rock tune “No Goodbye,” from his album “A Moment In Time” (VP Records). He broaches the topic of infidelity with humorous bravado and suspenseful story telling on “Double Trouble,” which stands as an unofficial cheaters anthem 20 years after its original release.
Widely acknowledged as Jamaica’s greatest practicing singer-songwriter, Beres’ beloved hit-filled repertoire, amassed over the past 40 years, is also rife with songs that simply, yet with profound effect, articulate the commonalities of life’s struggles and triumphs, irrespective of one’s class or creed, race or religion. Sufferers everywhere will identify with Beres’ exasperation generated by “Another Day In The System” and his defiance of the “overnight scheme… designed to keep me down” on “Putting Up Resistance” the song’s defiant, empowering message as relevant today as it was when initially released 22 years ago. The internal strength required to deal with life’s inequities is beautifully summoned on “Black Beauty” while “Give It All You Got Today” reminds the listener to always do their best, as time is limited for all of us.
Then there are the numerous Beres songs that celebrate music including the effervescent ode to dancehall “Can You Play Some More” and the blissfully nostalgic “Rockaway” (those were the days when love used to reign”). With an abundance of cherished tunes to his credit, it’s not surprising that a diversity of artists from audacious singer/songwriter Tanya Stephens to dancehall superstar Mavado have name checked Beres in their songs. On his 2001 duet with the venerable songster “Dance 4 Me” Grammy Award winner Wyclef Jean expressed the reverence with which Beres’ talents are regarded when he declared: “all you fake singers, bow down t
o the legend”.
Lush romantic musings and insightful social criticisms dominate “One Love, One Life”, Beres’ self-produced two-disc set of previously unreleased material, scheduled to drop on November 13 on VP Records. Each of the album’s 19 tracks is quintessentially Beres: his vocals, as rich and flavorfully bittersweet as dark chocolate, embody the spiritual fervor heard in the secular ballads of Sam Cooke, the laid back cool/political consciousness of 1970s Marvin Gaye and the gritty “Pain In My Heart” passion of Otis Redding. The aforementioned soul icons profoundly influenced the development of Beres’ style, as did Jamaican greats including Leroy Sibbles, lead singer of the Heptones, velvety crooner Ken Boothe and the legendary vocalist Alton Ellis, one of the pioneers of rock steady, reggae’s direct forerunner.
His 26th studio album, “One Love, One Life” features Beres’ most inspirational lyrics delivered with a gut-wrenching conviction that is rarely heard in today’s prefabricated popular music landscape.
Beres’ impassioned preacher at the pulpit delivery on the gospel-tinged “Still Searching” den
ounces the various “mayhem caused by men” in its musical sermon. He wails against hypocrisy on “The Truth Will Live On”, his sentiment punctuated by a dub-heavy drum and bass ending. “Why keep trusting a friend who conveniently misunderstands where you want to go and your purpose in this life,” asks Beres on the stirring “Can’t Make Blood Out of Stone”; similarly, he urges facing reality on the first single “You Stand Alone”, set to an irresistible one-drop rhythm. “My people where is your pride, are you always gonna be denied?” Beres queries on the eloquent roots-rock unity anthem “Family”: whether related by blood or a shared desire for something better in life “family stands like a
mountain, love flows like a fountain,” sings Beres.
Love among the human family is a recurrent theme in the music of Hugh Beresford Hammond, born the ninth of ten children in Jamaica’s garden parish St. Mary, on August 28, 1955. As a child Beres made regular trips to downtown Kingston’s record shops to mingle with the era’s popular singers including the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. At a precocious 11 years old Beres recorded his first single for producer Clancy Eccles, which, unfortunately wasn’t released until he became a star some 20 years later. Beres initially attracted attention with his victories at the Merritone Talent competitions in the early 1970s. In 1975 he joined the fusion band Zap Pow as lead singer, remaining with them for four years while simultaneously pursuing solo recordings. His debut solo album, the aptly titled “Soul Reggae” released in 1976 sold well throughout Jamaica while a subsequent single released the same year, the soulful ballad “One Step Ahead”, zoomed to the top of the Jamaican charts where it remained for three and a half months. The frustrations of releasing hit records without monetary compensation due to the rampant exploitation within Jamaica’s music industry led to intermittent pauses in Beres’ career; his exasperation, however, became the catalyst for the development of his own label/production company Harmony House in the early ‘80s, which enabled him, at last, to reap financial returns from his recordings.
Since the release of his first Harmony House single “Groovy Little Thing” in 1985, Beres’ singles have repeatedly touched the upper tiers of reggae charts worldwide. His 1987 hit “What One Dance Can Do” elicited a string of hit answer records including Beres’ own “She Loves Me Now”; released at the dawn of reggae’s digital revolution, both songs reached the national tally in England and established Beres’ stardom on the dancehall reggae circuit. Even farther-reaching acclaim arrived in 1990 when Beres laid his vocals over a sumptuous synthesized rhythm created by Penthouse Records founder Donovan Germain. The singer barely remembers recording “Tempted to Touch” in 1992 but the song nonetheless shot to the top of reggae charts in Jamaica, the US and in England.
Twenty years on Beres has improbably maintained his hit-making streak and continues his reign as Jamaica’s most esteemed singer. Nowhere is that adoration more apparent than at his riveting, dependably sold out concert performances. As he tears through hit after hit, Beres often extends the microphone towards the audience who exuberantly sing along, often drowning out the extremely delighted performer on stage.
Recent recruits as well as longstanding Beres fans will find plenty to sing along to on “One Love, One Life” including the celebration of good old dancehall vibes on “Prime Time” and the up-tempo “Don’t You Feel Like Dancing” and “Can’t Waste No Time”, featuring the spirited sax phrasing of the maestro Dean Fraser.
Beres’ exceptional story telling skills shine as he relates the story of a breakup that, thankfully, didn’t happen on “Crazy Dream”, celebrates the years with his lady on “The Song” and recounts changes for the better in the life of a “Lonely Fellow”; far from lonely, Beres is the consummate sweet talking suitor on the lovers rock gems “Keep Me Warm” and “In My Arms”, the latter co-produced by Collin “Bulby” York.
Breaking up is hard to do but staying together isn’t so easy either and Beres’ granular pain-etched delivery incomparably renders the reflective R&B nugget “More Time” (co-produced by Michael Fletcher), the disillusionment within a once promising union, “No Candlelight” (co-produced by Donovan Germain), the inevitable doubts that creep into relationships (“Shouldn’t Be”) and a futile search for that special someone that concludes with an extended stay at the heartbreak hotel (“My Life”).
The title cut on “One Love, One Life” adapts a reworking of Studio One’s immortal mid-60s “Love Me Forever” riddim to a synopsis of Beres’ career: “The journey’s been rough sometimes choices are not there then comes the day when I’m down to I don’t care/the heavens declare and all my fears just disappear and I am singing again”. The song also summarizes Beres’ ongoing approach to music making: “I feel no shame, I ain’t singing for fame…”
Indeed: for Beres Hammond fame is an inevitable byproduct of recording, producing and performing music at an unparalleled level of excellence.