Thursday, January 29, 2015

The 20 Best Reggae Albums Of 2014!

Today we place the bow around the gift that was a wonderful year for Reggae albums, 2014. Featuring such a wide and beautiful variety of stars and producers alike and the right mix of the spectacular and the solid, it was one of the best years in recent memory and, perhaps, even beyond. So thoroughly pleasing was it, in fact, that even stretching a list like this to thirty or so would have been no problem at all. But, narrowing it down is always the fun part. Thus, we submit for your approval (or disapproval, I don't care), The Twenty Best Reggae Albums of 2014!

{Note: No compilations, live albums or re-releases}
{Note 2: Dancehall, yes. Soca, no}
{Honourable Mentions: Many, but especially "Mission Incomplete" by Tydal, "Roots Rebel" by Tiwony and "Roots & Lovers" by Harry Mo}

#20. “Born A King” by Sizzla Kalonji [Muti Music]

The birthright. While not having what may have been looked upon as a ‘vintage’ year in 2014, the legendary Sizzla Kalonji certainly did draw some comparisons to years in which he most vividly exhibited his most devastating of talents and did so largely because of activity. Within the span of… oh about seventeen minutes or so, Kalonji released three studio albums for three different labels - going back to an era in which such surges of prolificacy were not only not rare, but were expected. None of these albums, including “Nuh Worry Unu Self” and “Radical” were amazing, but to my opinion the best of them was definitely “Born A King” which makes this list. The project came via the very interesting Mista Savona and Muti Music from out of Australia who took the route of making projects out of projects, in regards to singles, prior to the release of the full album. That definitely added to the anticipations here and the album which followed didn’t really disappoint. “Born A King”, for as varied as it most certainly was, is best remembered as an album which CLEARLY showed quite a bit of care taken by its creators. Tunes such as ‘I’m Living’ and ‘Big Man Ting’ headlined a set which is STILL, being pushed heavily by the label and (with a recent instrumental release) with good reason.


#19. “Get Rid A Di Wicked” by Lutan Fyah [Bread Back Productions]

Love replacement. After dealing with the aforementioned Sizzla Kalonji in 2013 for his conquering “The Messiah” album, the wonderful people at Bread Back Productions turned their collective attentions to Lutan Fyah for their big release of 2014, “Get Rid A Di Wicked”. What resulted was a very compelling, interesting and somewhat unexpected project and one which did quite well in terms of attracting attention. The “unexpected” lot came in the form of a whole heap of love songs on an album called “Get Rid A Di Wicked”. What would have been expected to be, at least on paper, a very heavy Roots Reggae drop, was something quite a bit different. Still, some of the love songs, like ‘This Love’ featuring veteran Lady G and ‘Jamaican Girl’, were pretty good and the Roots material at its best, such as the title track, ‘More Love’ and the topping ‘Jail Wall’, were even better.


#18. “LB50” by Lloyd Brown [Riddim Works Productions]

Mr. Lloyd Brown. Following a very prominent ‘shift’ in 2013 which resulted in what was probably his most high-profile release in a very long time, “Rootical” for Zion High Productions and The Zion I Kings (more on them later) (more than once), another of our favourites, UK pillar Mr. Lloyd Brown, returned to the very familiar settings of his own Riddim Works imprint to, once again, produce another stellar batch of songs, this time in celebration of his fiftieth year of life, “LB50”. As expected, the album featured Brown’s winning style which constantly and consistently features SENSIBLE and MATURE ideology delivered across sublime tracks with an ever present ear towards the old school. I’ve actually grown quite a bit in my appreciation of this album as songs like ‘My Sound’, ‘There You Are’ and especially ‘Hurt No More’ have remained relatively close to my players over the months and, in retrospect, “LB50” stands, for me at least, as one of the best Lloyd Brown albums in the current stage of his remarkable career. However, unfortunately (though expectedly), the album does seem to have faded a bit and went largely unnoticed, a fate which both it and a pair of its immediate predecessors, “30” and “New Veteran”, were just too damn good for. 


#17. “We I Open” by Jahmali [ReggaeLand Productions]

Long time, no see. In 2014 veteran singer Jahmali proved that his was a talent which was virtually impervious to the wear and tear of time with his first album in nearly a decade and a half, “We I Open” for Spain’s ReggaeLand. It doesn’t seem like it but it was already two (now three) years from the label’s explosion and they continued their winning form with this sublime project. Jahmali, of course, like Anthony Que, Chantelle Ernandez and others before him, did his part and utilized his GOLDEN voice. There were several fine moments on “We I Open”, but leading the way was ‘No Weapon’, a song which, 100% of the time, makes me cry when I hear it. BOOM! 


#16. “Good Prevails” by Alpheus [Liquidator Music]

Unbroken. Sometimes change can be good and sometimes it’s just…stupid! Alpheus certainly weighed in within the latter state as he brought us a fantastic new album in 2014, “Good Prevails” which reunited the sweet singing UK veteran with the same ace producer, Roberto Sanchez, who helped to deliver its downright HALTING predecessor, “From Creation”, three years ahead. Unsurprisingly, singer and maestro again lined up a near classic set with “Good Prevails”, which was about as perfect a next album as Alpheus fans could have hoped for. It was also an album, looking back, which also carried some of the most interesting popularity of the project ahead of it. I was so happy to see the early response to this one and, since then, it has largely continued. As a piece of music, “Good Prevails” was the same distinctly older sounding gem that we’ve come to expect from the vocalist and really hit its stride on moments such as ‘Stand Up’, the all kinds of interesting ‘Look In The Mirror’, ‘Open Your Eyes’, the title track and several more.


#15. “Better Off Dread” by Perfect Giddimani [Jah Youth Productions & Giddimani Records]

Boom for me. We have to pay a massive amount of respect to the one Jah Youth Productions for having what turned out to be a downright special year in 2014 and, even with all of the great things that they did (one of which ranks extremely high on this list), their most high profile release came from the always incredibly interesting and enigmatic Perfect Giddimani who teamed up with the label for “Better Off Dread”. Perfect has had better albums in his career and the master of unpredictability in Reggae music has had others which would qualify as (slightly) more strange than this one, but “Better Off Dread” was one of his best within either spectrum. It was free-flowing and it produced some FANTASTIC moments. ‘Better Than Liquor’, ‘For My Mama’ (much better song than anyone gave it credit for being), ‘Baby Boom’, ‘Trim To Rass’, ‘Awake’, ‘Revolution Come’ alongside Lutan Fyah & Jahdan Blakkamoore, ‘BMW [Black Man Wagon]’ and more still… like ‘Once Upon A Time’ made this an excellent release which, as a whole, probably wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been. A fantastic album!


#14. “Inlightment” by Ras Mc Bean [Union World Music]

Back into the light. When you go a full decade without making an album after your first and then  come back to the form, you better have something special to give to the people who waited, ANXIOUSLY, for the release and that is exactly what outstanding Guyana born vocalist, Ras Mc Bean did in 2014 with his, again, decade-in-the-making sophomore set, “Inlightment”. Way back in 2004 RMB had given fans a sizable display of his capabilities with his dazzling debut, “Pack Up & Leave” for Irie Ites. It made a fan out of me and I was definitely interested in its follow-up. That was when I was twenty-three… I was thirty-three when “Inlightment” reached. Was it worth the wait? Of course not. NOTHING could have been, but this was a fabulous release. Leading the way on the Union World Music release was a MAMMOTH piece titled ‘Run, Run, Run’ and it was backed by more stellar efforts as well such as the album’s first single, ‘Rise Up and Fight’, ‘Nature’, ‘Hocus Pocus’ and more. And after this, if I’m FORTY-FOUR the next time we’re talking about a new album from Ras Mc Bean. That would be AWFUL!


#13. “Still Disturbed” by Ward 21 [Germaica Digital]

Fuck it! Despite the participation of big names such as Sean Paul, Lady Saw, Wayne Marshall and Vybz Kartel (I’m just assuming that Kartel released an album this year, whatever it was I don’t remember the name of it) 2014 wasn’t the greatest of years when it comes to Dancehall albums. And while UK standout, Mr. Williamz did make a big play with his LOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG anticipated debut, “Set The Standard”, the only Dancehall album you’ll find on this list comes from one of the most dependable sets in recent memory, the always fun Ward 21 who linked up with Germaica for the wholly ridiculous “Still Disturbed”. Ward 21 is powerful, they’re skillful and they also bring a lack of care and seriousness to the music which, over the years, has just become downright NECESSARY for me and it saturated “Still Disturbed”. The album may always be best remembered for having carried one of the group’s most noteworthy tracks EVER, ‘Spot The J’ and that’s fine. But ‘u shouldn’t’ overlook tunes like ‘U Shouldn’t’, ‘Out’ alongside Konshens, ‘War Start’ and ‘Ben U Back’ with the aforementioned Sean Paul. It was also a unique blend of Ward 21’s ultra-modern style with Germaica’s ever-present ode to the old school and, on both surfaces, a hard-hitting and AUTHENTIC Dancehall powerhouse of an album.


#12. “Therapeutic” by Ziggi Recado [Zion High Productions]

Keep the focus. The fourth studio album from the consistently impressive Ziggi Recado, “Therapeutic”, arrived in 2014 and it did so while seeing its star follow the very impressive line of artists who have released projects with The Zion I Kings collective. Even on paper such a thing is appetizing and what resulted was an expectedly masterful piece of work. Specifically, Zion High Productions put this one together and did so with a fully loaded arsenal of material, some of which has to be considered amongst the Dutch star’s finest to date. For example??? I don’t care what you say, ‘Masquerade’ is one of the best damn songs from ANYONE in 2014 and it also ranks very highly in regards to the work Recado has done throughout his career. Personally, when I think of some of my favourites, it is every bit as good as ‘Shackles & Chains’, ‘Cry Murdah’, ‘Joka Smoka’, ‘New Day’ and some of the GEMS he has blessed us with over the years. It is an amazing song and this was the album carrying it. Fortunately, Ziggi Recado and ZHP also provided ‘Masquerade’ with a strong supporting cast on “Therapeutic” which was highlighted by ‘Guide Ova’ with Lutan Fyah, ‘Guide Ova’ (had been a minute from the last time I had heard that song and it won’t be another before I hear it again) and ‘I’m Blaak’.


#11. “Hit Me With Music” by Sara Lugo [Oneness Records]

And that’s alright. The hybrid. Genre-fusing specialist and Achis Reggae favourite, The Familiar Stranger - Sara Lugo, made EVERYONE (including YOU!) very happy last year when she reached with her scintillating and sensational second studio album, “Hit Me With Music”. Way back in 2011, the German singer introduced us all to her one-of-a-kind blend of Reggae and traditional Jazz music in the form of a stellar debut album, “What About Love” and she reinforced one of the most infectious styles in Reggae today in 2014 with the new album. Once again linking with both Oneness Records and famed producer Umberto Echo, Lugo took several leaps on “Hit Me With Music”, not the smallest of which being that she, herself, seemingly took more of an involved role beyond vocalist as she, along with Echo, serve as executive producers of the project. As for the actual music, on “Hit Me With Music” Sara Lugo dug even further and what she came up with was more of a mix of styles. Selections along the likes of ‘I Wish’ (a song which I suddenly find myself incapable of cutting off), especially ‘Soldiers of Love’ and the title track are fairly difficult to line up and categorize within a single genre of music but, wonderfully, nothing at all was sacrificed in doing that. Lugo’s style is one which isn’t forced but instead is wholly organic and album#2 once again demonstrated that. In the midst of the brilliant musical kaleidoscope that was “Hit Me With Music” was also an excellent Reggae album as was evident on the ever popular ‘High & Windy’ with Kabaka Pyramid, the album’s finest effort ‘Play With Fire’, ‘Learn To Grow’ with Ras Muhamad (more on him later) and others, including current single 'Really Like You' with Protoje. I’ve listened to this album SOOOOOOOOOOO much in a few months and its already proven to be the type which continues to offer the listener surprises on every spin through (such as ‘I Wish’ which… DAMN!).


#10. “Ride Tru” by Midnite [I Grade Records]

The wonders of proximity. What do we do with “Ride Tru”??? That was probably the most complex question I had in my mind when I began writing this list. It is an album which definitely stands out, as not only do you loosely compare to it each and every other album on this list (and a few that weren’t), but you compare it DIRECTLY to one in particular. “Ride Tru” was the third Midnite release of 2014 and it was a big deal. Anytime you get a Midnite album – that’s significant, but as I’ve said in the past, when they come from I Grade Records (Achis Reggae’s reigning label of the year) and with The Zion I Kings, they come with a bit more anticipation. We got that TWICE last year and the first time, perhaps, to a bona fide classic level. And then there was “Ride Tru” whose arrival came as a surprise but whose quality came as a full expectation - but we’re still working on that. Having previously been too quick to qualify its most immediate IGR produced forebear, I’m still kind of stuck on this one! I can say that it wasn’t as good as the other… album… or can I? There are bits and pieces of “Ride Tru” which lead me back to the same feeling that I had way back in February: Maybe I’m hearing something TRULY special here.


#9. “Love Situation” by Tarrus Riley [… I just don’t feel like it typing all of those things right now]

A certain situation. Reggae superstar, Tarrus Riley (and the eight-hundred different labels that helped him) (Zojak Worldwide was one of them, so were Cannon and Jukeboxx) put together another mighty album in 2014 with the very ‘specific’ “Love Situation”. This Rocksteady era inspired set put on full display Riley’s ability to not only attempt but to ADVANCE in just about anything he does these does. Of course you’ll recall prior to “Love Situation” was 2012’s MAMMOTH “Mecoustic” album which featured Riley taking an acoustic spin on some of his (and the genre’s in recent times) biggest hits. Now looking back, what most stands out to me from “Love Situation” isn’t just how much attention was paid to it or how well regarded that it was (and it was both to a very high degree), but I immediately think back to just how FUN of a release that it was. When it comes to paying attention and respect and honouring past generations, Reggae music does a pretty good job, but it rarely comes off as good as it did on “Love Situation”. Also, despite its sound, it was also a very fresh and unique sound which is kind of strange thinking back to it. Tarrus Riley can do absolutely anything he wants and fans like you and me are almost certain to respond positively – not because it’s just what we do, but because it’s “almost certain” to be great.


#8. “Salam” by Ras Muhamad [Oneness Records]

Blow them away. If you needed evidence on the full globalization of Reggae music (beyond this list, which already features artists from Jamaica, the UK, Guyana, Germany, The Netherlands and the Virgin Islands), the roaring Ras Muhamad gave you all you needed with his MASSIVE unifying release, “Salam” with Oneness Records. Muhamad came all the way from Indonesia with a sound which was not only intense and passionate but SKILLED! For all of its attractions which came from outside of the studio, musically speaking “Salam” was about as PERFECT of a set of tunes that were put together in 2014 and Muhamad and Oneness made the most of the moment. Along with ‘simply’ making a big album, they also took notice of the circumstances and “Salam” features Ras Muhamad freely moving between English and his native language as well as involving and introducing fans to other Indonesian stars in the genre such as Conrad Good Vibration (I still love that name), Kunokini and the Mighty Che. If that weren’t enough the line of guest artists also includes familiar names like Kabaka Pyramid, Uwe Kaa, Naptali The Great and someone named Sara Lugo (BOOM!). Highlights were in abundance on the sixteen track release but these days I’m most often drawn to the opener and title track which set the tone for an album whose uniqueness makes it one for the ages.


#7. “In My Father’s House” by Addis Pablo [JahSolidRock]

Unlocked. “In My Father’s House” was the STUNNING debut album of Addis Pablo, the son of the legendary Augustus Pablo, to whom his offspring has not only paid a giant tribute, but whose work the younger Pablo has also continued in his own career, bringing it to another generation of Reggae fans. In 2014 Addis took the next logical step and, along with the most dependable people at Dutch label JahSolidRock, did an entire album which was very well received. Largely instrumental, “In My Father’s House” was a MUSICAL EXPERIENCE of a production and, again, though it lacked a lyrical substance, it was one of the deepest releases on this list which is saying a great deal. Credit for that, at least partially, does well go to the label who, particularly in their glorious work with Chezidek (who appears on this album as well) has set the tone in their way of providing listeners with an all-encompassing musical journey. With that being said, however, they hadn’t done anything like what was to be found “In My Father’s House” and… no one else really has either. AMAZING!


#6. “Anointed” by Bugle [Daseca Productions]

Finally fit. It took three – maybe four – or five hundred years to get here but surely one of the greatest gifts that 2014 had to offer Reggae fans FINALLY was the long, LONG, anticipated debut album of Jamaican veteran, Bugle. “Anointed” became the first shot from the longtime staple of Daseca Productions which, along with the miracle workers at Zojak Worldwide, brought the album to both a digital and physical actuality. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! We had kind of given up hope on a Bugle album (biggup Aidonia), but when it finally did come, “Anointed” made us all happy that we hadn’t stopped paying attention – and really you couldn’t. Over the years Bugle had become one of the genre’s most gifted writers, combining a high level of common sense with a very unique and somewhat gloomy approach to his music and to hear that throughout nearly an hour here was something which will not be forgotten as the highest ranking debut on this list. Alaine, Popcaan, Tarrus Riley, Julian Marley, Lady Saw as well as the star of our #4 here [‘Pain & Suffering’, a flawless tune] all contributed to an album which was a very long time in the making and sounded like it.


#5. “Indigenous” by Rob Symeonn  [Jah Youth Productions/Goldheart Music]

A monkey wrench. When it comes to the top five of this list, there is only one REAL surprise entrant. If, at the end of 2013, you would have told me that my top four would be what it turned out to be and if you would have mentioned Bugle at #6 (I would have probably hurt my neck smiling so hard), it also wouldn’t have been a great shock. HOWEVER, news that a much deserved #5 spot would belong to veteran Rob Symeonn would have, and did, turn out to be amongst the biggest and best shocks of the year! “Indigenous” was the third album from Symeonn and though he certainly had done powerful works ahead of it, at least to my opinion, there was nothing behind him to suggest that he would, suddenly, jump in with one of the best albums that I have EVER heard. Coming from Goldheart Music and the also shocking Jah Youth Productions, “Indigenous”, with pieces such as ‘Ithiopia’, ‘Live Upright’, ‘Forgive Them’, ‘Jah Only’, the infectious and unforgettable ‘Night On The Town’ and my favourite, ‘Life Is Precious’, had a very difficult to describe, nostalgic feeling to it and I mean that in a good way (obviously). There was something so prevailingly familiar to the album that, though shocking as I said, kind of made you feel like you had been there before and even if you hadn’t, you were not likely to be in any type of hurry to leave.


#4. “My Journey” by I-Octane [Tad’s Records]

Time has come. Though it did release way back in early March and, because of what was to come, it may have gotten overlooked in the latter stages of the year, there can be no mistaking the fact that “My Journey”, the second offering from the constantly blazing I-Octane was a MAGICAL album and easily one of the year’s best. Octane is someone who, basically solely on the strength of his music, manages to stay in the general rotation of the music and, at least in my opinion, figures to remain in such a standing for the foreseeable future and with works like these, he’ll still be here even further! It may not be (it isn’t) a quality which pervades the majority of I-Octane’s output but when I think of the material on this DJ Frass produced release, what most stands out now is just how BRIGHT of an album it was. This journey was an inspirational one without a direct rival that comes to mind on this level in recent times and, going back, you almost forget just how powerful of a statement “My Journey” truly was. I’m drawn to selections like ‘Lighters Up’ with Alaine and ‘It’s Alright’ alongside German head, Gentleman which kind of leap off the track list at the listener but when you begin to dig beyond those immediate standouts, “My Journey” develops and develops and DEVELOPS! Leading the entire pack was the MAMMOTH ‘Million Miles’, but tunes like ‘Jah Jah Warrior’, ‘Time Will Come’, ‘Blood Ago Run’, ‘My Story’, ‘Burn It’ and more of them still were not terribly far behind. “My Journey” should be a landmark moment in the career of a still relatively young artist, but I really do not think it will stand as I-Octane’s greatest piece of work for very long as his talent seems likely to produce one of the greatest EVER and do it shortly. Until then, “My Journey” was damn close.


#3. “I Rise” by Etana [VP Records]

The chapel. The feminine face and voice of modern Reggae music continued her reign through 2014 with her DOMINANT fourth studio effort, “I Rise”. The album, once again, found Etana linking with VP Records, but this time she also took to business with the esteemed Clive Hunt and, together, the two produced yet another unforgettable stop which already, at least in my opinion, has seen her deliver a pair of AOTY releases (four albums, two #1’s, a #2 and now a #3) [WHAT!] [BOOM!]. “I Rise” definitely took to the same levels reached by its predecessors and, perhaps, even stepped beyond them in one way. ‘Achis like what???! I don’t know if Etana (or anyone else) has made an album in recent memory (outside of Jah Cure, of course) where the vocals sound THIS good. If you listen back to “I Rise”, what you notice is that the biggest riser is definitely the sonic appeal of the project. She sounds AMAZING and she almost always does, but it is heightened throughout here. And it wasn’t merely a matter of flash and no substance, “I Rise” was ample there as well. Check ‘Trigger’, ‘Jamaican Woman’, ‘How Long’, the remake of out ‘Stepping Out Of Babylon’, ‘On My Way’, ‘Richest Girl’, the title track, ‘Ward 21… and everything else on “I Rise”. But you absolutely must pay a special amount of attention to the album opener ‘Selassie Is The Chapel’, which may just feature THE best vocals on a song that Etana has ever done in my opinion. It’s almost unfortunate to an extent, but I’ve come to expect Etana to be able to do this every time she releases an album and I have no doubt that 2016 or whenever her next album arrives, we’ll be singing a very similar song.


#2. “Beauty For Ashes” by Midnite [I Grade Records]

Magnificent edifice. I got really, REALLY close to giving our top spot (and I’m still thinking about doing it right now) to “Beauty For Ashes”, which is the previously alluded to first 2014 collaboration between Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite with I Grade Records ahead of December’s “Ride Tru”. This is the case that we have LONG had an entrenched #1 album (which, at least for the moment, has won out). But, the solution that I ultimately came up with is that #2 is the PERFECT position for an album like “Beauty For Ashes” because it affords it the opportunity to continue to do what it has done from the very first second anyone heard it: GROW! Consistently, each and every time I hear this album I find several new things about it to love with one thing being ever present. We can argue about overall quality – given their most passionate nature, you surely have Midnite fans who have forgotten ten times more than I will ever know on the subject – but to me there can be very little debate on the substance of this album. Vaughn Benjamin is one of the greatest and most prolific writers in the history of Reggae music and probably all music and “Beauty For Ashes”, CLEARLY is amongst his very best lyrical efforts, if not THE best. What so wonderfully stands out now and has for months now is how every song on the album, in their own unique ways, center around one subject. “Beauty For Ashes”, in a sense, was a ‘concept’ album. It was all about unity and unification and Benjamin grinded them down to a powder and reassembled them into thirteen GEMS and distributed them to the masses. From obvious choices such as ‘Same Boat We’, ‘Same I Ah One’ and ‘A Healing’ to spots which required more such as the giant opener, ‘A Reminder’, [“AS SOUTH INDIA CONNECTED THE DOTS, AS THE NAMES TELL THE STORY OF US”], Benjamin set forth on a course which brought everyone together from our source throughout all of history and blaring into the future on an album which is one of the greatest lyrical efforts Reggae music has ever seen!


#1. “The Sound” by Pressure [I Grade Records]

Resounding! Even in theory – you knew that if ever and whenever there was a link between the Virgin Islands’ most popular Reggae artist and its most decorated and accomplished label, you’d have something special on your hands. Throughout the years the area has developed into an absolute powerhouse for the genre and, at one point just a few years ago, it seemed as if nary a month passed by before we were introduced to yet another supremely skilled star. These days, while the ‘assembly line’ seems to have slowed just a bit (although one of the last big names to jump up, Reemah, is HOPEFULLY someone who sticks around) what has taken its place is a set of very large but routinely met expectations and, as you can see, a whole heap of those fall in the direction of I Grade Records who, along with The Zion I Kings, gave 2014 its two biggest album releases in my opinion.

I am very happy to say that taking the top spot for 2014 is “The Sound” from Pressure Busspipe, which was the very first album of his produced by IGR. As I said, even on paper such a combination is a powerful thing but in actuality it was so mighty that it soared to the top of what was an incredible year for the music. WHY???! “The Sound” was an album whose title actually spoke volumes of what was behind it (as did its wonderful cover art penned by the brilliant Sil Cunningham) in the form of this MODERN CLASSIC [WHAT!] sound which was found at every point during the album. For his part, the ‘only’ thing that Pressure did was the same thing that he has been doing throughout his career, which has made him one of the most capable artists in the world. His was an effortless genius here and it had an effect. How can an album fourteen tracks and nearly an hour in length go so fast?
It was exciting and dramatic and infectious. Those aren’t often descriptors used in reference to Roots Reggae music but they all applied in regards to “The Sound”. From destructive combinations featuring the likes of Lutan Fyah, Volcano, Ras Batch & NiyoRah and Vaughn Benjamin, to a song in ‘Virgin Islands Nice’ which, retrospectively, so wonderfully captures the crucial nature of an album like this. Big VI artist and its biggest label SHOULD be making music which celebrate life so vivid like this tune did and watching it reach far as it would was one of the most interesting stories of the year. You also has a title track, ‘The Rain’, ‘Run Away’, ‘Rise Today’ and… ‘Show Love’ [TEARS!] which tune in a different side of things and emotions, showing the genuine range of this sound. “The Sound” won on every level, was a potentially landmark release and THE BEST REGGAE ALBUM OF 2014!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Completely Random On 2014!

Well, that was it. It's all over. If there were something you meant to do in 2014 and you didn't quite manage to get around to it, well then... you just didn't do it. Of course you can still do it in 2015 and as we get set to look forward to all of the amazing and ridiculous things that the new year will surely have to offer, we still look back on what was a remarkable year for the music and one which will not quickly (or slowly) be forgotten. Let's get it started as we look at the highlights and maybe even a lowlight or two of the past year, as we go Completely Random on 2014!

Reggae/Dancehall Artist of The Year

Female Reggae/Dancehall Artist of The Year

Best New Artist
Jo Mersa Marley

Surprise of The Year
Rob Symeonn

Singer of The Year

European Reggae/Dancehall Artist of The Year
Ziggi Recado

Virgin Islands Reggae/Dancehall Artist of The Year
Pressure Busspipe

FWI/French Reggae/Dancehall Artist of The Year
Admiral T

Asian Reggae/Dancehall Artist of The Year
Ras Muhamad

Zouk Artist of The Year
Jessye Belleval

Lyricist of The Year
Vaughn Benjamin

Female Lyricist of The Year

Soca Artist of The Year
Machel Montano

Female Soca Artist of The Year
Destra Garcia

Commercial Artist of The Year
Ziggi Marley

Most Controversial

Most Fun!
Busy Signal & Spice

Most Fun Soca!
Skinny Fabulous & Nadia Batson

Conquering in 2015 Male
Kabaka Pyramid

Conquering in 2015 Female

Would Love To Hear From You in 2015
Capleton, Aima Moses & Jalena

Producers & Labels
Producer/Label of The Year
I Grade Records

Riddim of The Year
Elastik Riddim [Purple Skunkz Entertainment]

European Label of The Year
Oneness Records

Surprise Label of The Year
Jah Youth Productions

Soca Label of The Year
Stadic Studio Productions

Soca Riddim of The Year
The June Bomb Riddim [King BubbaFM/Platta Studio]

About To Be Great Reggae
7 Seals Records

About To Be Great Soca
Advokit Productions

Going Beyond
Zojak Worldwide & Fox Fuse

Reggae/Dancehall Album of The Year
Coming soon

Reggae/Dancehall Compilation of The Year
The Jump For Joy Riddim

Soca Album of The Year
"Queen Of Bacchanal" by Destra

Zouk Album of The Year
"Partir En Live" by Jessye Belleval

Reggae EP of The Year
"Dread & Terrible" by Chronixx

Album Title of The Year
"Born A King" by Sizzla

Album Cover of The Year
"Indigenous" by Rob Symeonn [pictured]

'Cool' Album of The Year
"Hit Me With Music" by Sara Lugo

Most Fun Reggae/Dancehall Album of The Year
"Still Disturbed" by Ward 21

2015 Most Anticipated
Untitled by Spice

Random & Ridiculous
Song of The Year
"Stop This Train" featuring Lutan Fyah by Pressure

Most Beautiful
Fay-Ann Lyons [pictured]

Looking Good
Jessye Belleval & Nadia Batson!

Reggae Website of The Year

Reggae Writer of The Year
Erik Magni [Reggaemani]

Verse of The Year
"This is a Haile salutation to all the world nation
Failure fi overstand seem on di brink of devastation
World need redemption, a sound mediation
Medication, mediation
Fi bring more balanced stands and rest in all di land
The root of the thought - as a method of deterrence, but with adverse results all to encourage all the strong
Just watch your family and regard them as one
Same I ah one"
-Verse two from 'Same I Ah One' featuring Pressure by Midnite

The Vaughn Benjamin Award of Multiple Releases
Sizzla Kalonji

Happy To See You In 2014!

'Launch Di Rocket' by Sir Lancealot

Athlete of The Year
Nicholas Walters

The Last Album I Listened To
"Mission Incomplete" by Tydal

Break The World
Fay-Ann Lyons

Best Disease of 2014

'Create A System' by Jah Mason

Blog Reader of The Year

JahLight Records, Camille from United Reggae, Markus from ReggaeVille, Sara Lugo, I Grade Records, Lustre Kings Productions, Zion High Productions, The Zion I Kings, Cali P, Harry Mo, Teacher from Reggae-Vibes, JahSolidRock, Not Easy At All, Oneness Records, Yoshi, Rhona Fox and Fox Fuse, Garrett from FlipSwitch, Soulfire Artists, Cassaruby, Jah Youth Productions and everyone who gave us some type of strength in 2014.THANK YOU!

Person of The Year
New Daughter! WHAT! My Wife! WHAT!  Bredz! WHAT!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

'To The Table': A review of "Ride Tru" by Midnite

Upon a throne. In the world village that is Reggae music, if you notice it correctly, as in any fully functioning community, we have people serving in every necessary capacity. Whatever emotion you may want to tap into and whatever corner of your mind you may need to access in order to reach it, somewhere someone is making a vibe directly for you in that moment. And one of the many positives of the music covering the entire world is that, with virtually no exception, this true regardless your background and walk of life. Someone is singing your song ["Someone can relate, bring an instant healing"]. If you're in love and you're wonderfully lost in the moment, Beres Hammond has an entire catalogue of music and something in there perfectly captures what you feel and even if it doesn't or you're loving in HD these days, Alaine can take care of that for you. If you're angry and you want to let off some steam, the downright sweltering recent assault Mad Cobra has been laying on the Dancehall, even after all of these years, can help you with that as you musically hear him commit every known crime in existence - so you don't have to. If you need a boost in your mood, if you are feeling bad, check Jah Cure and listen to the greatest voice ever given to a human being and if that doesn't work, Etana, Duane Stephenson, Tarrus Riley, Sara Lugo [!] and a line of others can definitely put you on the proper path to happiness. Any complexion of any emotion that you want to keep or change, there is something for you. Even if you don't rightly know how you feel [!], choose from any Busy Signal tune you can find or allow Perfect Giddimani to YELL at you for a little while, then maybe you can figure it out. Reggae music has what you need. It always does. It is in that same context that you might find yourself drawing for a piece of the music to challenge you and to provoke some thought or help to ignite some different point of view on an opinion that you may have which might lead you to some of the most DETERMINED writers in the genre. I can mention the likes of Sizzla Kalonji and Lutan Fyah and Jah9 and some of my other favourite wordsmiths in Reggae and, normally, I'd make the connection to the artist we deal with today… but I'm beginning to think that placing him in that scope is a little limiting. When virtually EVERY LINE he utters, at his best or somewhere else, challenges the listener to pay a full attention. 
"Beauty For Ashes" [2014]
And this is why we give so much concentration to the releases of Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite. Although I still maintain that I am not amongst 'their' most fervent of supporters and certainly am no expert (Midnite, EASILY, has some of the most passionate fans that you'll find in all of music, regardless of genre), I probably have written more about their music than anyone because, again, I think there is a point to be made in everything that they do. And while I do not love it all, I do love the journey to comprehension which is always a healthy voyage when it comes to Midnite. And if that is the case (and it is), then perhaps we'll go on to look back at 2014 as one of the greatest years that the Virgin Islands Reggae pillar has ever put together. 
At the head of that will surely be "Beauty For Ashes" which, likewise, may someday be regarded as one of the finest Midnite albums that there is (a distinction it already owns from me) by the masses. That set was done by the already but increasingly esteemed I Grade Records alongside the Zion I Kings collective and… that was great. A big album from anyone else means a great year but despite that, this is still Midnite that we are talking about and 'they' don't tend to do things in singles. There was also "Stand The Test", a very solid piece from Iaahden Sounds which arrived back in August and, again, that would have been a damn strong year from anyone with a flattening album and another one to keep things boiling eight months on - but like I said, this is Midnite and not even two would be enough to stand through December. So what would be next? Maybe a new album would come from Rastar who formerly was responsible for at least one Midnite album in a year (and technically released another in 2014 with the dub for "Better World Rasta"). No? Maybe Fifth Son, who helmed such sublime sets as "In Awe" ["I hold his Majesty in awe"] ["…in awe"] ["… in awe"] and "Be Strong" recently, would return with a brand new album late in the year. Not them? Well, Benjamin does get around to various producers and maybe one of them might return and there is always the possibility that an actual Ronnie Benjamin produced Midnite album (check out Dezarie's new album "Love In Your Meditation") might emerge but absolutely none of that happened. Instead, Vaughn Benjamin returned to I Grade Records and the ZIK for their second collaboration in about ten months for the direct follow-up to "Beauty For Ashes", the very surprising "Ride Tru". It has been a very active year for both IGR and the ZIK with the former dealing with not only "Beauty For Ashes"  but also the all-conquering "The Sound" from Pressure Busspipe and, for their part, both Zion High Productions and even Lustre Kings Productions have experienced activity with ZHP going high with "Therapeutic" from Ziggi Recado and most recently with "Redemption" by Jah Bless and the LKP, whom we hadn't heard from in awhile, dealing the outstanding Junction Riddim, their contribution to the ZIK's Riddim Album series. It has become one of the most interesting aspects of any year to see what the ZIK might be working on (apparently next is a Sabbattical Ahdah album, according to Bredz, which is all shades of fantastic!) and while we were anticipating a rumoured release from Lutan Fyah, "Ride Tru" comes as a GREAT surprise. It is my opinion that Laurent 'Tippy I' Alfred and company at IGR get the best out of Midnite and - why not make two in one year! I'm not complaining at all and after you hear it, you won't be either.  
The thing which most stands out in regards to I Grade produced Midnite albums generally is how easy they are to listen to. If you've followed Midnite to any close degree, surely you've sat through some albums which didn't have much in the way of sonic appeal - if anything at all. That is never the case with IGR's Midnite album and, in their history together, they have worked on some of the most easily digested albums to come down from Midnite - projects which are melodic and entertaining music. You can well place in that same category their latest link, "Ride Tru" which is a little heavier than their most recent journey, but by it is end proves to be a RIDE to prosperity for both artist and label. Definitely one of the nicest sounds on the entire album gets us started in 'Calm The Day'. For me, this is a composition about finding some peace and serenity in a hectic world. In typical Vaughn Benjamin fashion, he manages to make you WORK to find your calm in the tune ["A CACOPHONY OF A BARRAGE OF WORDS OF A SIDETRACK OF A DEVIATE"] but it is well worth it ultimately and I have to say that I love the riddim behind this song. It builds in intensity throughout and it is amazing. Speaking of amazing, the first of a pair of heads of MONSTROUS songs on this album, 'To Them' is the second song on "Ride Tru" and it is SPECTACULAR! 

"The Lamb that return yah with The Lion head
Humble and perfected inna righteousness
All di like-minded know they needed strength
When goals line up along allegiances
That's when realizations overtake them when -
Di magnitude and scope of what they stand against
Turned into entire, whole world events" 

When I first heard this song, what stuck with me was how easy and effortless it came through. I don’t know how much of it was actually written down versus coming from a place of spontaneity (I would assume Benjamin is someone who writes down EVERYTHING) but it sounds like he just began to talk across a track. And that track is a special one. There is a saxophone playing throughout which is candy for the ears and we are treated to an extended instrumental after the vocals which wholly delights. Benjamin uses it all to put together a majestic song of praise to His Majesty and, probably, my favourite song on "Ride Tru". 'To Ge Da' is a fascinating song as well because, on the surface, it almost seems like a love song which isn't something that you will find in abundance in Vaughn Benjamin's reserve. I had to listen to this one a few times but I do actually think that it was the intent with 'To Ge Da' to make it a song about being in love. Of course it does have a spiritual connotation to it -- he is ultimately speaking on being 'together' with The Almighty but I think that he is talking about moving in that direction as a pair and not just as one person -- and it makes for such a noted song on this album. Also, check the horn that chimes in during the late portions of the song - not to be missed. And I'll also include here the LUSH 'Restore' which is definitely one of my favourites here and I think will be regarded as a big highlight from "Ride Tru". 

"When times are hard with sinisterisms all around
People like to say, 'don't trust no one'
But on every situation - closer introspection
Rasta get to see it's not as simple as it sound


BOOM! 'Restore' is glorious! A tune about infusing more of the presence of His Majesty into the world in order to restore and re-establish the belief and faith and LOVE of mankind in itself ["when The Principal restore, the people restore"], 'Restore' hits all kinds of lyrical highpoints and does so on yet another might riddim behind it.

Throughout "Ride Tru" there're several moments which are likely to standout to listeners for various reasons, even just on paper. It is somewhat rare that a tracklist for a Midnite album looks so attractive on the surface (and if you don't know, Vaughn Benjamin is very fond of doing things like 'To Ge Da' in naming a track or you'll see an entire album with nearly every song having a one worded title) but it is a quality which does usually reach the I Grade releases - check "Beauty For Ashes" and "Kings Bell". As is always the case, the title track will likely generate a whole heap of buzz and, in this case, with great reason. 'Ride Tru', the song, is more than seven minutes long [!] and it is a powerful destination on this ride on every level. Musically, the riddim on the song is about as BIG and complex as you'll find on the album and, as you would expect at such a length, it is given its time to shine and when it is that thing EXPLODES! There are so many wonderful and subtle sounds that you will hear making up this composition that it is almost overwhelming at times and you really get the feeling that the musicians just had a really good time in time in bring it all together. Lyrically, this one is also in the stars! What I would take away from it is that 'Ride Tru' is a celebration of life. Benjamin speaks on so many beautiful things which may not be very well known, respected or appreciated, but are capable of bringing JOY to anyone who is willing to pay attention to them (he even references Jacques Cousteau at one point). This is a very ripe song and I'm tempted to go on about it… and I will (who cares, if this thing is four thousand words long, then it just is). You can take ideas like these and apply them so vividly and perfectly to Midnite's music, in general. Sit down and REALLY listen to what this man says in his music and you will inherit the ability of appreciating such a CAVERNOUS talent ["MR. COUSTEAU SAY, DEEPEST IN THE WORLD. AND IF YOU CAN'T FIND THE DEPTHS, HOW HIGH IS THE HIGH?!!"], put on display through now more than fifty albums [WHAT!] [BOOM!]. And I think so many people listen to this music and they enjoy it or they don't but they don't take the time to comb through what is actually being discussed and formulate an opinion based on that - for me, that's the real joy here. 

A digression in the name of passion you'll forgive (or you won't, I don't care). Also sure to grab your attention is the plea for help 'I Beseech Jah', the one combination from "Ride Tru", this one shockingly (not really) featuring the inescapable Pressure Busspipe. Having also featured on the signature tune from "Beauty For Ashes", ‘Same I Ah One’, Pressure is also back for the new album and, once again, turns in a might effort alongside Vaughn Benjamin (who made an appearance on "The Sound" as well). 

"Teach us how to magnify our true ability
Government ah crash the economical stability
The Rastaman say what is to be will have to be
Even when the people dot their i's and cross their t's
Government no think twice fi seize the opportunities"

You might also be drawn in the direction of 'Credited' which I believe is the first single from the new album and, though it requires a lot of love and care, is another big, big song. For me, this selection goes in the route that I've taken this review in. It is about everyone bringing something to the 'table' of life and sharing with one another what we can do. This one can make music, that one can cook ["Everything was a work of art from the food to the music - it was a work of art"], you can do something and so can I - everyone brings something. It is a very deep song and one I'm still well working on and am appreciating every step along the way. On 'Voices of The Remnancy' Benjamin pays a significant tribute to the likes of Bunny Rugs, Bob Marley and others who have helped to not only bring the music and life to where it is now (including indirectly, not to be overlooked, Marcus who is responsible for so many dazzling Midnite album covers which has surely brought much to enhancing their legend over the years whether we realize it or not. We are visual creatures and what we see can be just as important as what we here, even pertaining to music). I thought that this was just a fantastic idea from him to put things together in such a way. Particularly because he gives quite a bit of the early portion of the song to Rugs and I can envision an idea evolving from something which was specifically meant to say THANK YOU to one of the greatest voices that Reggae music has ever produced. And the sound of this song, although almost entirely subtle, is DIVINE! You have to pay as much attention to the riddim as you do to the lyrics but you'll hear one of the finest musical demonstrations of the year. And I'll also mention here the blistering 'Haile Selassie I The First Time'. BOOM! This one is a cannon of a song which finds Benjamin a bit more enthused and agitated than he was when 'Calm The Day' rolled through. It pinnacles on the  final two verses which have to be considered amongst his finest in recent times as he pulls knowledge from everywhere he can find it and launches it at the listener ["Which one want the foundation fi move inna di mansion right-wing? THERE IS A SINKHOLE OF ERRORS INNA FASCIST REASONING. Any colour inna di spectrum a miscalculated. Any how dem ahgo move is the same misstep"]. 

And if you're still standing after all of that, what you'll find remaining on "Ride Tru" are four more outstanding pieces including at least one MAMMOTH moment. Along with that is a pair of songs which I hope people really tune in because they are both excellent, 'Conquering Lion' and 'Arise Again'. The former, in a bit of a darker way, echoes the graceful style shown during 'To Them'. I also link it to 'Haile Selassie I The First Time' which is the full boil. 'Conquering Lion' is the heating up and the simmer and on a similar level of quality. 'Arise Again', with its familiar sound, is a difficult one and because of that, it is damn easy to get the lyrics of this one lost because its sound is so captivating (I do not know how to describe that thing properly but it is lovely to listen to and if ever the Zion I Kings release an album of their instrumentals, it should be included). What I get from the song is that it is a piece aimed at the younger generations of the world to inspire them to take their place at the head and to build upon what was done ahead of them. They'll need help to do this and Benjamin surely has an idea where they can find all they need and more and I really think that, going further, it is a song about encouraging people in what they do and to be supportive and reinforcing as best as you can for their positive works. And then there is the sweetness which you'll find at #12 on "Ride Tru", the simply SHATTERING 'Worry Free'.

"Unto The Emperor's magnanimity -
Earth have a climatic energy
Right inna di presence of dem material technology
See dem gone round ya inna hurt and brutality
Til dem no see it as nuttin again, dem see it as normality
Rasta give I & I musicality and it hold some solidarity
In heart of technocratic city to inna yard and shanty
Iniversal world vibes, Rasta musicality
St. Croix feel it fi real
No matter how dem tell wi bout world disband economy
Di morning mist yah in the ambient of di oceanic beauty

There is no song on this album, not one, which is better than 'Worry Free' in my opinion. It is every bit as good as 'To Them' and the title track and one or two others on that level and is a special song. I don't expect the wide reaction to be like that, however, but the first time I heard this song fully, I heard that straight forward and relentless lyrical tirade that you often get from Vaughn Benjamin but it was wrapped up in a tranquil and old school package. The contrast presented is a remarkable one and one which, at least for me, is a standing highlight on "Ride Tru". Finally, do check 'How I & I Carry On', another exquisite piece. This song may not feature Benjamin's greatest vocal performance (it doesn't) but what it does have going for it is a beautiful vibes which shine throughout (I swear I can hear someone chanting in the background through almost the entire song). I also link it to both 'Ride Tru' and 'Worry Free' as 'How I & I Carry On' is a song about appreciating the small things in life, including the company of good people ["So just keep good relations!"] and you can also appreciate something simple, like a really, really good album.
Overall, I'm trying to avoid drawing direct comparisons between "Ride Tru" and "Beauty For Ashes" but I think that I will be one of the only people attempting to do that. It's very hard to ignore the fact that we now have to Midnite/IGR albums in one calendar year but I think that making that move was a calculated one and one which not only allowed for the comparison but WELCOMED it. "Beauty For Ashes" is an album I'll likely always recall, most, for its lyrical prowess which is amazing for a Midnite album. Benjamin took one idea, unity, and split it into thirteen different directions and it took as all months to realize what he had done. "Ride Tru" may just do a similar thing as well as so many of the songs seem to revolve around the notion of slowing down and not overlooking things which are beautiful and beneficial to us all. Which is why I'm hoping, again, that the giant contribution made by both Midnite and I Grade Records is not overlooked, particularly in 2014. I think that the world is realizing that such a pairing always produces big results and "Ride Tru" is not the exception. From beginning to end it shows itself to be on the level as and, in some cases above, previous collaborations and, though it does feature a different sound - that is a good thing and we aren't dealing with tracks #13-26 of the same album. Instead, "Ride Tru" proves to be yet another unique demonstration of the crucial material brought to the table in a one of a kind way by Midnite and I Grade Records. Unsurprisingly, one of the year's best… again.

Rated: 4.50/5
I Grade Records
CD + Digital
Releases on December 9th

{Note: Taking a little break, wanted to review this one before it}

Review #534

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sara Lugo & Protoje 'Really Like You'!

Check the video for the latest and second single from Sara Lugo's wonderful new album, "Hit Me With Music", 'Really Like You' featuring Protoje. The Silly Walks produced track follows 'Play With Fire' and was filmed in Jamaica and directed by the great Jay Will. I love the video with several things popping up and if you pay very close attention, you'll even see Lugo giving a chunk of love to Cali P and his EP, "Healing Of The Nation". Also, Oneness Records recently released a digital single of 'Really Like You', which also features a dubbed out version of the song done by the venerable Umberto Echo. BOOM!

And if you have not already, stop being stupid and show a little brainpower and pick up "Hit Me With Music" by Sara Lugo which is in stores now!