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JUDY MOWATT (Buy CDs by this artist)
Black Woman (Island) 1980 (Shanachie) 1983
Only a Woman (Shanachie) 1982
Working Wonders (Shanachie) 1985
Love Is Overdue (Shanachie) 1987

Partly because Rastafarianism is intrinsically patriarchal, the number of important women reggae performers can still be counted in single digits. Singing behind Bob Marley, the I-Threes (Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt) were, for a long time, the only visible female presence in roots music. While they've all enjoyed successful solo careers, Mowatt has made the most significant strides, writing and producing her own material.

On Black Woman, she covers three Wailers songs and dedicates an original to Marley. The album amply displays her talents as a composer as well as performer, and brought her international acclaim. The quiet militancy of Only a Woman is offset by an engaging vocal style — strong and clean — that recalls American R&B. By the time Working Wonders was released, she was being called the queen of reggae by the press. Featuring a variety of producers and material, the LP suffers from its crossover efforts, but Mowatt's singing is more assured than ever.

By contrast, Love Is Overdue is nearly ruined by Mowatt's attempt to reach the mainstream. Produced by TSOP alumnus Dexter Wansel, Side One's first four tracks (including covers of "Try a Little Tenderness" and UB40's "Sing Our Own Song") are lightweight pop-soul, bland and forgettable. Luckily, Mowatt salvages the rest of the LP by singing, writing and producing the sprightly reggae she does best.

[Bud Kliment]