Thursday, October 30, 2014

'Mama': A review of "I Rise" by Etana

Faces. If you take a snapshot of Reggae music in its current state there are so many possible headlining stories you could come up with which could, furthermore, lead into an endless line of directions. Of course the genre is one never short on controversies -- and it never has been -- -- and it never will be -- but just speaking musically, I maintain that we, right now, could be experiencing what is a golden age. Surely that distinction would be best left for the future but don't be surprised if years from now when You and I are old and grey that we are wishing for music as good then as it is now. Within that I think a major aspect has not only been the onset of the arrival of a talented group of wide ranging vocalists over the last decade or so but, specifically, I think something that has really helped to push the quality of the music has been an extremely powerful and gifted cache of Women in Reggae music. What has come with such an impressive globalization of the music has been daughters who are, many times, even more capable than many of their talented in their own right male counterparts. And while never has Reggae fully displayed a 'boys only' type of 'mentality', I think that what we've seen in the past few years is the full erasure of any actual or perceived gender line when it comes to the highest levels. What happened??? Talent happened and people began to pay attention. We started to notice that when it came to Lover's Rock the true heir apparent to someone like a Beres Hammond was… someone like Alaine. We kept watching and watching and one day, in the midst of a mountain of different issues, you looked up and when it came to true talent Spice had very little in the way of peers in the Dancehall, regardless of gender (I don't talk about Spice a lot but when it comes to Dancehall she's one of only about five people who I constantly listen to these days). And we kept eyes on the 'rises' of names like Ce'Cile and Queen Ifrica and others and, simultaneously, enjoyed the expansion which would bring in toweringly skilled individuals such as Jah9 who TOYS with the power of spoken word, Queen Omega who belongs in a class of her own with what she can do, Reemah who may someday place herself on a level with Dezarie as far Women in Virgin Islands Reggae music and, of course, Sara Lugo [new album, "Hit Me With Music", in stores now] whose most unusual background still managed to lead her to Reggae music with a voice that simply has no equal. And we could go on and on and it is wonderful! When we go to the head, however, one that is true and has been for the better part of the past five years when you talk about Women making Reggae music today, all roads (eventually) lead to 'The Strong One’. 
Etana has been the Mother of a recent conscious push which included the likes of Tarrus Riley, Duane Stephenson [new album, "Dangerously Roots", in stores now], I-Octane and others. And, leading into a next generation bannered by the likes of Chronixx and Kabaka Pyramid, she's well maintained her position and can comfortably be looked upon as one of the most popular Reggae stars in the world today and THE most popular female. And while yes, you can find many, MANY less desirable things to stare at, Etana's popularity has been largely due to her incredible output and her catalogue over the past five years stands in MIGHTY comparison to anyone's over that same period of time. Still, when it comes to making albums, which is a talent of its own in my opinion (just throwing big songs together does not always make for the best collection), NO ONE (NOBODY!) does it as well as Etana. 
"Better Tomorrow" [2013]
She gave us another and a third powerful example of this just last year when the downright special "Better Tomorrow" reached and wowed (although it, reportedly, didn't perform as well as hoped commercially, so that may help to explain the quick return). That album followed a pair of predecessors in "Free Expressions" and "The Strong One" from two and five years prior, respectively, which were similarly impressive and remain so today. She's made wonderful albums and has made the type of anthem-like music which has not only produced a consistent stream of hits but has also really helped a lot of people, myself definitely included. So, with those type of lofty accomplishments already achieved it's easy to imagine that Etana's next album, whatever it may be and whenever it may arrive is definitely going to be heavily anticipated and that is precisely the case going into "I Rise", the brand new and fourth album from the reigning Etana. I was actually quite surprised to see "I Rise" on its way forward. Like I said, "Better Tomorrow" was just last year (albeit in the early part of the year) and Etana's albums, fittingly, are some of the finest promoted in the entire genre and that takes time! As has always been the case, "I Rise” reaches courtesy of VP Records who is probably still the best when it comes to Reggae album promotion (with Riley and I-Octane taking their business elsewhere, Stephenson and Etana remain on VP's roster apparently) (and if you needed anymore reason to love 2014, I-Octane, Tarrus Riley, Duane Stephenson and Etana ALL RELEASED ALBUMS THIS YEAR) [WHAT!] [BOOM!] and features the handiwork of the venerable Clive Hunt which is a first-time link for Etana who produces executively and also carries some of the greatest musician talent that Reggae has to offer, including Sly & Robbie and, of course, Dean Fraser. Now, while we all were definitely looking ahead to the new album, even though it came before we thought it might, we were just wanting to hear it. WONDERING about its quality, on the other hand, was not an experience in regards to "I Rise". It's an Etana album, You know what that means. Now let's all sit here and talk about how great it is.

Before arriving at the music on the album, I really do LOVE the cover of this album. Previously, I've given the potential distinction of 'Album Cover of The Year' (because we pay attention to stuff like that around here) to pieces which featured artwork but this album surely enters the discussion because Etana looks stunning here. As for what you actually do hear on the record - I do have to say that "I Rise" has a bit more of a kick than most of Etana's previous releases. There's a bit more intensity and force in the music and it does definitely prove to fit her style which is highlighted throughout by some sterling vocal displays. One such showcase does get us going as Etana channels the legendary Bob Marley with the album's intro, 'Selassie Is The Chapel'. The best way to describe this selection is to tell you its function: 'Selassie Is The Chapel' is going to make you cry. I cannot say that she set out to make it for that very reason (though she had to know it was going to happen) but a completely deaf person would be pushed to tears in the presence of this towering opener. The first full song on "I Rise" is also one of its definitive highlights. The giant social commentary 'How Long' is amongst the rather sizable class here and, though fairly simple and definitely straightforward the song has certain aspects, particularly in its delivery, which give it a very complex feel and it was one which well caught my attention. I also hear disgust and frustration in Etana's voice and, as I've said in the past, I LOVE when the mood and arrangement of a tune matches its lyrics and direction which is what happens here perfectly. A gem! Things really get moving on the even stronger next piece, 'On My Way'.

"I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Though the journey is so rough, I've got to carry on
I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Though the journey is so rough, I've got to carry on

The night is getting cold, no place to rest my head
Old stone became my pillow, concrete became my bed
Although the journey's long, got to keep on pressing on
The battle will be won at the end of the day!

Trodding through the streets I go
Everybody see me dun know
I meditation, strict dedication, straight from the roots I grow
At the end of the day, all of Jah children say -
'Clean hands, pure heart, righteous thought, and The Most High will guide your day'
I know when I get there, it won't be a sudden flight
Been toiling from sunup, still toiling through the night

BOOM! BREAK SOMETHING! Along with that great message, 'On My Way' is a full JOY to listen to. Easily with the most sonically gratifying songs found on "I Rise", this song is on its way to be a personal favourite of mine from Etana ever and it is THE best song I hear on this release… which is saying a lot. The opening lot of songs on the album is rounding out, just as it was started, with an excellent remake, this one, 'Stepping Out of Babylon' a find mould of the original sung by the immortal Marcia Griffiths.
There is a very nice stretch of four songs in the middle of "I Rise" which, although not entirely unexpected or unprecedented, definitely added to the overall enjoyment of the album. Certainly we've seen albums in the past which took a few love songs and dropped them right in the middle and that was that. However, I don't recall one, immediately, which did it this well. The first of the four, previous single 'Richest Girl' finds Etana getting her priorities corrected, saying that no matter how successful that she has been, her greatest achievement and the real wealth has been attained in falling in love. It is a great song with some of the better vocals shown throughout this set. Things get streamlined and simplified on the GOLDEN 'Love Song'. This composition is one about an unconditional love (biggup Machel Montano) and staying with someone no matter… how much ridiculousness they may put you through as long as the love remains. I, of course, have absolutely no parallels with which to connect this tune in my own life, but my Wife does. Check the swinging 'By Your Side' which kind of echoes both of the pieces just ahead of it and it, in a very comfortable and familiar way, sounds divine! The song also has a very loose and organic vibe at times (especially during the second verse and at it is end) which is delightful. And while 'Passing Thru' tackles the other side of love. This is a selection about the emotional commitment given to and toll taken by love when it isn't necessarily the best type. We've all been in situations where we've done something DUMB for love (and some of us, PROUDLY, still do them) so it's an entirely relatable tune in my opinion. In all, like I said, this little streak of songs really made this album better and, along with giving it a most essential dimension (you can't have an Etana album without a love song - I think it's actually illegal), it also gave it four more REALLY good songs.

Those four songs, which both end the first half of and begin the second half of "I Rise" are surrounded by even more MASSIVE output from Etana. A song like 'Jamaican Woman', for example, which finds the singer finding pride in both her nationality and her gender in a big way. I've probably listened to this tune more than any other on the album besides the two songs which I already knew because it really just makes you smile. The sound is somewhat unusual, but in a good way, but as an entire composition, again, this is definitely one of the best songs on the whole of "I Rise". The same is going to be said for the eponymous effort but probably on an even higher level.

"I was born strong
I was made for this
See, I've met so many hard times
When I though I couldn't make it
See, I've had my trials when my pillow dried my eye
Then the morning came and my wings took flight

I rise!
See, I'm hurting but no broken
Down but I won't die
I rise!
Soon I will reach the sky and still, I rise

Some say it's a mystery, how I still believe-
That in spite of all I've been through, I can still push the wheel
It's a little thing called faith that makes broken wings fly!"

TEARS! 'I Rise', like the album named after it, is spectacular and it gives the full album this kind of signature moment in terms of inspiration which is, obviously, one of the major themes for this project. Later, the big songs continue to roll in such as another single from "I Rise", the very compelling ‘Trigger'

This song is SO fascinating because it deals with a special kind of motivation which may lead a person into doing really bad things. So many times you'll hear a tune about people taking up the gun because they're attracted to flashy, material things but on 'Trigger', Etana shows that isn't always the case on a wholly CRUCIAL composition and, of course, it would take someone like Etana to lead us in that direction. An essential song which is not to be missed. 'Ward 21 [Stenna's Song]' is one which, unexpectedly, hit me personally. At its core, it is one about dealing with mental illness (and, specifically, things which bring on conditions) and, as I've said in the past, I'm someone who has dealt with mental illness my entire life and, though I don't know if Etana can say the same, she definitely captures some of the compounding and building emotions which lead people to that state. She does this with what is also somewhat of a social commentary, but this song is magic and, again, one which I heard myself in. I should also mention how I LOVE the way it ultimately develops as the music is showcased during its second half for a damn memorable section. Next is the all kinds of interesting 'Emancipation [Spoken Soul II]' which, in my opinion, is just as much of a 'musical experience' as it is an actual 'song', which I'm sure was the intent. Etana UNLEASHES herself all over this track which is musically and emotionally dazzling and it almost seems as if she just began to say what came naturally to her mind. Eventually, as the song's subtitle suggests, she begins to SPEAK and give her listeners a dissertation ["spirituality is a network linking us to The Most High, the universe and each other"] which you definitely do not want to miss. 'Emancipation' so vividly stands out on "I Rise" because so many wonderfully occurring idiosyncrasies and eccentricities which make it one terribly difficult to ignore. You'll also have trouble going around 'Jah Jah' (literally and figuratively). This song has… something about it which is hard to explain but is so damn infectious! It may be like an R&B-ish type of sound. I hear old school R&B in there somewhere but something else as well. Whatever it is and whatever you want to call it, Etana uses it to notch a FANTASTIC praising piece which is CANDY for your ears! And finally, I have to give credit for creativity and originality wherever I find it and the album's closer, 'Jam Credits' is brimming with them! What is this song about??? Just as the title says - it is Etana giving credit to her producers, her label, her musicians, her studios, her backup singers - everyone involved in making the music, set to music. I thought this was a great idea  and I can't remember anyone doing it previously. So, of all the great things to be thankful of when it comes to "I Rise", the very ingenious 'Jam Credits', for what it is, is definitely amongst the heaviest. 
Overall, unsurprisingly, she's done it again. To my opinion "I Rise" is well on the level of its predecessors and though I don't like to compare albums like this, I can comfortably tell you right now, it's better than either "Free Expressions" or "Better Tomorrow". Like I said, I really like the tone of this one altogether. She's always confident but on this album, Etana is aggressive and it seems like she really had a point to make and, with an effort like this one, I really hope that she's happy with it. Even if she isn't, I am! "I Rise" is another large piece of evidence of why history is likely to recall Etana as the mother of a generation of really exceptional Reggae music and while we may not have the fortune of having the hindsight of time - with an album like this one, you don't need it. A chunk of gold in a CD case. SPECTACULAR!

Rated: 5/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Review #530

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Stand Firm" with Pressure Busspipe!

"Pay the price without no hesitation
Sacrifice to make a better nation

A tune I fully expected to go overlooked is now the latest single from an album which, with now just about two months to go, still is the finest piece we've come across in 2014, the MONSTROUS "The Sound" from Pressure Busspipe via I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings. 'Stand Firm', to my opinion, ranked as high as the second best song on the album but it was somewhat subtle and the ultimate appreciation of it, at least in my opinion, came with a bit work. But now Pressure and IGR have made it considerably easier for you by putting together this sterling video for the tune alongside Digitak Films. Check it out and, though I know you have it already in your collection, if by some unfortunate chance you lost your copy (or you let someone 'borrow' it and now you can't find them) (... even though you used to run into them EVERYDAY whether you actually wanted to or not!) or if you accidentally deleted it (dumb ass) - AGAIN, be sure to pick up "The Sound" by Pressure. BOOM!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Coming Soon #88: "I Rise" With These

Big new album from Etana, "I Rise", coming soon. Here're some others you might like.

"Jah Jah Solve Dem" by SizzlaThe Suns Of Dub [Rockers International/Iron Gate Records]

The incomparable Sizzla Kalonji is up first this week and with him he's bringing the fire breathing Addis Pablo & The Suns of Dub [big album, "In MyFather's House", in stores now] for what is, essentially, a remix EP of a tune called 'Jah Jah Solve Dem'. Along with the original piece, which sounds fantastic, the set  features six other mixes and dubs of the track. It isn't very far outside of what Muti Music has been doing with Sizzla's music throughout 2014 as well but, of course, we love to see the name 'Addis Pablo' attached to any new project these days and I think we get to hear from him again during this post, so stay tuned.

Releases on October 28
"Solid Foundation" [IrieVibrations Records]

Big, BIG European label, IrieVibrations from out of Austria is celebrating [I THINK] a decade of music with the release of a giant compilation set, "Solid Foundation". IV is a label which, through projects from the likes of Perfect Giddimani, Konshens & Delus, Anthony B, Luciano, Jahcoustix and others is always keen on doing big releases and this should probably be regarded as one of their most ambitious to date as "Solid Foundation", if I read correctly (and I NEVER do), is also serving as the soundtrack of a documentary associated with the label as well by the name of "Studio Chronicles: Jamaica". Before you get there, however, the music on "Solid Foundation" is certainly not to be overlooked as it features the work of label favourites such as the aforementioned Luciano ["SCORCH!"], Konshens, Delus, Anthony B and you also get sizable offerings from the likes of Lutan Fyah, Exco Levi, Junior Kelly, Gappy Ranks, Kabaka Pyramid and more, including Lion D on the digital/bonus version. Not to be missed!

Releases on October 31
CD + Digital
The Clock Tower Riddim [Silly Walks Discotheque]

Another mandatory European stop for Reggae fans, Silly Walks, is also back at work for October with their latest creation, the expectedly gorgeous Clock Tower Riddim. Silly Walks is a name which, when you see it attached to anything (including "Hit Me With Music", the new album from German sensation Sara Lugo, in stores now) you expect high quality work and the Clock Tower is surely no exception to that. Anticipations can float higher in this instance given some of the vocal talents tapped to work the track including the likes of Queen Ifrica, Tony Rebel, Gentleman and his Wife, Tamika, Exco Levi, the Morgans and others. Fortunately SW has been kind enough to also feature a dubbed out version of the riddim as well which is always a nice touch.

Releases on October 31
{Note: Silly Walks has also released some of the songs (and may be ALL of them) as singles and some of them (and may be ALL of them) are currently available}
The Hell Riddim [Picante Music]

Years and years of disgusting living has finally caught up with you and I'm sorry to have to tell you this but you are going to hell! The bad news comes courtesy of Picante Music and their new Hell Riddim which, although it wasn't the kind of Tommy Lee-ish destructive composition that you would imagine, still is aptly named for its pounding urgent vibes. As far as the vocalists, the biggest name here is Sizzla Kalonji who, EASILY, scores the heaviest blow with his very strong 'Up Wid The Torch', the only song on the Hell Riddim that I really enjoy. Kalonji is joined by a flock of guns locked on various sights but to my opinion the only one REALLY hitting the target is the Ryme Minista with the solid 'Armed & Dangerous'.

Releases on November 4
The Jehovah Riddim [Fox Fuse]

Okay so maybe you can have another chance. IF you can, be thankful to our friends at JahLight Records who are sending up some heavy praises with their latest creation, the Jehovah Riddim, which is brought to you by this posts favourite label, Fox Fuse. JahLight has quietly been turning in a very strong and active year 2014 and I firmly expect to hear from them again sometime during the year's final two months. As is their typical trend, the Jehovah Riddim combines Reggae music with messages coming from out of the Gospel spectrum and the Trinidad label has brought with them a fine mixture of known names and up and comers. Fans of the label should well be familiar with names such as Righteous, Kwesi Fontinelle, King Solomon and definitely Matthew Greenidge (biggup Matthew Greenidge) but it is also time to become acquainted with the likes of Excellent who is back with a song, 'You're The Reason', which sounds… well, it sounds Excellent. There's also potentially big offerings from Designer's Original (great name!), Afyia Modeste (another one!), the Peculiar Princesses and Silent Sah whose 'Give My Life To You' should probably be one of the strongest tunes on this riddim. Biggup JahLight for pushing yet another solid set which you should definitely pick up when it reaches... or you can try that other thing we talked about...

Releases on October 28
The Skalava Riddim [Fox Fuse]

And lastly coming soon this week is another Fox Fuse distributed piece (and we should have one more before the end of this post), this one coming via Blue Lava Entertainment - also from out of Trinidad, the damn infectious Skalava Riddim. Though it only carries a pair of songs, the Skalava does a very interesting amount of damage. Featured are Trini chanter Jah Defender and Achis Reggae favourite and Gwada firebrand Tiwony. Incidentally, both vocalists have albums on 7 Seals Records with the former's "Rastaman Man Rise" arriving just last year and the latter's "Roots Rebel" set to reach in November.

Releases on November 4

In Stores Now
The War Is In The Dance Riddim [Royal Order Music]
War Is In The Dance and the fine people at Royal Order Music doesn't have a problem with it - Neither will you after you get an ear on their latest release, the War Is In The Dance Riddim. This HEAVY composition is surely best known for having backed 'Carpenter' [" carpenter beg you build a box"], the MASSIVE best tune from "Shining Hope" from Gappy Ranks last year. Fortunately, that song is included and even more fortunately it isn't alone. Joining the UK standout is an impressive cache of names such as Pressure Busspipe, Exco Levi, Khari Kill, the flaming Rob Symeonn [one of the year's best albums, "Indigenous", in stores now], Keida (whose 'Stand For Something' is sublime), Rocker T and Bobby Hustle who we haven't heard from in a minute. Also featured are Addis Pablo & The Suns of Dub who have their way with the riddim in four delicious different ways. An excellent project!

The Way of Life Riddim [Reggae Vibes Productions]

They may not have delivered on what I REALLY wanted for 2014 which would have been a new album from Prince Theo but Reggae Vibes Productions is back with something which also well has my attention, the Way of Life Riddim. While we wait for the album (2015???) we'll have to settle for a new tune from the Prince and he does have 'Dem Nuh Know' for the Way of Life Riddim. He's joined by Perfect Giddimani, Nando Fresh, Menny More, RAS ATTITUDE (in a singing mood with the big 'So Incredible') and others still. Always enjoy hearing from RVP and LOVE the cover here.

 'Closet' by Mad Cobra [Brixton Music Group]

Though not violent, 'Closet' is more brilliance from Mad Cobra who is having as good of a year as anyone in the Dancehall to my opinion. A sharp, SHARP pen and a downright legendary delivery and level of brutality has highlighted the season for the snake and here's another example of the first.

The Day Fete Riddim [Fox Fuse]
And just because I want to send you out feeling so good, check out the Day Fete Riddim from Martian Music, brought to you via Fox Fuse. Destra, Lyrikal, Farmer Nappy and Nadia Batson all turn in terrific songs with the Farmer’s 'Doh Remember' reigning supreme to my opinion. So, if you NEED some Soca in your life (and you do), check out one of the better riddim EP's from the genre in the Day Fete. BOOM!


Friday, October 24, 2014

Rewind! - "Hit Me With Music" by Sara Lugo

"Hit Me With Music" by Sara Lugo [Oneness Records]
BOOM AGAIN! Keeping the celebration going for the release of "Hit Me With Music", the brand new and second album from Achis Reggae favourite, Sara Lugo, today we're giving it a second treatment and an even closer look. Following one of the strongest debut albums you'll hear in "What About Love", "Hit Me With Music" was an album I was not only very much anticipating but also had high hopes for and, as expected, it met and exceeded them all. And while you can certainly claim that this time around, Lugo embraced the Jazz side of her style a bit more, I cannot imagine that anyone who stuck around from the first album, and through all of the wonderful singles she gave us in between the two, will be disappointed with the direction of the second. It once again displays one of the nicest and most curious talents anywhere in Reggae today. And we're displaying it again as we wrap up 'Sara Lugo Week' and REWIND! "Hit Me With Music" by Sara Lugo.

See Original Review
1. 'The One'

"…high like a kite in the sky." The opener for "Hit Me With Music", 'The One', was and remains and absolute joy to listen  to. The song is built upon this wholly addictive bounce and you bounce, to the point of a neck cramp, right along with it and you won't be complaining at song's end. If I wanted to kind of grind this one down (because that's just what I do), what I take away from it besides being so damn nice to the ears, is the sense of really appreciating the moment. "THE ONE", whoever they may be, may be the one forever or they may be the one for right now, regardless, love them and enjoy! And personally I really like this song because when I play it loud enough when she's up, I can hear my Wife walking around singing the chorus, "you make me sing, lalalalalalala!). 

2. 'Really Like You' featuring Protoje

"Something about you." 'Really Like You' is like the first song on the album in the sense of both its direction and the way that it is best appreciated, at least in my opinion. It is another composition (this one courtesy of Silly Walks) which is just fun to listen to and that is what sticks with you. Unlike 'The One', however, 'Really Like You' is infectiously slow, DUSTY and Jazzy. For their parts, Lugo and Protoje team up and deliver a performance which 'really' fits so nicely with the music and, alongside the immediate amount of attention this one should grab on paper, make a song which should be one of the most noticed on this album for its QUALITY as well. Also I HAVE to mention (because I'm a nerd) how much I loooooooooove the way 'Really Like You' ends. I will not ruin it for you but the cool and subtle echo affect given to Lugo's vocals is an excellent touch. 

3. 'Hit Me With Music'

"When it hits, you feel no pain." Not because of the way it is delivered, inherently, but more so because of the way that it is written I now hear so much PASSION in the eponymous effort from "Hit Me With Music". She sings it, for the most part, in a relaxed tone (it's a beautiful tone but probably every thing coming out of this woman's mouth is going to sound beautiful) but there're times during 'Hit Me With Music' when you get the feeling that, by what she's saying, … Sara Lugo is kind of pissed off! 

“Why do we gotta act all tense
It doesn't make much sense
Didn't we all start out of love?
Are you with me?"

Again, I think she's 'hitting' at the industry and business side of music which seem to continue to drain away the human-element of how music is appreciate and just how much it means to people as an escape from daily life ["World off, music on - I push the button"] and an endless line of other reasons. And Lugo does throw the intensity higher during the tune's second half where the riddim goes up right along with her.

“Yes I love it 
When you hit me with music, hit me with music"

I was interested in how this tune came to be the album's title (based on what she's wearing, 'Black & White' would have been a fine choice as well), but it so coincides with Sara Lugo's style, this idea of making music which does challenge the listener to pay attention but also really makes a careful and genuine effort to sound so nice and that's exactly what happens on this song and the other eleven as well.

4. 'Black & White'

"I hope one day, you'll see." 'Black & White' is a song which is quickly becoming a favourite of mine from Lugo's on this album and beyond and, in this particular case, it is largely due to the lyrics. While it sounds amazing (biggup Morry), 'Black & White' taps into the idea of being unique in one way or another and not only acknowledging it but taking pride in it and making it one of the things that you love most about yourself. Lugo's method of illustrating this comes in her varied heritage but it fits on almost any 'surface'. So [!], if you could probably fit COMFORTABLY in a backpack (biggup Sara Lugo), if you only have nine fingers (biggup Xkaliba) or if you have a MASSIVE allergy to common sense (biggup Achis), "that’s alright…", "believe me, it's alright". Wananananananananana. 

5. 'Soldiers Of Love'

"You have a choice." TEARS! There has emerged a very urgent quality about 'Soldiers Of Love', a song on which Sara Lugo celebrates individuality and "shits in the brains" of conformity to a fractured way of thinking and behaving. I liked this song when I first heard it and definitely found its loose relation to any genre in particular damn compelling. These days, however, I LOVE this song. 

"You follow someone else's voice
You have a choice
But you choose the easy way -
Like a slave"

It's sound is interest, obviously, but if you listen to what is being said it gets even brighter and the two match. From what you hear - it gives the listener the sense (even if you are not paying the best attention) (shame!) that something really crucial is happening and, at least for me, it really makes you focus on the words. And when you have a selection where the MOOD matches the message so fittingly as it does here, you probably have something special on a song which I well expect to be very popular.

6. 'I Wish'

"All the best, best, best." BOOM! 'I Wish' was another song which I liked instantly but, having had a little time now to really take it in, it's even better than I thought it was. What changed is my recognition of the emotion of the song, which isn't the major area of focus here. I don't know if you've ever wronged anyone (actually I do know, I'm just saying that) but if you have, there is often this downright sickening moment when you become aware that you have and it becomes soooooooo difficult to think about anything else, particularly if "anyone" is really special to you and you want to make it right as soon as possible. If you listen closely, you hear Lugo go through all of these things musically in her own way. And, as I said, as someone who has now had more than thirty-three years of INTENSE experience of doing… really REALLY dumb shit, 'I Wish' is virtually biographical for me. A HUGE SONG! 

7. 'Play With Fire'

"Learn by doing." BOOM! 'Play With Fire' is still my favourite song on "Hit Me With Music" and, with the exception of the songs with which I was already familiar, it's definitely the piece here which I've listened to most so while I may not have much in the way of progression of an idea, I do have something. The song is one about making mistakes and having to pay for what you've done and it is presented in the way of trying to do right and at least making an attempt to not do negative things. HOWEVER, I always like when people acknowledge and respect the nature of human beings (and our tendencies) and mistakes. And that is exactly what Lugo does on 'Play With Fire'. She says that she, herself, went through things ["I learned my lesson and yes, it hurts"] and she does the same for everyone else ["Now I got no time to play around. No time to lose. But some things you gotta learn by doing"] which is respecting that while it is bad to play with fire, you're probably going to do it anyway and when you get burned (and you will), learn from it and learn that it isn't the end of the world (as I once heard said, "You are a product of your worst mistakes"). An even greater aspect of a song which I loved and apparently I wasn't the only one because they made a video for it. 
Speaking of the video for "Play With Fire". It is simply lovely. It features Lugo, almost exclusively, she is only joined by an actual fire, an old man on a mower, a driver and the video's real star, a dog. It's very simple and features nice French scenery and we see Lugo playing with fire… literally. What stood out most for me is the old man who, at video's end, is revealed to be fitted with some type of breathing apparatus and he's and example of what can happen if you 'play with fire' (but even in his case, it isn't the end of the world). It's very subtle and appropriate for the song and for Lugo's music in general. Well done (and I currently have my own experience with this as I've been eating peanuts while writing this and just now, after about half an hour, I looked down and… yeah, gotta get a broom). 

"Salam" by Ras Muhamad [2014]
8. 'Learn To Grow' featuring Ras Muhamad

"Be who you wanna be." 'Learn To Grow' (which I apparently also call 'Learn & Grow') is a song which I've looked at extensively now having reviewed it twice and now having a second REWIND for the tune as it initially appeared on Ras Muhamad's colossal "Salam" album but in the nature of several other songs on "Hit Me With Music", I do have yet another new fondness of it. That comes with, again, seeing how the song really sends up individuality and uniqueness. It is a piece about learning and maturing in life but those lessons and that maturation is to be applied in what YOU want to apply them to. There's no formula or template for life and I think that one of the prevailing messages behind this song was to find what it is that you want to do (or at least TRY to find it) and then "show some effort" to be the best at it that you can. And, I have to add just how lovely this song was on the ears. It's fantastic. 

9. 'Never Ever'

"You better recharge, you better restart." As I said in the review, 'Never Ever' was a very distinct song and something about definitely stood out to my opinion. What was it? I kind of get the feeling that it is a song Sara Lugo wrote about Sara Lugo. And while we get another taste of the idea of developing and maturing as a person, I think in the case of 'Never Ever', this was Lugo's own story. She gets very detailed at times ["Her best friend once told her. 'Never give up. Never let success get to your mind. Never let failure get to your heart' "] and, again, either through her own personal experiences (which has my vote) or through a damn sharp pen, she really places you in the moment of the emotion and what happens is easily one of the most compelling efforts on the entire album. 

10. 'Love The Children'

"I don't wanna be the only one." In retrospect, 'Love The Children' is a song which features that quintessential Al.Ta.Fa.An sound. It is downright LUSH and brimming with substance musically which is what typically what they do at their best and this song clearly demonstrates that on the musical end. And I think they knew that which is why it is set with a second half which is an instrumental. Vocally, it goes without saying that it is a well sung song… it is a Sara Lugo album after all but I do think it is a song which is slightly different than what we're used to hearing from her (and she did not write this song) and that's always a nice touch to see someone, particularly like her with the voice which could make it work, stepping in a different direction and I'm glad that they did this song. 

11. 'More Love'

"Gimme more." 'More Love', the other Al.Ta.Fa.An helmed song on this album is kind of the opposite of its predecessor. Though the track here is also BEAUTIFUL, what stands out far ahead are the vocals. Not to beat it down too much, but Lugo sounds SO nice on this tune. It is a love song specifically about how going through struggles in a relationship are not necessarily the time to quit but instead are the times which can bring people closer together. Her voice absolutely DANCES [!] on this track, with one of the most rousing moments being the final minute or so where Lugo, essentially, does Jazz scats along to the riddim and it's something she, unsurprisingly, does very well and hopefully this isn't the final time we get to hear her do it. 

"You were the one to brighten up my rainy days
You came into my life and took my blues away"

12. 'High & Windy' featuring Kabaka Pyramid

"The story must go on." And it fits perfectly that the final song on this album is probably the most well known piece that Sara Lugo has ever done. 'High & Windy' was her big song alongside Kabaka Pyramid for the Oneness' ReggaeVille Riddim and, as I said, even after all of this time and having surely heard it over a hundred times now, it still sounds so strong. It also fits, coincidentally, as a fine tribute from this album to the legendary John Holt, the original vocalist of the song.

There're so many powerful themes of maturation and maintaining individuality and a sense of self explored throughout this album that you know we'll have to revisit this one some day soon. Until then, however, hopefully you get the point that we’ve tried to give you all week long: PICK UP "HIT ME WITH MUSIC" THE BEAUTIFUL BRAND NEW ALBUM FROM THE AMAZING SARA LUGO AND ONENESS RECORDS! DO IT RIGHT NOW! BOOM!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Discography: Sara Lugo!

Give us a reason to go digging and we will (… and sometimes we will even when you don't give us one). We continue the unofficial but clearly active 'Sara Lugo Week' around here with a look back at what lead us to the current release of a singer who has well proven to be one of our absolute favourites throughout the life of these pages. Armed with a highly intoxicating and truly one-of-a-kind blend of Roots Reggae and Jazz, the tall German singer has also proven to be well durable in such a short period of time and has, already, worked with some of the biggest production talents in all of Reggae music. She has also dazzled with a voice which seems 'created’ to do something in particular, but has found success in every way in which she has applied it to date. So now we take a look at the brief but extremely potent and powerful catalogue of someone who we cannot get enough of. Discography: Sara Lugo

"Sara Lugo" EP [Oneness Records - 2009]

Get familiar. Over the course of the last half decade or so as Reggae music has made its presence well known on the digital medium of music, we have seen a stunning amount of EP's from a variety of names. From the biggest side, with the likes of Bounty Killer, Sizzla Kalonji and Chronixx, to up and comers alike, the genre has produced a healthy amount of them and will seemingly continue to (which is fantastic). With that being said, unsurprisingly, one of my favourites remains this introduction and self-titled set from Sara Lugo and Oneness Records. In just a few tracks, this very straight-forward released managed to compile a pair of the biggest tunes Lugo has ever done in 'Familiar Stranger' and the tranquilly infectious 'Rock Steady'. Also featured was another tune with a grand importance, 'And They Cry' (which may've been the first time I heard Sara Lugo's music, in retrospect) alongside another favourite of ours, Naptali and the EP also carried a somewhat overlooked but glowing vocal display in 'Mother & Child'. Though it would take another two years to arrive, this Umberto Echo produced project would well set the stage for the FULL dosage of funky comfort which was to come next from Sara Lugo. 
"What About Love" [Oneness Records - 2011]
…funky comfort. One of the best EP's I've heard would lead into one of the best debut albums I've heard in 2011 as Lugo would deliver her all kinds of compelling first full release, "What About Love". I've probably written about this album more than anyone and (this CERTAINLY WILL NOT be the last time) with good reason as it ranks as a set which, now three and a half years on, has managed to continue to not only rise in quality but also constantly offer new and interesting aspects to consider. That's a rare quality in an album where I do not find myself relentlessly having to place together concepts and distinguish meanings (not that I'm complaining about that) (biggup Vaughn Benjamin). In this case, "What About Love" STILL catches me with its sound. I hear beautiful things like on 'Nothing To Worry' where, more than three and a half minutes into a song less than five minutes long,  it EXPLODES! I hear a powerful simplicity in a song like 'Soul Chaos' which so vividly accentuates the fact that the vocals there are tremendous and it took me years to realize just how strong they were. A relatively newfound greater appreciation for acoustic cut of 'Familiar Stranger' (a song I could listen to endlessly these days and another one with a sound which detonates at one point). I hear 'Locked Away' and immediately get images in my mind of Sara Lugo rolling around with a cactus plant [OUCH!]. I hear 'If Tears' with a different from my own Grandmother transitioned in January and songs like 'Part of My Life', 'Rock Steady' and 'What Happened' are, like the album in full, personal classics for me. A gem. 
"Hit Me With Music" [Oneness Records - 2014]

The light album. I'm sure there were others (probably quite a few of them) but, in theory, I don't know the last time I would have looked so much forward to a release than I would have to "new Sara Lugo album". And though we had to wait three and a half years (and, at least today, it doesn't seem like a particularly long time, looking back), what eventually would arrive, "Hit Me With Music", would not disappoint and it probably couldn't have even if it tried to. The most immediate (still very developing) response to this one is definitely just how FINE it is to listen to. If "Hit Me With Music" was a person, she'd have flaming red hair, she'd be "kinda grey" and she'd be very, very attractive. This album just makes me smile every time I heard it - and we'll tell you more about that (again) [WHAT!] [BOOM!] on Friday. While you're waiting, you have no reason not to pick up everything on this list.