Maxi Priest came to the attention of American ears due to a pair of massive hits, and a third song that reached the Top 20. The first was his solo jam “Close To You,” a number that ruled the airwaves throughout the summer and fall of 1990. The second, “Set the Night to Music,” a duo with Roberta Flack, cam a year later, and then he scored another hit with fellow reggae star Shaggy with “That Girl” in 1996.
“Close To You” is the song that best represents the Maxi Priest sound that brought the Jamaican born and London-raised singer fame, and that makes up the bulk of what listeners will hear on Easy To Love. “Close To You” sported the Afro-Caribbean percussive rhythms. However, the tune fused that sound with R&B and pop bass line that, along with Priest’s smooth AC vocals, allowed “Close To You” to fall easy on American ears. Consequently, when “Close To You,” reached the top spot on the American pop charts, Priest became one of two British reggae acts to reach that lofty height at the time. UB 40 is the other.
Most of the cuts on Easy To Love reprise the reggae fusion sound that brought Priest commercial success. Ironically, the best work on Easy To Love are two tracks that find Priest departing from the reggae fusion formula and in favor of straight up soul and American style pop ballad.
Priest repurposes the theme that James Brown made famous on “It’s a Man’s, Man’s World” with a musical arrangement inspired by “When a Man Loves a Woman,” to create an original piece of gospel infused soul in “Without a Woman.” Priest’s roots in the Pentecostal church come through in an arrangement that features an organ on the combination of Priest’s sweet, Sam Cooke-inspired vocals with the raspy baritone of Beres Hammond. “Let Me Be The One” features a melody that floats alongside Priest’s vocals and lyrics that express his desire to make his girl the center of his attention.
Priest plays to form throughout most of the tracks on Easy to Love. The title track finds Priest adding his smooth R&B vocals to the tune’s throbbing bass and percussive, island shuffle melody. That sound does become somewhat formulaic after awhile. I would have liked to seen Priest move away from the reggae fusion a few more times or perhaps throw more reggae fusion curves such as the his duet on “Your Love To Me,” that not only features the pleasing vocals of Delarose, but some nice ensemble brass work. Despite that lack of variety, listeners will find Easy to Love an easy album to play and enjoy. Moderately Recommended.
By Howard Dukes