Wayne Wonder didn’t lead the recent charge of dancehall artists crossing over on the American charts–Shaggy, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, and most notably Sean Paul have been battering the gates for a while now. But this 18-year veteran of the Jamaican music scene scored one of the biggest hits of the current wave this spring when “No Letting Go” reached number 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and resurfaced as a radio remix costarring LL Cool J. Like most of No Holding Back (Atlantic), “No Letting Go” is basically R & B in the style of R. Kelly or K-Ci & Jojo with a light dancehall tune-up–the drums have a sharper forward bounce than the hard downbeat of stateside hip-hop and R & B. And like his American counterparts, the Wonder puts it over on the strength of his earnest delivery rather than with anything he’s saying: lyrics like “You’re truly the best, a bless, the greatest girl I know / You made my life worth living, baby, and it shows” barely qualify as platitudes. Wonder is a winning presence; his high, straining tenor transmits a yearning that’s pretty hard to resist, especially on up-tempo songs like “Nobody but Me” and “Bounce Along.” Still, sometimes–as when Elephant Man stops by to toast all over “Crazy Feeling”–you have to think he might be better off just singing hooks for people with more personality. Tuesday, December 9, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Richards.