‘Night Nurse’: Gregory Isaacs’ Seductive Album Cures All
Subtle and seductive, the man they called The Cool Ruler doesn’t put a foot wrong on ‘Night Nurse’, an album to cure the lovesick blues.
If Gregory Isaacs never did anything else, he would be remembered for “Night Nurse,” his slinky, seductive, sexy and salacious nocturnal emission of a song, released in 1982 and tickling fancies ever since.
Isaacs has a cardiac emergency and only a particular medical professional can fix it. “I’m hurt by love,” he purrs, turning his nose up at the offer of a doctor and medication, and watching something else go up over the starched ministrations of a fob-watch-wearing angel. Pulses also went up worldwide after he sang the song, though there’s nothing remotely lewd about the lyrics; the passionate power of “Night Nurse” resides entirely in Gregory’s oh-so-certain delivery and that murmuring tone that made him one of reggae’s most arresting voices. Self-produced, Night Nurse the album presents a supremely confident operator, singing over a just-enough rub-a-dub background delivered by the Roots Radics. It’s a crafty, Pavlov’s dog production strategy calculated to leave fans salivating.
Isaacs doesn’t fuss anywhere on Night Nurse. Nothing rises above a steamy simmer; even “Hot Stepper” doesn’t boil – he can dance to a slow tune just as strongly, it seems. It’s almost a witticism that Isaacs sings “Cool Down The Pace,” because the tempo could hardly be more temperate throughout; he’s simply urging a partner to take it easy, though it’s unclear whether that refers to her steps or her love-a-dub style. You can take it either way, which is a Gregory trademark: any rudeness is purely in your mind, honest.
“Material Man” is even slower, a rare venture into cultural matters for Night Nurse, with the singer trying to calculate the reason for the exploitation he, and Rastas in general, have suffered; Gregory’s insight here is that the rich whose forefathers enacted slavery are still benefiting from the crime, even if they didn’t carry it out. “Stranger In Town” uses the novelty of a fresh face to devastating sexual effect; “Give Me A Chance” is an elegant version of a song he also recorded as “Make My Confession.” “Not The Way” offers a paternalism that was lyrically dubious even in 1982, though it does reject abuse; “Sad To Know (You’re Leaving)” is an inevitable way to close the album.
Gregory and what was then reggae’s ruling rhythm section made a perfect combination; both know how to pace themselves and make themselves perfectly clear. While a slew of loverman tunes might seem a little one-dimensional, Gregory doesn’t put a foot wrong, subtly delivering them with an artisan’s skill, as you might expect from a man tagged The Cool Ruler. He already had a reputation as the great seducer, despite being every bit as adept with a roots message; Night Nurse spread that reputation beyond the music’s usual borders. The folks who bought lover’s rock in mid-70s UK were now grown up, and Night Nurse met their listening – and perhaps, romantic – needs. Lovesick? The prescription is clear: send for the Night Nurse.