Thursday, April 17, 2014

'Fossil Fueled': A review of "Radical" by Sizzla Kalonji

Mixology. There exist so many wonderful benefits in being prolific and consistently active in doing something. Aside from the clearest advantage -- the more you do something, presumably, the better you get at it -- it also presents a wide array of other, very healthy, qualities. As far as music (because that's what we do here), one obvious gain made by an artist remaining active is that it keeps their name in the attention of fans. In Reggae music (something else we do here), although I do feel that the overwhelming need for immediacy has somewhat dwindled in recent years, that is very important as so many spend their entire careers looking for that 'first' or 'next' big hit. If you throw out a whole heap of songs it is far more likely that one will 'stick' with the masses as opposed to two or three, here and there. Also, and this may just be me, for certain individuals, even if they aren't favourites of mine, I'm more inclined to not care if they push a streak of tunes (or even a full album or two) which I don't particularly enjoy because I know that the next isn't a very long wait away. So I think that being so active definitely does kind of develop and promote a lower demand and less of a pressurized condition for output from fans. And those would be good points. Ultra-prolificacy also has its drawbacks, however. One of them is that you risk competing against yourself as you increase your chances of downright diluting the term 'NEW' (when 'new tune' or 'new album' has… several different meanings). I always find it interesting how if you read any relatively substantive interview with Vaughn Benjamin (and biggup Angus Taylor who conducted the last one I read), the hilariously active chanter is sure to point out that despite the fact that he's talking about a particular release, he has several more loaded and ready to go - ALWAYS. With circumstances like that, you virtually ensure that albums and albums worth of tunes fall between the proverbial cracks and decades from now some label (probably named Rastar) will begin issuing previously unheard Midnite songs packed and packaged as albums. And that's a drawback… right? Well, yeah it's a drawback because you and I likely won't be around to hear them.

But we're here today (if you are currently reading this - congratulations, you are not dead) and it's looking very interesting. I'm sure that at the height of his truly stunning prolificacy the thought occurred to me that there had to be some giant cache of indefinitely shelved tunes from the great Sizzla Kalonji. Releasing dozens and dozens of tunes and upwards of three or four albums annually, there just had be some which didn't get released. Many (most) of those albums were coming from different single producers (as opposed to be just being singles pulled together from a variety of different maestros) and you knew that every song considered did not make the album and weren't released or at least not in any lasting capacity. In Sizzla's case it is magnified, at least for me, because this man has made THE best music I have ever heard in my life and when you consider all of the great albums and great streaks that he has given us throughout the years, there were some songs which, for whatever reason, may not have been pushed properly in the face of PILLARING singles or may not have made it onto SPECTACULAR albums - were probably still very, VERY good… at least.  
"Crucial Times" [2010]
And he's shown us glimpses of this throughout the years. Most recently there was the album "Crucial Times" from 2010 which came courtesy of Homer Harris who discovered Sizzla Kalonji and featured material from a nascent and pre-even early prime level of the chanter. And I am also reminded of the "Da Real Live Thing" album which featured not only a fantastic video piece but also three tunes, two of which were originals, 'Bright Sunshine' and 'Be Still' ["THOU SHALL NOT KILL, BE STILL! GO HOLD A SABBATH ON THE HILL!"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!], which were not carried on the original "Da Real Thing" album. He's also had similar things done with different versions of albums released throughout the years as well. However, with all of that being said, one would think that if anyone were to be experiencing anything resembling a surplus of tunes from Sizzla Kalonji, it would definitely be his longtime home and the label which most helped to bring him to prominence, Xterminator. Alongside the legendary Philip 'Fatis' Burrell and Xterminator Productions, Sizzla Kalonji recorded approximately four-thousand albums and nearly twenty-two million singles - many of which, in both cases, remain some of his strongest and most recognizable work to date. And certainly we haven't heard all that there was to hear from the sessions which would produce such masterful material and now we get to hear at least some of what we missed as Sizzla Kalonji gets "Radical". The son of the late Burrell, Kareem Burrell, who took over the label as XTM Nation ("Living Heart Vol. 1", in stores now), also acts as a producer of this album and fills its very healthy ranks [sixteen tracks - not two minutes south of an hour in total playing time] with some of the music that he has continued to record with Kalonji. The album is also distributed by VP Records who, to no surprise, has re-become interested in the work of Kalonji following last year's "The Messiah", which they also worked with and was ultimately nominated for a Grammy Award. That album was one of the most talked about that Sizzla has had in a really long time and while the early discussion around this one hasn't been nearly as high (and predictably and fittingly so), "Radical" and its damn interesting set of circumstances, at least for me, presented a potential for a very good set. "Vintage Sizzla Kalonji" is a phrase which is used entirely too much by people like me, but its over usage in terms of reference hasn't diluted its meaning: At his best, or even near it, his is a peerless talent. I've never heard anyone who can do what he does and over the years despite many twists, turns and controversies in his career, it is a fact which has remained glaring and, inherently, the background of "Radical" promised "Vintage Sizzla". So obviously this should be a great album…
completely random flyer
So maybe "great album" is a bit too much for this one (it is). Instead, what it is ultimately, is a decent set with GREAT flashes which essentially make up for its shortcomings - as distinct as they may be (they are). Listening to this set has definitely been interesting because we've had it for awhile now (biggup Bredz) and the one thing that has been constant, as far as my appreciation for it, has been change (biggup Danny I). When I first heard it, I definitely did think it great or some form of it (and was about to write a review for it immediately and it was fortunate that I did not (Biggup Bredz again), because I would have given this album like a 4.75/5 or something like that and would have had to Rewind it back a few minutes later), then it became somewhat awkward, so I kind of tried to wait to find a more steady opinion and the final one (at least the one I'm going with now) is that it is a relatively decent project with extreme highs and significant lows. That being said, "Radical" definitely does get off to a rather awkward start with 'Protect My Life'. The sonics on this one (presumably intentionally) are odd. It is a very LOUD tune. And that is its dominant feature to my ears an audio effect which… may or may not actually exist. The song is routine, with a decent chorus and lyrics, but the presentation is very odd. Fortunately, that stops there as one of the biggest chunks of gold on the album rolls in next in the form of the title track. 'Radical', the song, may have actually come from the same sessions that produced the legendary "Praise Ye Jah" album and it shares a base (or at least a piece of it) with 'Greedy Joe', which appeared on that album. It is a mighty social commentary with Sizzla saying that more 'standard' methods of fighting wickedness and negativity may not be working anymore and more drastic tactics are required.

"You guys can be found in the highest corners -
You fellas who call unuself leaders
Selling out my people to gain a few dollars
Debase yah own race and then ah brag"

"You say how good Mr. So and So is
No gimme dat -
MR. SO IS ALL WICKED!
I watch how you are around my people -
You and your friends, oh yes
With the institution you represent"

Next is the very familiar 'What's Wrong With The Picture?' which is a song from not very long ago, courtesy of XTM Nation. I had not heard this tune in a few minutes and it sounds damn good on this album. It's one of the best songs on this release, easily, and to my opinion, one of the finest Kalonji has ever done with the younger Burrell - and biggup the musicians there, particularly Dean Fraser who shines. And the first quarter of "Radical" both ends and pinnacles with the single biggest selection on this album, the MASSIVE and unforgiving 'Sad Mistake'. The title here isn't so common so when I saw it, I thought it was the same piece from Free Willy and happily it was not (thought that was a good song). This song is [likely] a much older one with a sweet piece of edge to it as Kalonji, often angrily, reacts to being overlooked and taken for granted by unrighteous people, setting a nasty example. So many things to like with this one but probably the biggest is its free and organic nature. I don't know how much of this tune he actually wrote and how much of it just kind of evolved, but it definitely has the feeling of something spontaneous and full on brilliant! BOOM!

The not too distant 'Burn Dem Schism' is probably the most recognizable tune from the next batch of tunes on 'Radical' and, for me, it is a very strange song. It isn't a good song, but I kind of like it. 'Burn Dem Schism' is the musical equivalent to that person who is not your type at all, but for some reason you find them very attractive! If you absolutely hate this song, that's fine, you probably have more good sense than I do (… if it is the best song you've ever heard in your life, you too probably have more good sense than I do… you just need to seek some type of mental help… IMMEDIATELY!), but there's something about it which catches me. The infectious bounce of 'Hardcore', on the other hand, is far less mesmerizing: I like it because it is a great song. The direction of this tune isn't very different from the album's title track with Sizzla saying that another level of attention and action is called for in the eyes of increasingly heinously behaving opposition and it is presented in this package which will have your head moving and feet tapping, while Sizzla DAZZLES on one of the album's biggest. 'Golden Rule', as strange as it is (and it is), is a song which I do enjoy and partially because of just how free it is. It is done in that wailing singing Kalonji does, but if you line up a dozen of those types of tunes, this one is probably amongst the better of those - but I don't like it as much now as I once did (it's almost like a musical display, more than an actual song). The song which chases it, 'It's A Rocky Road', on the other hand, is burning.

"Give dem di length of di rope because dem haffi go
Mek dem come, dem nah know who dem ah confront
What bad have I done?
You want to throw mi in the dump
STOP AND SEE WHO SIZZLA IS AMONGST -
THE RIGHTEOUS, THE CONSCIENCE WHO YOU WILL FOREVER HATE
Just because I'm licking out against the system you create
Mi know weh mi fi step, Jah Jah done choose di place
What you propose to mi, I know seh a fake
You can't discourage I heart, is it that hard to see?
I'm so strongly beat with God Almighty
You coming on fast to hurt mi
BUT I'M THE RETURN MESSENGER FROM BIBLICAL PROPHECY"

Kalonji explodes on a song where it seems as if a younger version of the artist is coming to a point where he is accepting of the RESPONSIBILITIES which are to come. It has a social connotation as well (obviously), but I really enjoy the aspect here of someone preparing themselves for what is to come and, looking back, it worked. 

The next lot of tunes from "Radical" represent some of the weakest material to be found on this album and it was largely here where I definitely began to reconsider, thankfully. To my opinion, three of the four songs are, at best, below average. 'Everybody Has To Live' (despite its riddim, which is very good), 'That's Why I Love You' and 'All Da Time' are… all pretty bad songs - every one of them. And 'Groove With Me', though FAR, FARRRRRRRRR from special is considerably better than them all and that's about it. The final four songs on the album are substantially better than the four ahead of it, but not really even the arena of the slight majority of the first eight songs on "Radical", with one exception. 'Best Thing In Life' is in a pretty good place on the album as, following a few less than spectacular (to be nice) love songs, the wholly average nearly shines almost completely by comparison. 'I'm A Winner', surely a freestyled type of a song, is very abrasive and just weird ultimately. 'Fly High, Fly Low', is a song which I've heard before and wasn't thrilled by. The chorus is nice and even the subject, which is one about adapting and evolving to be the best in life, but the presentation drags it down a bit and, again, makes an odd song. Thankfully, however, "Radical" does end in a strong way with the gorgeous 'I Am No Better' wrapping things up. 

"I'm no better than you are
So what's the difference?
Jah create us all the same sentence
So why, you look at I with such contempt?
As if I'm someone that you resent
My brother I am Black like you are
So what's the difference?
Jah create us all in the same sentence
So why, you look at I with such contempt
As if I'm someone that you resent

Oh what a feeling I feel inside!
Thinking of all the things we do to survive 
And you see your bredda suffer in front your eyes
And you look him with a scorn and hesitate to oblige
Yes, your own bredda you neglect and put aside -
For what? I don't know but that move wasn't wise
We're due for extinction if we don't realize -
That each one, help one a so wi haffi rise"

The tune is another one from an older era, like most of the best songs on this album, which is top notch and it is, at least for me, the type of tune which is the backbone for an album like this. 
Overall, it is that SPINE which makes this a compelling project and one which is worthy of the time of some fans. It is a matter of THE best of this album being so good (and it is, there're four or five songs here which're truly exceptional) that it doesn't quite erase the bad (it doesn't even come close to doing that), but it definitely tempers it to a degree and fulfills the interest and the way in which this album was presented. Furthermore, it obviously opens things up a bit more in this case. Who knows who else may have enough material to put together an entire new album from Sizzla. It seems likely that there may be another one, or more in the vaults of Xterminator and maybe others as well (and maybe we could get to hear them at some point). In any case, while "Radical" is definitely NOT amongst the best albums to date from Sizzla Kalonji (he's had tens and dozens which were better), when it's good, it is a very interesting set and one which takes us back to the early and still developing stages of one of the greatest of all time.

Rated: 3.40/5
VP Records
2014
CD + Digital

Review #501

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Get "Therapeutic" With Ziggi Recado!

"Therapeutic" by Ziggi Recado [Zion High Productions]

1. 'Masquerade'
2. 'Got It Right Here'
3. 'Miss Outta Road'
4. 'Talk About'
5. 'Luv Injection'
6. 'I'm Blaak'
7. 'Don't Disturb'
8. 'Earthstrong' featuring Midnite
9. 'Delete My Numba'
10. 'Jah Mercy' featuring Taranchyla & Earl 16
11. 'Ras Got Love'
12. 'Guide Ova' featuring Lutan Fyah
13. 'Nah Know Bout U'

On May 20th Statian flamethrower, Ziggi Recado, is set to return with his fourth full album and his first since his excellent 2011 self-titled set, "Therapeutic". The album comes from the refreshingly reliable Zion High Productions alongside the Zion I Kings who have already begun 2014 in a mighty way and with this album on the horizon (April has been going very quickly!), it figures to get even brighter. Previously, ZHP released the fine Jah Warriah Riddim (on which Ziggi appeared) and, as for the ZIK, along with that project, they've also come together for a pair of GIANT albums from I Grade Records and now both turn their attentions in a potentially GOLDEN direction. 
Jah Warriah Riddim [2014]
"Therapeutic" is set to become Ziggi's first album following his split with longtime producer, Rock 'N Vibes, (though in between the "Ziggi Recado" album and this new one, there was an unforgettable double-volume EP, "Liberation" - which, collectively, represents one of the best Reggae EP's ever in my opinion) and, more importantly, it will also likely be one of the biggest albums of the year. If you haven't been following Ziggi's career, at this point he is amongst Reggae's most talented artists and whatever he does, I'm very much looking forward to it. "Therapeutic" definitely features some interesting guesting artists as well as VETERAN Earl 16 and Taranchyla join in on "Jah Mercy", 'Guide Ova' is a combination I would have asked for as Lutan Fyah makes a contribution and then there's 'Earthstrong' which features Ziggi alongside Vaughn Benjamin (who, in some way, has managed to participate on every ZIK release of 2014 thus far) (so has Lutan Fyah now that I think about it). We have had the opportunity to hear quite a bit of "Therapeutic" [biggup ZHP] and the vibes, as the title suggests, are a bit more laid back with early favourites including tunes such as 'Masquerade', 'I'm Blaak' and that magnificent piece of riddim carrying it, as well as the GOLDEN 'Got It Right Here'.  
Ziggi Recado has a new album coming soon! Alone, that is a big deal, but he'll have with Zion High Productions and over the past couple of years, they've shown that they do absolutely nothing but top notch projects. This will not be the exception. "Therapeutic" arrives in digital stores on May 20th. BOOM!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'So Nice!': A review of "The Sound" by Pressure

Logics. In the name of wanting to do a 'better' or more complete job of it, such things are obviously best left to history, but as you look across the landscape of Reggae music today, there're quite a few different artists who, even if they stopped making music today have had already GREAT careers. And we can exclude from this lot the Capletons, Sizzlas, Bounty Killers etc. of the world who have arrived at the point where they now have peers who have grown up listening to their music and have been greatly inspired by them (and wanted to be them when they grew up) and they're still around, remarkably. That's surely something that fans decades from now will look back at and honour, just as we do now. What I'm talking about are certain individuals who, though you may not see it as clearly as in those fully celebrated cases, have already amassed such powerful musical works and credits to their name which has resonated with fans in a major way, to the level where the significance of their contributions cannot be overlooked. Obviously, what lead me down this line of  thought was thinking about the work of Virgin Islands superstar, Pressure Busspipe. RIGHT NOW -- if the man stopped writing and never made another song (I'd be sad) ever -- you'd still have to say that what he has managed to do has been a mighty career! And, despite still being relatively young, his achievements are locked in and the only thing, seemingly, missing is the magnitude of a catalogue which is only offered by more time but, even in the absence of that, he's done amazing things thus far. Along with being the first VI artist to drop that all-conquering, global Reggae hit in 'Love & Affection' a few years back, Pressure has gone on to become a virtual 'household name' in Reggae music and has worked with a staggeringly impressive line of other artists, producers and musicians. On top of all of that, if you really pay attention to his work, you've surely noticed something over the past couple of years or so and that is the fact that Pressure seems to be hitting his musical prime. Nearly everything he has brought forth over that period has, collectively, represented some of the best material of his career and I am fully expecting, a decade from now or so, to see youths coming up from out of the VI (and elsewhere) listing Pressure's name as one of their greatest sources of musical inspiration. Like I said - already a great career. But now that I think about it, if Pressure actually were to have stopped recording, there would be something missing.  
The music of Pressure
…they call it I Grade. Pressure has had the opportunity to work alongside some of the finest producers in the entire genre of Reggae music and deservedly so. If you focus on just his albums it is glaring just how well it has worked for him. His debut album, "The Pressure Is On" (which, in my opinion, is STILL the greatest Reggae debut album of the modern era) was produced by the venerable Dean Pond (and Eno Stafford) as was his third album, 2010's sublime "Coming Back For Your". Pond is a producer who may not get as much attention as some of his peers from the Virgin Islands, but in playing large roles in developing the talents of Pressure, Army, Revalation and others, his talents are also not to be overlooked. Between albums one and three was "Love & Affection", which was produced by Don Corleon who is one of the greatest producers of all time. Furthermore, though we focus on album #4 today, Pressure's presumed fifth release, "Africa Redemption", is produced by another great maestro in Baby G. That lineup is amazing and today it gets amazing-er. As one of the most talented and popular artists from out of the Virgin Islands, one would think that Pressure's course would lead him in the direction of the region's biggest label and it has throughout the years, but things get FULL now as Pressure Busspipe meets I Grade Records
Despite the fact that it took awhile for us to get 'here', it's probably the best time. Pressure isn't the only one who may be priming. These days Laurent 'Tippy I' Alfred and company at I Grade Records can lay a significant claim to currently be making THE best music in the entire genre. Most recently it was evident on the MAMMOTH "Beauty For Ashes" album from Midnite, but the label has been scalding in recent years and, along with the Zion I Kings collective, they have presented arguably the most fertile source of great Reggae music recently. And the two have a healthy history. Though it would take until 2014 for a full album to arrive, Pressure and IGR definitely have a history, which goes back more than a decade. Eleven years ago the chanter appeared on the "Geoman" album which was a Midnite Branch I project, released by I Grade Records. The following year, he would make appearances on two official I Grade sets, "Let Live" by Midnite [aka "The Album With 'The Gad' On It"] and, "One Atonement" by Yahadanai [aka "Simply One of The Greatest Albums of All Time"] and through the years he's also made appearances on various projects IGR has done, such as NiyoRah's opus, "Purification Session", the MAMMOTH "Joyful Noise", the previously mentioned "Beauty For Ashes" and even "Jah Golden Throne" from Zion High Productions [biggup ZHP, new album from Ziggi Recado, coming soon) and the Zion I Kings. Essentially, Pressure has been a staple on IGR's releases and things that they've been involved in over the years, which definitely is not surprising, but they've never managed to line things up and do a full album together. But things change, fortunately, and a great change is up today as Pressure Busspipe unleashes "The Sound" with I Grade Records. As has been their way, the promotion behind this album from IGR has been exquisite. Going back to last year, if I recall correctly, not too far away from the release of the Songbird Riddim ["When I hear the songbirds, I think of you!"] (biggup Danny I), there were rumours of upcoming albums from Midnite, Lutan Fyah and Pressure and actual music from this album (besides the tune from the Songbird, which is also included) would jump up before the end of October, 2013. And, as I mentioned, not only did Pressure feature on Midnite's "Beauty For Ashes", but he was on THE signature tune from that album, ‘Same I Ah One'. So, having been through all of that, musically, definitely an album was the next logical step and Common Sense demanded a Pressure/I Grade Records link and common sense is about to damn pleased with what she hears… because you know Common Sense is a female.

Perhaps I was a bit too quick in re-crowning the wonderful artiste, Ras Elijah Tafari, for his amazing work on the album cover of Rob Symeonn's "Indigenous" album. As spectacular as it was, and it was, Tafari definitely has company because the cover of "The Sound" is also fantastic. This piece is done by a Sil Cunningham, who is apparently an extremely gifted woman from Argentina. We looked at a few of the other pieces she's done, all centering around Reggae music (including one for Earl 16), and they are all outstanding and, like I said in regards to Tafari, I love the fact that someone with her gifts uses them to highlight Reggae music. Also doing their part to underscore the amazing aspects of the best music in the world is Pressure Busspipe and I Grade Records who team up for "The Sound" which gets started with a highlight of its own, the lovely acoustic set, 'Rise Today'. The opener is a pure social commentary and a relatively straight-forward one. What I take from this one is Pressure's idea is to accept that bad things happen and have happened in the past but it is nothing that guarantees that we must continue to accept it and allow it in the world - and the thought is to "rise" from the negativity and to do it TODAY - as soon as possible. Musically, it is a fairly unique tune, however. As it progresses, 'Rise Today' kind of rises in intensity throughout. At an advanced point, the drums begin and what you ultimately end up with at song's end is something which has BLOSSOMED so powerfully from its acoustic beginnings. It is a powerful piece and a real winner on every level. The maybe even better 'Show Love' is in next and, again, it is a mighty blend of sonic appeal and lyrical substance.

"If you should ever ask the question 'what's the meaning of love'
IT'S A NATURAL ESSENCE THAT CREATED ALL OF US
Love is nothing to take for granted or put aside to rust
I'm gonna make good use of it now because the time ain't 'nuff

Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you
Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you

There's a problem in the world now: Everyone's for theirself
But if they were to drown, they would catch even a straw for some help
IT'S SO GOOD TO BE ALIVE BUT IT'S BETTER WHEN YOU LIVE
Cause your future depends on the little things that you give

Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you
Show love, let me teach you
Show love, love is how I greet you"

This is a song a beautiful one about being nice to people. Being friendly! Pressure does well push the issue and he should, but it comes across in a very easy, organic and unstressed way. Musically speaking, 'Show Love' is a gem and two things stand out. One is the melodica [Addis Pablo, "In My Father's House", in stores now], which Tippy plays in the latter stages and the second is the presence of the incomparable Tuff Lion who lends a hand on this track, the first of a few he works on. Next is the album's second single and most recognizable selection, 'Virgin Islands Nice'. When I first heard this song (which was partially recorded by Dean Pond), it made me smile and I'm still smiling! PRIDE is definitely one of the main tenets of Roots Reggae music and this song is loaded with pride as Pressure talks about the many things to love about his homeland. He even mentions one of my favourite athletes, the great Julian Jackson (one of the hardest punchers in boxing history), who makes an appearance in the video for the track as well (there was also an old Virgin Islands boxer named Peter Jackson in the late 1800's, who I believe Julian is related to).

'Virgin Islands Nice'

Something that I'm very much now looking forward to in regards to every release from I Grade Records are the featuring artist who appear on an album. "Beauty For Ashes" was very impressive in that aspect, but when I saw who was up for "The Sound", it was something even more remarkable. The great Vaughn Benjamin does return the favour Pressure paid on 'Same I Ah One', with 'Nothing No Wrong'. This tune is one which may take a minute to grab you, but when it does it does not let you go. This is a composition praising positive works. Whatever it is, big or small, that makes a contribution to the world and makes you happy - nothing is wrong with that. Keep it up. Of course Benjamin's presence on a song changes things and the genius goes about things in his typical style, continuing a wonderful stretch of his own and another in making big tunes with Pressure which, as I said, dates back quite awhile. The stirring 'Cry For Humanity' is a double dose of really big names, this one tapping Ras Batch and fellow Star Lion Family alum, NiyoRah. As you KNOW in your head, the trio put on a display which is among the very best on this giant album. 

"Dash di fyah pon dem pon a daily basis
Turn up the temperature, no need for oasis
We are triumphant - we come conquer hatred
Straight up, face-to-face, a di way dem fi face this"

"You diss mi nation, you get a permanent facelift
No bodda disturb mi culture and try erase it
Ras Batch and NiyoRah take you back to basics
Make you know King Selassie I is the greatest!"

"Babylon risking for predicting
INNA DEM DUTTY, BLOODY SYSTEM DON'T WANT TO SEE ANOTHER BLACK VICTIM -
Brother or Sistren
Nah live inna dem world of sin"

BOOM! Batch and NiyoRah are rather constant musical partners, they teamed up for 'Trees', a tune from Batch's own album for I Grade Records in 2012 and they also had a tune with Danny I on the "Joyful Noise" compilation. The results they produce are always top notch but they're intensified even more now with Pressure on board this big, big tune. Definitely the most surprising name featured on "The Sound” is Cruzan chanter, Volcano, who gets grimy on the album's blazing ganja tune, 'Herbsman Town'.

"Any day, mi ready fi go march -
When mi light that ganja spliff weh bigger than torch
Frontline ah bun it all when some boy ah parch
MORE THAN A BILLION PEOPLE CIGARETTE DUN KILL OFF
Strictly marijuana inna mi head at all times
Ganja stop di people dem from commit all crimes
Si mi wid a ton load and it is all mine
Babylon fi stop corrupt the youths dem mind"

"Clear di way and mek mi bust through di passage
Some boy ah fight di italist and ah nyam pure sausage
Gal know fi deal wid di ganja more passive
Wah mek dem know fi help di earth fi educate di massive
Mi name Lava so di fyah haffi blaze
To how mi spliff so big, it make a tourist amazed
Di weed ah put mi inna whole different phase
TO EVERY HERBALIST MI GIVE THANKS AND PRAISE"

Grrrr! Volcano is full talented (if you want a closer look, check his own album, "Mo Fyah Chant"), but you don't hear much from him at all and I'd love to see his name on more IGR projects in the future, definitely. Unsurprisingly, my absolute favourite song on "The Sound" is the one which I was most looking forward to hearing and the album's other combination, the MASTERFUL 'Stop This Train', which features Pressure alongside Lutan Fyah.

"Stop this train, I don't wanna be here no more
Cause there's no love onboard and I know that life has so much in store
Stop this train, I don't wanna sit amongst no fool
Cause they're the ones who criticize my struggle, and ah laugh like seh everything cool

All onboard, many different faces, foreigners and natives
I don't wanna go to unfamiliar places
Let me off now, mi ain't waiting
Cause mi dun loosen mi seatbelt, stand pon mi feet
Tell di ticket officer mi have someone fi meet
Tell di train operator mi nah want nothing fi eat -
WHETHER BITTER OR SWEET
You better let mi off, mi feel like tun back
Mi no care weh none a dem a come chat
Let mi off, mi feel like tun back
Mi no care if destination seh 'Non Stop'
Too much go-go club, too much rum shack
Pure AIDS, syphilis and pure gunshot
A judgment and di place ahgo bun flat
Let mi off now!

Stop this train, I don't wanna be here no more
Cause there's no love onboard and I know that life has so much in store
Stop this train, I don't wanna sit amongst no fool
Cause they're the ones who criticize my struggle, and ah laugh like seh everything cool

This train is full of iniquity and evil
DESTINATION IS TO BRAINWASH PEOPLE
Stop this train before you try to take me too
CAUSE WHERE I WANNA GO, YOU CAN'T REACH BY VEHICLE
Don't worry bout where you lef mi a road
WHERE YOU'RE GOING, I JUST CAN'T AFFORD
Every move I make, I step with The Lord
No one knows how to live in one accord"

Musical credits flow for this one. Tippy, Tuff Lion, Jah David and especially increasingly familiar Balboa Becker for the horns on this tune which are as infectious a sound on the whole of "The Sound". And for their part, Lutan Fyah and Pressure amaze on a tune which is written in a metaphorical way to say that the way things are going in the world is nothing they want a part of. They just happen to do it in a way which is MAMMOTH and one of the best songs in recent times from either in my opinion which is saying a ton. BOOM!
And that's one half of the album! The other, ostensibly, is headlined by a pair of very familiar tunes, 'Run Away', the album's first official single from last year and Pressure's cut of IGR's Songbird Riddim, 'The Rain'. Both of these are excellent tunes and while it has been a minute from the last time I heard the latter, it sounds even a bit stronger these days. 'The Rain' is a lyrical GEM of a tune and 'Run Away' is a moving piece about focusing on positive things and eschewing the negative. For a similar piece to 'Run Away', well check 'Who You Are', which is a big favourite of mine from "The Sound" about, again, focusing on good things and not just things that look good. 

"When take away the bling and take away the houses and all the fancy cars -
Ask yourself who you are
Do you still see yourself as a shining star?
If I gave you all  the diamonds and give you all the gold, would still have your soul?
I don't know what you've been told
But my life won't be bought nor sold

Confusion, it ah dwell amongst the youth
Illusion steer di people far from di truth
If it glitters, that no mean seh it a gold
Mi get fi know it's all about the mind control
Description could never describe your heart
Science fiction is what they use to steer your thoughts
There's nothing wrong with having all the finer things
Just make sure you keep it real within"

The riddim on that one is also a big winner with so many different little things but the horns do strong again, so biggup Grayson Farmer in this case. The song following 'Who You Are' on the album is yet another standout for me, 'Serious About It'. This one does have a similar subject as some of the others, but what I think really differentiates 'Serious About It', from a lyrical standpoint, is Pressure's kind of edgier approach. On 'Run Away' and 'Who You Are', he's disappointed if you go in the way of flashier material things over more positive and uplifting aspects of life - here, he's kind of angry! The song stands as this call to action where he says that not everything is about looking good and playing games. And speaking of serious subjects, check 'Hail The King Of Kings' which is one of those rare tunes which goes about combining the spiritual with the tangible. It also sounds very good and the guitar on that track is a master class. The same could be said for 'Stand Firm', which may just be the second best song on this album.

"Getting ready for the liberation
Liberate yourself and educate a one
Victory comes with unification
Not until we see ourselves as Ethiopians
Paid the price without no hesitation
Sacrifice to make a better nation
IF VIOLENCE YOUR ONLY DEMONSTRATION -
THEN USE IT PON DUTTY BABYLON

My youth, stay focus
Stand firm
don't be anxious
Stand firm
Be instructed
Stand firm
Cause liberation is my only concern
My youth, be courageous
Stand firm
Be a warrior
Stand firm
Break di barrier
Stand firm
Cause liberation is my only concern 

Battlefield you caan soft like pillow
Hot like a fyah, man rugged like brillow
Ready fi go bun dem to less than a kilo
What a day when babylon city gone below
Vex, dem vex through mi no link wid dem
One thing mi know, mi nah go sink wid dem
Dem sell out di people as you blink wid dem
Ghetto youths just use your intelligence"

The heavy composition behind it, which is slightly more intense than it seems initially, really pushes this one to another place and, for his part, as he does throughout, Pressure turns in a lyrical performance not to be missed. As it was in the beginning, "The Sound" is in the in as it reaches its conclusion with the tune it is named after, another acoustically vibed piece. The song grows and grows and grows as it progresses along making for a very dynamic piece while Pressure also develops and goes on to deliver one of the best passages of the whole of the album:

"PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM HUNGER IN A FRUITFUL MOTHER EARTH
THEN THE HUNGER BRINGS THE ANGER
IT'S A CYCLE ONLY LOVE CAN REVERSE"

And 'The Sound' brings "The Sound" to a fine, FINE conclusion.
I do have to mention, of course, the music here. It is not 'good' throughout. It is EXCEPTIONAL throughout. You go through albums and make mental notes of instrumentals that you'd like to hear (or at least I do) and I did that with every song on this album. The Zion I Kings run a Riddim Series and they could take almost any track from  "The Sound" for a future installment and I'd be happy with it.
Pressure Busspipe
Overall, BOOM! Like I said, if Pressure ended his career today (especially after this one), I don't think that calling it GREAT would be inappropriate at all and if today were the final day of December 2014, I'd be calling "The Sound" the best album of the year. It is fantastic and, given the work that both Pressure and I Grade Records have done in their respective careers, it is still some of the best that either has done to date. And, within the ultra-impressive run enjoyed by the Zion I Kings, I'm probably going to say that it is also the best album that they've done to date (with a maximum amount of respect to Ras Batch's "Know Thyself"). It is a downright royally presented set and one which does absolutely nothing but puts its star in a fantastic position to do well and Pressure does FAR better than "well". And while, fortunately, we're not dealing with the end of a great career and, instead, what we have in "The Sound" is a MASSIVE stop still likely deliciously close to the beginnings of someone who, right now, should be appreciated as one of the most talented Reggae artists in the world. A masterpiece.

Rated: 5/5
I Grade Records
2014
CD + Digital

REVIEW #500!

Monday, April 14, 2014

'One of A Kind': A review of "Better Off Dread" by Perfect Giddimani

Testing. Though it certainly isn't something that I demand from everyone and it isn't something I'd even want from everyone, I do definitely appreciate when an artist brings something extra to a song in the way of something that I was not expecting. I enjoy not only the surprise aspect of listening, but also the kind of challenge that exists from particular individuals when presenting their music. This is present in a variety of different ways - with the first and most obvious being lyrically. People such as Sizzla Kalonji, Vaughn Benjamin, Ras Batch and, lately, Jah9 and Kabaka Pyramid, consistently organize BEAUTIFULLY worded portraits to their listeners in a way where it requires a bit extra work to decipher and, at least for me, that's a good thing. In the same way musicians spend years and years developing their crafts, musically, I think that people like You and I do the same thing as listeners and, regardless of what type of music you listen to, I think that it is possible to get better as a listener and an appreciator of what you're listening to. Also, I think it is a sign of respect from artist for their audiences in saying, essentially, that they trust our intelligence and that we'll find a way to get to the root of their meaning (or, as I always say, even appreciate the journey to comprehension). There is, however, someone who fits into another category, where they are able to combine the art of the unknown (and it is an art form in his case and he‘s spent the last three or four years or so perfecting it) with a strong lyrical test as well and that is, of course, the always interesting and always colourful Perfect Giddimani. There is something wildly compelling and downright intoxicating about listening to someone who you can predict AT ALL. I have virtually no idea what the chanter is going to do on any song and getting new music from him is always this double wonder of whether or not the song is going to be any good (which is there in the case of anyone) and… WHAT the song is going to be. After doing this for sooooooo many times, I'd like to think that I can predict the direction, and probably the sound, of a tune by the name of 'Give Thanks and Praise' or 'Hail HIM', and I'd say that 90% of the time I can, but when placed in the one-of-a-kind hands of Perfect Giddimani, my percentages diminish greatly.  
So when one of your greatest of qualities is the element of surprise ["FULL TIME BABYLON REALIZE, SIZZLA IS THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!] what do you do? You probably should spend your time making many, many albums as your wonderful unpredictability shines brightest when displayed going song to song and Perfect agrees as he has well spent his time doing that in recent years. It's also of note that, as I've said constantly lately - in general, he's currently making the best music of his career in my opinion. This was evident, most recently, just last year when Perfect Giddimani (and all of his cousins) linked with the House of Riddim (more on them in a minute) to deliver one of the greatest albums of his entire career in my opinion, the jam packed "Over The Top". In that instance, one of the major developments there was this very relaxed and organic theme of the album where Perfect and HOR just seemed to… do anything they could think and what they 'thought of' was a big album. And despite the enormity of that album (it was two or three days long), apparently he had a few more things on his mind.
"Over The Top" [2013]
And what he's thinking is "Better Off Dread". This time around, helping Perfect get his thoughts together is, interestingly, the Hawaiian label, Jah Youth Productions. Our readers should immediately recall that JYP were one of the engineers behind the GORGEOUS "Indigenous" album from Rob Symeonn just a couple of months ago (it doesn't even seem THAT long ago) and, along with getting a new album from Perfect Giddimani, I'm also very happy to so quickly hear from that same label again and with one of my favourites as well makes it even better. Though the "Indigenous" album was relatively straight forward in retrospect (which is something more befitting the style of Symeonn), I'm still expecting very good results here and that is, at least partially, due to who else works on "Better Off Dread". Where last time it was Jah Youth alongside Goldheart Music, this time the label taps the likes of our old friends at Rumble Rock Recordz, the aforementioned House Of Riddim, one of Perfect's most frequent collaborators in Swiss powerhouse, Weedy G Soundforce and others. When you do that - you don't have an album which follows a script and, once again. Perfect Giddimani manages to bring forth a very LIVELY set. I've enjoyed seeing some of the early attention paid to this album. Going back to much earlier in this year, when what turned out to be the album's first single dropped, it has slowly been building momentum to its release date and, hopefully, it does really well. As far as I know, it is a digital-only set (I think that the same was true for "Indigenous", but I'd just like to think that there is a physical copy of that album cover floating around somewhere because it was masterful) (biggup Ras Elijah Tafari) courtesy of Zojak Worldwide but, again, given the relatively strong buzz around an album of its type, I'd like to think that it could do really well. Perfect, as an artist, has also been picking up steam in recent years and, along with his musical quality, his profile has consistently risen, something which is readily apparent in his activity these days, both in and out of the studio. And going by the results of his latest musical screening done inside the studio, "Better Off Dread", he's doing quite well for himself. Let's talk about it!

Perfect's own Giddimani Records imprint takes an official credit here which would make you think that he had a great deal to do with the presentation of this project which is always a good thing and, at least presumably, means that the artist took quite a bit of care in the songs here and judging by what you hear here, it's the truth in this case. For example? Perfect's brand new album, "Better Off Dread" begins with its eponymous piece which definitely does come off as being a very personal tune. Here, we find Perfect going through what led him to walking the path he does in life, as opposed to any other option. For him (and probably only him) this is somewhat of a mellow track and that isn't a bad thing as the tune is easily one of the finest to be found on the album named after it. 

"I’m better off Dread, than to be a baldhead
Though babylon take away my herbs and kicked me out of my bed
I'm better off Dread than to be a baldhead

Once I was a baldhead, roaming the streets of babylon
I never knew what was right from wrong
But I saw Zion -
Zion in a vision 
And I can't fool myself -
THIS IS MY DECISION

I'm better off dread, than to be a baldhead"

As I said, one of Perfect's greatest gifts is his unpredictability and it is never more evident on the whole of "Better Off Dread" than it is on the album's second selection, 'Like Marley'. This song was absolutely nothing like I expected. First of all, it is a ROCK song, produced by Andrew Stoch and New World Sounds. It goes without saying (though you know I'm going to say it anyway), that this isn't my type of music, but… I don't hate this song and it's because of its lyrical direction. This song is about PRIDE. It is about feeling pride in who you are and where you come from and where your blood comes from. Again, there're certain things about this tune that I do not like, but don't make the mistake of hearing it start and skipping it because, as is his very strange norm, Perfect subsequently does make it work on some level, in a WONDERFULLY challenging way. And speaking of pride, definitely do check out the full on GREAT 'Awake'. TEARS! To my opinion, this tune has no equal on "Better Off Dread", it is FANTASTIC as it builds itself across an Afrikan chanting style which eventually blossoms so dynamically that… again, TEARS! It made me cry and I didn't mind! A BEAUTIFUL song and, in recent history, definitely one of Perfect's best.
'Bad Boy'

The aforementioned first single from "Better Off Dread", 'Bad Boy', is one of several pieces on the album which ignite on paper. This tune, despite its rather serious theme is… kind of delightful… it is. It may take you awhile to focus and stop your head from moving around so much, but when you manage to do it, tune in to the message being presented which is even more crucial than the sound here, but do enjoy yourself because that, courtesy of the House Of Riddim, is intoxicating. After that tune, of course, you go to 'Revolution Come'. The first of a pair of official combinations on the album, 'Revolution' is almost overkill as it features Perfect (I'm writing this review at around the same time I'm writing another one for Pressure, and you have no idea how many times I have called one the other - dozens) alongside both Lutan Fyah and Jahdan Blakkamoore [WHAT!]. The song actually has more Hip-Hop textures to my ears, which isn't my favourite but you would have had to have tried really hard to mess this up for me and they didn't do that here. Listening to these three on a single track [also from New World Sounds] is a dazzling experience and all three are in fine form as they link up to chant down corruption anywhere it may exist. Though not armed with the same star power, the other combination on the album also made a big impression on me as well as. On 'Hail The King', Perfect Giddimani teams up with Dada Yute from out of Brazil to give glory to His Imperial Majesty and what this tune may lack in complexity, it more than makes up for in straightforward BEAUTY. Dada Yute's may be a new name to many, but we're I don't many people are going to be forgetting it quickly after his gorgeous effort here. I, like You, surely also wanted to have a listen to 'Fake Ass Friends',  the single most attention grabbing title here (probably alongside 'Like Marley') and it doesn't disappoint. This one is also relatively straightforward, in terms of its subject (the sound is as well, but there're some very small things here which make it stand out) with the message being to be careful in whom you put your trust. Also be sure to check the golden and clever 'BMW [Black Man Wagon]', which is another selection straight from the House Of Riddim. This tune is very interesting because it almost has a skeletal type of approach, particularly for a tune from Perfect, but it WORKS as one of the best songs on this album as Giddimani takes us all for a nice drive. If you at all follow the career of Perfect Giddimani, you know that when it comes to making ganja songs, few people, if anyone, pour as much passion into the topic than he does and that remains the case on "Better Off Dread", in the form of its burning closer, 'Better Than Liquor'

"Don't be silly, nah do no follow
Don't follow Billy and go pop dung Molly
Just stick to di og, jam wid di collie
[Smoking Internationally]
Herbs come west, come straight up a Kingston
Bobo youth tell di farmer fi bring some
Ten pound of high grade him bring come -
To how things run - 

Weed is better than liquor
Weed is better than liquor
Weed is better than liquor
Weed is better than liquor"

I don't know who is playing the guitar on this tune, which is vibed by Rob Letcher and Brandon Bishop, but that person… good for them! It is THE dominant musical tone on a very colourful riddim over which the former head of the Chalice Palace brings forth his usual uniqueness as he goes off on, clearly, one of his favourite topics. And I should also probably mention (because if I don't do it now, I'll still have to do it later), the fiery 'Trim To Rass', which may or may not be a delayed shot at someone in particular ["Trim to rass! What mek you cut yuh locks below to di rim to rass? What mek yuh pull yuh lip up off yah chin to rass? KALONJI BUN DEM OUT"]. It is a pissed off Perfect who, when in a fine form (and he is throughout this album) is still a joy to listen to.

And then there are the surprises.  There are four (and three in particular) tunes on "Better Off Dread" which may not leap out at a listener, ostensibly, but are EXCELLENT songs and I hope that they are not lost in the way of more standing out material. A song such as 'For My Mama', the album's obligatory mama tune, is really, really good. It goes more through the courses that you'd expect with the main exception being that this tune comes off, to me, as one being about respect and reverence, in general. To make his point, Perfect uses THE most respectable and reverential person in the world, Mama. Also of note here is the riddim which is a  product of a Jah Youth and Rumble Rock collaborative effort and it is SWEET. Perfect goes full 'champion' on, easily, one of the best songs on "Better Off Dread", 'Market Ram' and he takes us with him. I guess you could call this one a social commentary to some degree, but it's also a piece about taking SATISFACTION in where you come from and your way of life. When you hear songs like this from Perfect, you go way back to 'Handcart Boy' and with good reason (it was the best songs in the whole of modern Reggae music) and while this tune doesn't reach those lofty levels, it is damn strong on this album and still rising. ‘Market Ram' is of a fine old school Dancehall quality and it isn't alone in that arena on this album. BOTH of the two remaining selections are also similarly vibed tunes and they are BIG. The truly ridiculous 'Baby Boom' is ear candy - it will make your ears feel good and features a chorus straight for us. 

"Baby boom, baby boom, baby boom for me!
Show mi yuh splashing and yuh mashing up di room for me
And she ah whisper in my ear she coming soon for me
Nine months you'll get a girl or boy!
Natty haffi pick di cherry
Flowers haffi bloom for me
And she ah come from New York, June for me
And this is not an ordinary honeymoon for me
Nine months you'll get a girl or boy!

WI NO HAVE NO BEHAVIOUR! 
WOMAN I WANT YOU DEH FROM WAH DAY YAH
YOU FULL UP A DI VIBES AND FLAVOUR
YOU MEK MI HAFFI TELL IT TO MY NEIGHBOUR, MI NEIGHBOUR, MI NEIGHBOUR!"

One of the most fun love songs I've ever heard and a piece fully emblematic of Perfect's wholly brilliant uniqueness. Not only could no one else do this type of a song like this, I don't know who would even make an attempt. It is quintessentially strange Perfect Giddimani and, like it usually is these days, damn difficult to cut off. And finally is 'Once Upon a Time', done by Weedy G (as is 'Market Ram'), which is just as good.

"I man ah tell you, once upon a moment, once upon a time
America was yours and Afrika was mine
The Kings were happy and The Queens were fine
WI NEVER HAVE NO BORDER, NEVER DRAW LINE
Mi and mi bredda quarrel, but wi never draw nine
A corn Papa plant, him nah bust carbine
And dutty babylon, you never make no star shine
SELASSIE I AH CHARGE YOU FI ALL WAR TIME"

Another really fun tune is 'Once Upon A Time' and that riddim has to be one of Weedy G's finest and if you follow the label's output, you know how large of a statement that is. And to my opinion, any one of these three songs, 'Once Upon A Time', 'Baby Boom' and 'Market Ram', could definitely be big hits if given the opportunity.
Perfect Giddimani
Overall, I think this album is a little better than I gave it credit for being before digging into it for the sake of this review. While I wouldn't call it THE best album Perfect has ever done, I can't say that it isn't at least on the fringes of the discussion. To my opinion, what it does best is what any good album from the peculiar chanter will do: It takes advantage of what he does best and a large part of that is 'drawing no borders' and, at the same time, not making it an album which is likely to alienate a substantial amount of Reggae fans. "Better Off Dread" won't do that. It is a modern Roots Reggae album at its core and it rarely walks in different directions. But when it does, it becomes yet another compelling moment to watch the completely unpredictable and wonderfully random ways of one of Reggae music's most captivating figures, Perfect Giddimani. Well done.

Rated: 4.35/5
Jah Youth Productions/Giddimani Records
2014
Digital

Review #499

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Everything is Easy With Maxi Priest

"Easy To Love" by Maxi Priest [VP Records]
1. 'Easy To Love'
2. 'Loving You Is Easy'
3. 'Every Little Thing'
4. 'If I Gave My Heart To You'
5. 'Gravity'
6. 'Without A Woman' featuring Beres Hammond
7. 'Holiday'
8. 'Still In Love'
9. 'Angel Wings'
10. 'I Could Be The One'
11. 'Hearts Across The World'
12. 'None Of Jah Jah Children' 

Though it's still just about two months away, here is an early look at the forthcoming new album from the remarkable Maxi Priest, "Easy To Love" from VP Records. Already the project has generated considerable buzz, largely on the strength of its SHINING first single and eponymous track and there was also the delightful 'Every Little Thing' as well. 
"Every Little Thing" [2013]
The album is built as the UK standout's "first new studio album in 5 years" and it features musical contributions from the likes of Sly Dunbar, Lenky Marsden, Earl 'Chinna' Smith, Donovan Germain and others. Of course, looking at the tracklist, the one immediately striking thing is track #6, 'Without A Woman', which is a potentially DELICIOUS combination featuring the Priest alongside reigning world's coolest man, Beres Hammond. And the album's next single is set to be 'Gravity'.
'Easy To Love'

Still in the early stages, obviously, but it's never too early to get excited so start now! Maxi Priest's "Easy To Love" for VP Records is set to arrive in stores on June 10.