Ras T. Dubflex

Breathe (Dubflex Records)

Though Ohio is far removed from Jamaica, whose thriving music scene works overtime to flood the market with hundreds of freshly recorded 7-inch singles each month, Cleveland should not be dismissed as a backwater reggae town. Reggae has always been popular here, and though our local reggae musicians aren't earning much attention around the country, we've had our fair share of talent. The most recent proof of this lies in the latest from Clevelander Ras T. Dubflex.

Breathe is Dubflex's first studio effort since 1998's Union, and both albums are enlivened by reflective, thoughtfully penned lyrics and competent playing. But it's Dubflex's original, no-frills approach to roots music and his immaculate harmonies that give Breathe the edge. Dubflex is a great singer, with a raspy tenor that brings to mind legendary roots man Mikey Dread, only with a much broader range and a keener sense of melody.

Breathe's best tracks, "Stop" and the disc-opening "Don't Cry," are sparkling examples of what reggae's about -- all lazy, sun-soaked rhythms and uplifting vibes. Likewise, "Move On" and "Jah Love" are firm affirmations of the singer's spirituality. The tasteful and rootsy "Meditations" features guest vocalists Ansel Cridland and Danny Clarke, on loan from the legendary reggae group that shares the song's moniker.

Unfortunately, the slower, soul-influenced tracks such as "My Sweet" and the mellow, funky "Rise" (along with its rap remix) feel a little out of place here. For such a reggae natural, it's a shame for Dubflex to stray from it. But even these minor missteps only slightly mar an otherwise excellent example of quality Midwestern reggae.