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Gregory Issacs 

Iconic Jamaican crooner headlines One Love Festival steppin' out

Now in his mid-50s and with over three decades in the business behind him, legendary Jamaican crooner Gregory Isaacs, the man known as "The Cool Ruler," may well have amassed more record releases than James Brown or Elvis Presley: around 500 at last count. Because of Isaacs' prolific nature, it's not easy to choose any single album as a must-have -- plus he's scored so many homeland hits: "Night Nurse," "Rumours," "My Only Lover," "Soon Forward" and "My Number One" to name just a few. If anyone cries out for a career boxed set, it's Isaacs.

The reason that Isaacs has survived in the fickle music industry is that he's not only savvy but also stylish and multi-faceted. The most distinct part of his arsenal is his voice -- it has the gorgeous ache that a young Aaron Neville once used so well. It also helps that aside from maybe OutKast or Wyclef Jean, nobody wears a fedora and light-colored suit quite like Isaacs can; he's decked out in one on many of his album covers. And though he's known for his simmering love songs, he's also penned his share of political songs too, usually about race: "Slave Master, "Black Against Black," "Downpresser."

Like many veteran artists, Isaacs' recent releases haven't been as earth-shaking as his early material. They've been respectable though: in the last few years, he's done duet records with his son and a tribute to the late reggae singer Dennis Brown (who did an Isaacs tribute record himself).

As for his live shows, there's plenty of verve in Isaacs. Seen recently at a New York concert, he looked as dapper as always and sounded in good voice. He's enough of a showman to trot out his best-known hits (see above) and point the mic towards the audience during the songs' choruses to let them sing along. Granted, the crowds don't have his luxurious voice -- but the spirit's there.

Gregory Isaacs stars at the Carolina Caribbean One Love Festival at Metrolina Expo; Aug. 8; 2pm; $30.

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