One of Jamaica’s most treasured vocalists, Dennis Brown was so nationally beloved that Bob Marley himself famously praised him as the greatest reggae singer in the world. Dubbed the Crown Prince, Brown’s unerring regal grace as a song stylist was in evidence from his very first hit in 1970 – an assured cover of the Van Dykes’ gospel-tinged R&B ballad “No Man Is an Island.” It’s even more remarkable for the fact that he recorded it while still a pre-teenager. Through a prolific career that spanned producers, labels, and eras, his ability to commandeer a song, consistently tapping into the emotional essence of both romantic and cultural material, boasted few peers.
All of which should have positioned Brown as an international crossover star like Marley. Yet outside of Jamaica and the UK, success commensurate with his talent largely eluded him, despite a series of highly regarded mid/late decade recordings with producers Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson, AKA the Mighty Two. When Brown signed with US major label A&M in the early 80s, an all-out effort to break him commercially stateside seemed inevitable. Foul Play, his debut for the label, stayed mostly faithful to his tried and true sound, tastefully updating old favorites from his repertoire. By contrast, its follow-up, Love Has Found Its Way, possesses an unmistakably slick sonic veneer that openly courts airplay alongside Black radio’s R&B mainstays. On paper, that may induce skepticism. In practice, it succeeded quite seamlessly.
Contrary to its clear, and more importantly convincing, R&B leanings, Love Has Found Its Way was recorded in Kingston with producers Gibbs and Willie Lindo at the helm, and instrumental support from reggae’s finest seasoned session players (ubiquitous drum legend Sly Dunbar, keyboardist Winston Wright, bassist Lloyd Parks, et al.). The result is a true merging of styles that speaks to the strength of Brown and his collaborators’ songwriting, and Gibbs and Lindo’s innate understanding of how best to showcase their star’s gifts. A moderate US hit (and Brown’s first), the gorgeous title track immediately sets the tone, its seductively laid-back four-on-the-floor rhythm and syncopated horns locked in the sweet spot between lover’s rock and a mid-tempo steppers groove. A lovely synth-spiked dance funk number, “Get High On Your Love” ups the BPMs a few paces without overwhelming Brown’s unhurried composure. “I Couldn’t Stand Losing You” places him in more familiar romantic territory, his signature allure fully intact.
That Love Has Found Its Way refuses to forsake Brown’s conscious dimensions in the name of accessibility may be its most admirable trait. “Handwriting On the Wall” wraps his lamentations on world problems within an irresistibly soaring melody. A hard roots track, “Get Up,” closes the album with a message entirely absent of sweetening: “The Kingdom of Jah belongs to His children/Who have repent from their evil ways… The poor feel it, the people cry/The people fight both day and night… (You must repent from your evil ways)/Get up.” For all Brown’s distinct qualities as a crooner, love and righteousness are never too far removed from his best work.