Friday, January 13, 2017

The Lovers Rock by Jalena!

"The Lovers Rock" by Jalena [Jalena]

1. 'If This Isn't Love'
2. 'High'
3. 'Better Days' featuring Harella
4. 'But I Love You'
5. 'No Living Without You'
6. 'Closer To Heaven'
7. 'Goodbye [Has Never Been So Hard]'

Big, biggup to Achis Reggae favourite, the infinitely delightful Jalena from out of Tortola, who recently returned with her latest project (her fifth by my count and first from 2015's "L'amour"), "The Lover's Rock". As its title would suggest, the new set finds Jalena exploring yet another style as previous releases have featured such a wide variety of different styles such as Reggae, Pop/R&B, of course Soca and even Zouk. Jalena has always been an artist, clearly, driven by results and everyone who has paid her attention knows that she is capable of sparking some damn colourful vibes of so many different colours, going allllllllll the way back to 'Roll It', (a HUGE tune - ridiculously nearing a decade old) (it cannot possibly have been that long ago) ["ROLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! WIIIIIIIIIIIINE! YOU CAN'T CONTROL  THIS WAISTLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!"] [BOOM!]. So her taking on a bit of Lover's Rock, certainly not a great deviation from her impressive skill set, comes as a very welcomed addition.
As for "The Lovers Rock", while I am still working my way through it, I definitely have to say that my early favourite is the ear candy, diabetes causing 'High' - an absolutely GORGEOUS selection. I also really enjoy 'Better Days' with Harella, the very subtle 'Closer To Heaven' and previous single, 'If This Isn't Love'. I should also say that, given the style of the music here, this might be the most impressive collective display of Jalena's vocals to date (although "L'amour" was really good there as well, it wasn't as long as "The Lovers Rock"), which is a quality I don't think she gets enough credit for. Jalena can sing! She has pipes!

Not sure about that?!!! See for yourself when you pick up "The Lovers Rock" by Jalena which you'll find in your favourite digital store right now. Go get it! I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What I'm Listening To: Looking Up

Been sick [as usual], having a few good days though

The Palestine Riddim [Irie Sounds International - 2016]

First up today is something which has been on our radars for more than a minute as our old friend from Irie Sounds International, the indomitable James Lord, continues what is ultimately (and apparently) going to turn out to be a downright stellar 2016 for his label with the HEAVY Palestine Riddim. Earlier this year ISI dropped the highly regarded latest album release from veteran chanter Warrior King, "The Rootz Warrior" which featured the King's cut of the Palestine Riddim, 'President Yahya Jammeh'. So you may (and you should) be familiar with the track via that song, but it also offers a few more reasons to get acquainted if you haven't already… namely the downright MONSTROUS 'Jah Is In His Kingdom' from the unforgettable Yami Bolo. Hopefully 2017 turns out to be a more active year from the veteran vocalist as, just when you begin to lose hope, at times, he consistently offers reminders like this one (EASILY one of the better songs I've heard this year, altogether… like from anyone), of just how immense his talent still is. Rounding out the class of the Palestine Riddim are also lovely tracks courtesy of the likes of the Bugle, Prezident Brown and a surprising Joshua Hales whose 'Calling' is golden. And, as I alluded to, apparently this isn't the end of the year for Irie Sounds International as the Lead Di Way Riddim is also set for its own release.


"Stories of Life" by Black Prophet [Kingz Entertainment/Prophetic Music Production]

Biggup our ooooooooooooold friend, the great Jahsh Concurz, for pointing me in the direction of the latest release from esteemed Ghanaian vocalist, Black Prophet, "Stories of Life". This is another piece I've had quite awhile to digest and JC highly recommended it and I have to agree with him. "Stories of Life" features the handiwork of the legendary Dean Fraser and, by extension, contributions from both Tarrus Riley and Duane Stephenson, and it is absolutely stellar throughout. To my opinion (though it changes rather consistently) (biggup Danny I) it pinnacles at 'Elmina Castle' which features Riley [TEARS!] [BOOM!] [DAMN!] but selections such as the delightful 'African Freedom', 'Too Know', definitely 'Jah A We Know', 'I Wish' and others rank as giant standouts. For what it is, and I don't know if it will be regarded as such by the masses, 'Stories of Life' is probably one of the better albums I've heard this year. Thanks JC. 

CD + Digital

"I & I Culture" by Utan Green [Wild Pitch Music]
Biggup the wonderful people at Wild Pitch Music for deciding that the world would just be a much better place with another full (and I mean FULL) album from the WELL SEASONED Utan Green. To my knowledge the only album Green has released to date has been the virtually invisible (these days) "Rivers of Reality" (good luck tracking that one down) which is nearly two decades old now and clearly it has long been time for a follow-up (I don't care if the man released an album last year, it was time for a new one anyway) and that is exactly what we have in "I & I Culture". Now, as you would hope, if you haven't had an album in such a long time, despite what we may see from others, you probably have A LOT to say and Utan Green definitely does as "I & I Culture" checks in with a delicious eighteen songs and more than SEVENTY minutes of strong music. The results, besides just being quantiful (not an actual work) are also of significant quality and because of both size and class I can damn confidently say that if you enjoy Reggae music, particularly that of a slightly older sound (although ultimately I would well qualify this one as a modern set), there is SOMETHING  on this album that you're going to enjoy. As for me, tunes such as 'Captain' (which you might know), 'Sunshine', 'Ancient Man' ["A di same old Rastaman dem"], 'Man No Dead', 'Rasta Time' and several others, like 'Fighting' revolve around top honours on "I & I Culture"… honours CLEARLY held by the MASSIVE 'Chant'. An outstanding album and one which I may slap a review on in the new year. Elijah Prophet next??? PLEASE!!!

CD [I THINK] + Digital

"Power Surge" by Ward 21 [Germaica Digital]

There will ALWAYS be room on my players the still wildly entertaining Ward 21, no matter how disillusioned and out of touch I may grow with Dancehall music (a genre which, despite my never-ending LOVE of even the most RIDICULOUS and ZANY forms of Soca, routinely makes me feel old as hell these days). So I was well pleased to see that the group had re-linked with Germaica Digital to serve up an effective sequel to the golden bar that was "Still Disturbed" from a couple of years back in "Power Surge". This one doesn't light up as brightly as its predecessor did (which you really need to hear), but pieces like 'OG Kush', 'Pretty Phat Cat' (a preposterously SIGNATURE effort from the Ward) and especially the HEAVY 'Groundz' (biggup Baby Cham) give me what I need when it comes to the Ward, a full decade and a half after their first album and still going strong and completely without behaviour. 


"Concrete Jungle" by Chuck Fenda [Voiceful Records/Zojak Worldwide]

And finally, I was rather happy to see a great deal of early attention paid to "Concrete Jungle", the latest set from Chuck Fenda (I'm tired of using the word 'veteran', but that's what he is as well). By my count this is… the veteran's fourth studio album to date and his latest after 2013's "Jah Element" (there was also a Live set in there) and it should rate fairly well in his catalogue as "Concrete Jungle" is a decent offering throughout and one I'm still, obviously, working on. Albums like this, while I don't think they 'change the game' or 'take things to another' or do any of that crazy bullshit, just really fill a NEED of a high level of consistency in the genre. I don't go looking for Fenda's new album to amaze me or change my life, but when I get it I know that I can press play and walk away and that is the same situation here. Headers include 'Oh Merciful Father', 'If U No With Me' (the best song on this album), definitely the title track, 'That Place' (and a BEAUTIFUL place it is) as well as the obligatory ganja tune, 'This Plant', and its very unique sound. Etana, The Morgans and Sista Sasha all make appearances. 

CD + Digital

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Lifetime Riddim

The Lifetime Riddim [Lustre Kings Productions]

1. 'Put A Fyah In Deh' by Lutan Fyah

2. 'Yes To Life' by Jahdan Blakkamoore

3. 'Lifetime' by Akae Beka

4. 'All That I'm Thinking Of' by Pressure

5. 'One Day At A Time' by Vanessa Bongo

6. 'It Takes Time [Raining Outside]' by Randy Valentine

7. 'Ancient Great [Tell Her I Need Her]' by Danny I

8. Lifetime Riddim I Grade Dub Mix

And because the wonderful people from the Zion I Kings  CLEARLY refuse to let 2016 go out quietly, we have yet another new project coming forth from the collective as the 'Kings', Lustre Kings Productions, makes the latest contribution (#6) to the ZIK's consistently impressive Riddim Series with the Lifetime Riddim. This 'dreamy' set should be extremely familiar to fans as it just appeared on the latest release from the ZIK, Akae Beka's "Livicated" for Zion High Productions, in support of what would turn out to be the riddim's title track.

Okay, while I am still very early into working this one out, I HAD to let you know about what may potentially be a downright SPECIAL song. There're some really strong selections on the Lifetime Riddim - not the least of which are potentially stellar efforts from the likes of Lutan Fyah, Jahdan Blakkamoore and the aforementioned Akae Beka. And, really, just having had a brief listen through all of the songs as well as the wonderful dubbed out version of the track courtesy of I Grade Records, there does not appear to be a miss here at all.

HOWEVER, with that being said, what Danny I manages to do with his cut of the Lifetime Riddim, 'Ancient Great [Tell Her That I Need Her]' is just... I mean...

"I've been searching for a while amongst the virtuous and the vile
Knew when I met you, you just stood out like a vibe
Time progressed and many noticed just how well we got along -

I wanna tell her that I need her
And tell her that respect is due
That I'll never mislead her
That I need her point of view"

That tune is MAMMOTH! Absolutely reminiscent of 'I Know', his dazzling edition of the Songbird Riddim from earlier in this same series, in terms of its quality and its wholly subtle GENIUS. So, I'll stop myself there because I could probably go on and on and on and you know it. You can finish it off for me when you pick up the Lifetime Riddim from Lustre Kings Productions and The Zion I Kings when it reaches stores on November 18th.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

'The Grind': A review of "Salvation" by Spectacular

Seeking. I think that particular forms of music, and of art in general, lend themselves to the displaying of particular qualities far more than others. If you look on a Hip-Hop blog or read a writer of that genre, I'd like to think that while we may have some similarities, that our perspective and EXPECTATIONS come from a different place. The standards of what is 'good' and what is not would be different, outside of just personal tastes and the levels reached before you can declare something a 'success's would also vary and that is a 'good' thing. And, at least presumably, it would be the same each time you changed genres and, again, that's a very nice thing to have such a wide variety of changing characteristics when the people who listen to it, support it and produce it are ever-changing works in progress ourselves. One of the things I believe that Reggae music showcases resoundingly well is the kind of hard-working, sometimes struggling (sometimes not) and persevering archetype of an artist who plies his/her trade under virtually any set of circumstances. When you take into consideration the nature of the music, especially Roots Reggae music, and the messages and subjects it captures, this come through in a major way and it is a very charming and delightful aspect of what I (and likely YOU) consider to be the greatest and most powerful genre of music in the world. Even more fascinating is the fact that artists of all levels -- be it bona fide stars or the very early up and comers -- can be a part of this at any point in their respective careers and some even seem to revel in it. On the absolute highest end, in Reggae circles, I think of individuals such as Norris Man who, whether you realize it or not, has had such a powerful and just fantastic career, yet you may not immediately think of him in the same way that you think of someone like a Sizzla Kalonji, Capleton or a Luciano. But if I asked you (or asked the man himself) to think of some of the other artists who came up at the same time, many of them are LOOOOOOOONG gone and had nothing to offer the world in the way of longevity for one reason or another, but it's 2016 and not only are people still singing songs like (the very fitting for the sake of this review) 'Persistence', which is well on its way to being twenty years old, but each and every year he gives us new songs and new albums to sing as well. I could well place others such as Bushman and Turbulence and Jah Mason in a similar category and others still who just really go to demonstrate how far hard work (and GREAT, MASSIVE skill as well) can take you in a genre and field such as Reggae music.

Today we have the very, VERY rare opportunity to take a look at someone else who falls into this category and in a very unique way as for the first time in… several centuries or so, the Burning Spectacular has been reignited and is on our radars in a big, big way. Spectacular is someone who has fully taken advantage of the modern age of Reggae music and I don't mean that in a technological TWITTER-ish type of way. Given just how popular the music is and how far it has spread, Spectacular has ridden that wave and has ridden it for YEARS in building a terrific fan base, following and line of producers to work with throughout the whole of Europe. And he certainly isn't alone, I think of other Jamaican artists who have taken similar steps and made similar strides and can well include the likes of names such as Jah Turban (who, I believe, actually lives in Denmark or at least did at some point), Lorenzo, Hi-Kee from a few years back and others who have found large pockets of activity and successes in feeding Roots Reggae STARVED Europe and European fans. Within that scope, I'd actually put Spectacular at the head of that pack arguably as he has aligned himself with some of the biggest outfits and movements to the point where it never seems as if he is never too far out of the spotlight and, again, whether you realize it or not, he has already managed to have a stellar career in making Reggae music around the world. 

"Find Yourself" [2005]
So let's take another step forward! Of course, if you follow his career at all THEE label with which you most closely associate Spectacular with is Irie Ites from out of Germany. Along with many Jamaican vocalists, Spectacular has become a big favourite throughout the years with the well respected imprint and, together, they have made some outstanding vibes (my personal favourite would probably be… 'Badda Than Dem', with 'Rasta' being a close second). So, at least presumably, one would have imagined that with all of the good music that vocalist and producer have made together across a span of time which stretches back to more than a decade now (just as was the case with the aforementioned Lorenzo who checked in with an album from II, "Movin' Ahead", back in 2009) . Nope. That's not the case. Initially, Spectacular made his debut on "Find Yourself", which released way back in 2005, via DHF Records which, I believe, is/was also out of Germany (the same label also did albums for Perfect Giddimani and Ward 21). In retrospect, "Find Yourself" may have been a better record than most people gave it credit for being, with the lasting tune being '50 Push Ups' ["Do fifty pushups, hundred skip yow!"], but it was a decent set for its time and, particularly how frequent Reggae albums came at the time, one would not have thought it would have taken nearly a dozen more years for a follow-up and, again, one not for Irie Ites. But that exactly has been the case as the fiery chanter now brings forth album #2, "Salvation". This set comes courtesy of Rastamusic Connection as well as Carabeo Music which're Spectacular's own labels, I believe. Hopefully, somewhere down the line there still comes an album from the veteran and Irie Ites, but until then, going through "Salvation", I'm going to find it hard to believe that established fans of Spectacular's, specifically, are not going to find a great deal to enjoy about the new release. Let me tell you about it.

Okay, if you are not amongst his "established fans… specifically", Spectacular's style, as his name might indicate is very LARGE and aggressive. There are so many of his peers that I could compare him to but not entirely. Pick any of the 'usual suspects' (two of whom feature on this album) and you'll have an idea, but you have to include the caveat that only when they come through with a more forceful style. You're not going to get love songs and Beres Hammond (biggup Beres Hammond) moments from Spectacular and, as I said, he's managed to piece together a very impressive career for himself doing precisely what he does best (actually a pretty good comparison to make, now that I think about it more, would probably be someone like UT Ras) (biggup UT Ras, new album, "Up & About", in stores now. Old album, "Tha Bitter Stretch", which was better, still in stores). Spectacular gets busy putting those harsh skills on display with his brand new album, "Salvation, with a big tune in first, 'Taking It Easy'. I THOROUGHLY enjoyed the opener for this album because I took it in a way in which Spectacular is saying for everyone not to get so stressed out over everything and that life has more than enough of its own turbulences, inherently, that you really don't need to 'help' it out by finding strains and anxieties where they don't actually exist. 

"Hey, mi si sign, but mi neva wonda
Mi hear teeth and tongue always ah plunda
Fighting who? Dem waan turn over
Tell you flash yuh lightning and you go roll yuh thunda
Mi give praises to The King, no get caught pon di banking
Every ranking always get a spanking
He could live good and give praises to The Most High God"

Spectacular gives it all to The Most High and doesn't worry about small things on the sterling 'Taking It Easy'. Sometimes you can't go easy on everyone which the chanter is quick to remind us on the second effort on the album, the maybe even stronger 'Handle Dem Ruff'. Out of all the songs you'll hear on "Salvation", I think this one maybe makes as fine of usage of Spectacular's aggressive style as any of them. It isn't totally over the top but it definitely does have its overwhelming moments which I think was the intent and he ultimately uses that style, in contrast to the piece which precedes it here, to make the point that you can't be nice to EVERYONE… because everyone doesn't comprehend niceness (you know a whole heap of people like that - don't you!). And I also have to mention the riddim on that one which is excellent. Things slow down a bit as the title track comes through on the album named for it and it is, essentially, the solid praising tune that you would have thought. I do like this song, however, particularly for its vibe. When it gets going to its middle portions, 'Salvation' the song is absolutely delightful, a fine choice for a title and, appropriately, one of the best songs on the album. 
Combinations are fairly expected when it comes to albums, but you know you're always quite interested in seeing exactly WHO a particular artist taps to work with on their respective project and, for "Salvation", Spectacular chose wisely in a pair of instances (Rebellion The Recaller was on "Find Yourself", amongst others). First of all check the big social commentary, 'System Dread'. Featured here is none other than Lutan Fyah who, to my knowledge, has a musical history alongside Spectacular which stretches back VERY far, when both would have been near their musical nascence -- literally, ten or fifteen years ago -- and both have continued to work together on various ventures throughout the years. I don't know how many combinations there have been (PERHAPS my personal favourite would have been 'Coming Home' from the "Justice" album courtesy of Philadub Records) (biggup Gardian and Philadub, I wonder what happened to them), but 'System Dread', which I believe is a single from this album, has to rank amongst the very best the duo have produced thus far ["Babylon yuh system dread! DEM TEK AN ARM AND AH COME FI A LEG!"]. It probably rests more likely in the realm of fantasy (given just how infrequently Spectacular does full albums), but… I don't know… if someone wanted… to maybe do an album with Spectacular and Lutan Fyah… wouldn't be the absolute worst idea anyone has ever undertaken. With that being said, however, one could rather easily make the case that Lutan Fyah alongside Spectacular is the second best combination on "Salvation" as 'Rise' is a FANTASTIC song. This one finds the Burning one joined by the legendary (have we gotten to the point where we can start calling him a 'legend'??? He'd surely decline, but I think that we're getting there) Anthony B. Everything on this one is BIG. Anthony B is big, Spectacular can't be anything else besides big and the riddim and the background singers are BIG! And that is quality which comes shining through immediately as  'Rise' begins. Lyrically, the two dazzle and throw a MAMMOTH praise to His Majesty on a beautiful drop which is not to be missed… and if they wanted to do this again, I wouldn't complain about it either. 

"So mi have to give Jah praises when mi rise up
Give thanks for another day - open my eyes up
So when dem si di Rastaman, tell dem no size up

All of the remaining selections on "Salvation" stand out for their own various reasons. Certainly 'Things Been Good' has to considered one of the most interesting. I don't know that, at least musically speaking, Spectacular (with his style) is someone who you would instantly think of making a romantic type of song  -- I don't think he has a "ROMANTIC" setting -- but he gives it his best shot and actually manages to impress. This isn't Cocoa Tea and, of course, he yells but it works on some level and manages to be  a very pleasant piece to listen to, which is not something I would have imagined here. 'Nah Do No Crime', on the other hand, has less 'suspense' as Spectacular, basically, says the same thing I've been saying about life for year: I'm not trying to go to jail for ANYTHING or ANYONE. I love (some of) you, but I'm not doing it, I got stuff to do (… okay maybe I don't, but I'm still not going). This tune is all about a personal responsibility that we all have to at least make an attempt at being decent examples of human beings and I love that kind of direction. It isn't pointing a finger at anyone else. Spectacular wants YOU to take accountability for YOU and your own behaviour and to simply make better decisions in life because jail isn't a nice place to have to go and stay and, as Mavado once told us, there are no women there (this song reminds me of I Wayne's 'Total Annihilation' for some reason). Check 'Jah Children', which is actually the longest song on the album. There're songs here which I like more than it, but you'll do well not to overlook this effort because it takes a bit of time to grow on you or at least it did for me. Though fairly straight forward, it has an unusual kind of 'pace' to it in my opinion and just offers a subtly different sound than just about everything else on "Salvation" (and hopefully I'm not the only one who thinks that) (… but I probably am). Finally are two tracks which are genuine standouts for this album and, surely, amongst the very best that I have ever heard from Spectacular in any capacity. The first is the impassioned and Buju Banton-esque 'They Can't Stop Me'

"They can't stop me
Cannot flop me
Yes, I'm on the rise!
I'm on the go!

They can't stop me
Cannot flop me
I'm moving fast and I ain't moving slow!

Wid dem island powder and dem dirty vial
Hey round corners, mi seh dem ah beat iron
Haile Selassie I, HIM cut and clear all science
Man out dependent so mi moving wid self-reliance
Dem and those ah worship car, dem house and dem appliance
Every dog have dem day, every puss have dem four o'clock

BOOM! 'They Can't Stop Me' is the single best thing that I hear on the whole of "Salvation". There're moments here when everything aligns perfectly for Salvation and he thrills and it, like I mentioned in regards to 'Handle Dem Ruff', makes a nearly perfect usage of what Spectacular's style is and what he does well. BOOM AGAIN! And lastly (literally, it's the final song on the album) is the fiery 'Big or Small'. There is a point and message here of how people change over time for no real reason at all, but I have to confess that I'm taking 'Big or Small' for its vibes! It is a POWERFUL set which gives the listener not an inch of space (BECAUSE YOU DON'T DESERVE IT!) and, for me anyway, it's just the final burst of energy one would have loved on an album like this as Spectacular misses no opportunity at all to bring his own trademarked edge to the music.

I do have a standing critique of "Salvation", but I find myself mentioning it so often these days that it may just be on its way to becoming more of a sign of the times, rather than just a point on a specific album [after eleven years, you'd think he have more to say than just ten songs!!!]. So I'll stop whining about that… or will I???
Overall, I have to say that I was THRILLED to see Spectacular come with a new album. It has been so long that it isn't something that you'd look at and say that you're so thoroughly anticipating it, but as has been the case with others who have taken similar steps in recent times such as Q'Shan Deya from a few years back or even Utan Green (new album, "I & I Culture" in stores now), who have made returns with album releases after a long absence: It just makes you feel good! It was just a good idea and the thought of 'why not' jumps into mind right away! In this particular instance, it isn't as if Spectacular has been difficult to find for the last decade or so, it's been quite the opposite, but hearing him in this type of form is sure to not only turn up quite a few new fans, but also reenergize and REWARD a group who has made him quite successful. So, while we do wish it could have packed on just a few more pounds during its decade+ long gestation period and it will be a DAMN SHAME if I have to wait until 2027 for its follow-up, "Salvation" is SOLID and a fine display of the high level of skills of someone in Spectacular who, whether you always realize it or not, just keeps strolling right along. Well done.

Rated: 3.75/5
Rastamusic Connection & Carabeo Music
CD [I THINK] + Digital

Review #540

Saturday, October 29, 2016

'Re-Decided': A review of "Homage To The Land" by Akae Beka

Sustain. If you ‘do' it well enough, being a fan of music, in general, can be a very rewarding experience. Besides just being able to listen to a wide variety of good music and benefiting from all of the good that it may do for you, what inevitably happens is that you begin to build these incredible moments which you not only attach to certain sounds or individuals, but to your life as well. For example, if I were to ask you to think of your favourite song, after lamenting the fact that you have to just pick one, when you eventually did, whichever it is you that choose will surely have some type of connection to your life. Be it a single moment or a specific time around when you first heard it or something which is ever evolving and you may even be able to discuss that right now as a still developing reason why it is #1 for you. Even more vivid, perhaps, would be the best concert you've ever been to, as you shared that moment with multiple you's and had this joyous occasion. When you take this view of some of your favourite artists, the link, hopefully, is defined inherently by a particular amount of evolution or at least it is for me. I can talk to you endlessly about how Soca music so wonderfully helps me connect to my children (I'm a very, very old thirty-five years old, but if you put on the right song at the moment (currently that tune is ‘Godzilla' by Skinny Fabulous) I will drop everything instantly and jump and lose it like a teenager and do so happily!) and how I envision being in my seventies with a pair of busted hips and repaired knees, still trying to jump up and wave with my grandchildren and I look forward to it! Similarly, I attach the prime years of Sizzla Kalonji to a point in my life, my young adulthood, where I desperately needed to make some changes and how much it helped me to get through those times. That lingers to this day where, with or without expectations, high or low, there remains a faint glow surrounding anything Sizzla does to my ears because I know where the ceiling is and how powerfully elevated it can be. And there're others such as Beres Hammond where my tastes finally began to cross those of my Wife's (so brilliantly extended by whom??? We call her Lugo. Sara Lugo) and even people like Turbulence whose career, in my mind, has been one of the most interesting, for better or for worse, of the modern era of Reggae music. With that being said, however, I think that when it comes to music making links in life, outside of Sizzla Kalonji, for me, that next great step comes when I learned that… yeah, I was getting older and in doing so, I realized I had suddenly become capable of tip-toeing, gingerly, through the musical kingdom known as Midnite.

…because it didn't use to sound like this. When I was younger, I heard skeletons. I heard obscure. I heard confusion. I heard no melody or harmony. I saw strangely intentionally misspelled song titles and wondered why (I still those, biggup 'Daughtaz & Sunz', but I just don't care anymore) and I saw a whole heap of curiously attached fans who were clearly very, VERY far ahead of me at the time and had limitless passion for something I didn't even comprehend. Unfortunately I also saw a few albums come and go that I had picked up and passed on to others for lack of quality (could have saved some money in buying some of them for the second time later). But I just didn't get it. I didn't hear what they did. 
"In Awe" [2012] & "Be Strong" [2013]
However, it is years later and OBVIOUSLY things have changed as I actually did pause for a second or two when I learned what had become of my suddenly precious 'Midnite'. It was only a "second or two"  because I had a feeling that not much was going to change. Last year, after spending the last few years crawling into my head to the point where 'their' music had become a part of daily and sometimes hourly routine, the Virgin Islands powerhouse had re-identified 'themselves' as AKAE BEKA. In retrospect, it actually seems as if many of their fans had a similar reaction as I did. I was curious but ultimately I was convinced that as long as THE principal had remained, that not much would change. Of course I'm referring to Vaughn Benjamin whose name had virtually blended into the Midnite. Anytime you saw 'featuring Midnite' behind a title, you knew what to expect and it was a guest spot from Benjamin. Because of that, to this day, I don't think that I've ever felt compelled to take in the entire story regarding the change (though I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the permanent change of members in the full band). My entire mindset as that fan looking for something to hold on to was something along the lines of, 'okay, it's Akae Beka… can I please have a new album from Midn… Akae Beka?'. Yes, yes you can. And who became the first label to deliver such a set? It actually was not one of the Zion I Kings (that would come second) (and third) but instead it was the also entirely dependable US based Fifth Son Records, with whom Vaughn Benjamin had already produced absolute genuine magic. Those miraculous moments came wrapped up in several albums with perhaps the most noted being the double set, "Standing Ground" from way back in 2008 ["He ever was so, Jah know, He ever was so"] [BOOM!], but more recently a pair of fantastic releases from Midnite and FSR, "Be Strong" ["Children running for nothing but the joy of creation. Ambivalent to everything but dem youth and strong"] in 2013 and definitely "In Awe" from the year prior (there was also the very solid "Momentum" and "Standing Ground" was re-released in a Dubbed out form). Those two albums, in particular, though they may have gone overlooked by many fans, have become favourites of mine and I could well make the case that "In Awe" is one of the finest sets ever featuring the work of Vaughn Benjamin. So, perhaps you'll forgive me for not having the largest reaction to the latest piece of work in this union, "Homage To The Land", as this landmark, first album from Akae Beka, but instead having the same amount of anticipation and FIRE for a the latest from a functioning artist/producer combination which has done nothing but impress and impress in recent years. There was no great musical shift and I've still yet to hear one (and will be completely surprised if ever I do) (can you imagine if Vaughn Benjamin turned… Mad Cobra one day and just started aiming at everything that moved). Instead there was more of the same mastery which had welcomed me into the next stage of my life. Let's take a listen.

In contrast to the ZIK releases and those from I Grade Records in particular (although given their first effort, I suppose I need not make that distinction anymore with Zion High Productions soaring), the Midnite albums coming from Fifth Son Records are typified by a darker and more subtle sound. The results of that approach, to my ears tend to be sets which require more time to grow and would seemingly be less immediately gratifying, especially to newer fans, but hold and infinite amount of power just the same. I've recently been digging into the "Be Strong" heavily, with tracks such as 'Bless The Nest', 'Dem Kinda Heights' and especially 'Dandy Lion' having taken off even greater. In a year or two from now I'll likely be saying the same thing reference to several tracks from the most recent drop from the newly minted Akae Beka and Fifth Son Records, "Homage To The Land", from last year (and some of them are currently at the beginning of that stage which makes this a fun review to write now). And maybe one of them will be 'All We Be' which gets the album started.

"Sounds like the uniqueness of the terrain
The land and the blood in the veins
The people took the character and the character took the demeanour
Of the soil and the survivours sustained
And Rastafari reigned"

If you've really listened to this track -- I mean REALLY listened to it, you already know what a bona fide GEM it was. It was an absolutely scorching composition which did its own form of rising throughout its four minutes. A slow and almost delicate sound becomes this horn-heavy dynamic symphony which well compliments the vocals. Speaking of those vocals, Vaughn Benjamin shines as expected. 'All We Be' is about living up to a standard, or at least attempting to, set by His Majesty and doing your best in life (being 'all you can be'). I really like how he doesn't personalize the message WHOLLY and instead he makes the leap that it isn't only about you 'doing you', but it's also about how you treat others and have relationships with them as well because it isn't you alone walking the planet. Next up was 'Promises' which goes even further into interpersonal associations with others. My opinion of this song has been that it is a word of caution from Benjamin as he vividly paints pictures of two different types of individuals and groups of people - one of which is entirely worthy of trust and the other… not so much. Of course, he goes into great detail regarding both and even seems to finely show where they split ["It have to do with paths chosen and good choices"]. There's also a fantastically simple musical display behind that one which is well afforded its own time in the spotlight throughout. The third song on "Homage To The Land", the skyscraping 'Just Decided', is its best and DEFINITELY one of the best from Vaughn Benjamin that I have EVER heard.

"The Emperor - Haile Selassie I
I hail and acknowledge right -
The people who bear - the ignorance, scorn and the unfair pride
For the herbs life and disappear
The verdict come and destigmatize
That many cities have just decided -
To let ganja contribute to the standard of life
Psychology came following and finding light
Many cities have just decided - to regulate and moderate within state lines
Benefit the treasury in municipal eyes
Seeking truth and spirit and balance in time

You have seen many heroes in the villainous light
Seen many villains in the heroes' light
Set things in order as is 'good and right'
Realize who really paid the price
Prosecution say "Your honour, this ain't right" 

Call it a 'ganja tune' (because that's exactly what it is), but it is more of a victory lap as Benjamin begins to celebrate the changing culture of and attitude towards marijuana throughout the world. Not only that but he also appears to bring in an 'all is forgiven' attitude if things are to continue to improve, which is remarkable! It is a piece which well has a HAPPY vibes surrounding it which is a rare qualifier to throw at a tune from Vaughn Benjamin, but you can literally hear him having a great time recording it. And speaking of that, I simply HAVE TO mention a stretch of perfection in this song which is about ten or twelve seconds beginning at ~2:35 in. It is SPECTACULAR. 'Just Decided' was MAMMOTH and has become the calling card and main attraction from "Homage To The Land" in my mind. And there was more such as 'Call Out To Jah' and 'Psalm' which immediately follow that giant. The social commentary former is, rather easily, one of the best songs on this album as well. Here, Benjamin deals with the confusion of the social state in the world today and does so from an all-encompassing perspective. Allow me to get ridiculous for a second here: Like I mentioned about the stretch in 'Just Decided', there is a lyrical blip from 'Call Out To Jah' which I found not only SO potent here, but also emblematic of how my own point of view of this music has changed - and it also so very simple:

"When just the joy of a child makes the day right
No one knows tomorrow clientele - wise
Who will be in need of what service, I -
Consult in HIM, Rastafari"

Such a run would have just confused me years ago and now it jumps up as such a skillful moment and you can listen to virtually any of this man's work and, while you may not LOVE everything you hear, you'll find flashes like this everywhere and I hope we all (or as many of us as possible) can appreciate that. And I have to give a musical credit here also as the riddim for 'Call Out To Jah' plays, essentially without vocals for most of the final ninety seconds of the song which is an excellent touch. For its part, 'Psalm' has a very interesting sound in both music and the kind of 'fainting' vocals utilized. Take just a superficial listen to the track and you'll hear a mountain being constructed. There is something being built there and it all comes together by songs' end. I love the free-flowing spirit behind a drop like this and given the amount of 'space' that it covers, it fits snugly and biggup the horn player here and throughout this homage.

The nearly six-minutes long title track from "Homage To The Land" comes through almost as a musical mini-film. This thing has scenes and moods and action sequences and everything that you would need for a most visual experience of sound, if such a thing is possible (and it is). During the first half or so, Vaughn Benjamin tells us to give credit to those who came before us. It doesn't matter who they were in your particular case (though he will tell you), but you have to pay them the homage they deserve for setting the foundation for you. And it is the ACT of paying that respect which you brings us closer to who we are to be in this world. Later on in the composition, Benjamin basically becomes the riddim! We hear from him here and there, but this GOLDEN creation of sound which backs him takes a most appropriate and deserved center-stage and it THRILLS for nearly two and a half minutes. And this isn't the type of sound I would expect to hear on an IGR release, it is uniquely a Fifth Son Records reverberation. It's bouncy but still kind of dark and unpredictable and, every few seconds or so, some new element is introduced. AMAZING! As is his habit from time to time, 'Right Away' is a quick homage of a different kind as Akae Beka makes a stereotypically multi-faceted praise to music. I've wondered if the title might not be better printed as 'Write Away' given the fact that I'm sure I cannot possibly be the only one wondering exactly how this man writes music like this and does so ENDLESSLY. It is a very nice song, centered around this music and the nice effects it can have on those fortunate enough to receive it. Check the beautifully unifying theme of 'World Citizenship' which sets out to bring us all a bit closer through the influence of His Majesty.

"No matter what dem nationality -
If dem see, see in evidentiality -
What world citizenship means
And international morality
Means each bearing fruits of Rastafari livity
The people I-nite around I Majesty peace and His throne
They see that inna HIM, is solutions a road, abroad"

For me this was a call to stop looking for things to separate one another and to really just focus on how surprisingly similar we all may be. Such a tune does a great job in complimenting the track which follows it, 'To Live', which, in its own way, serves a similar purpose. Here, the artist gives credit to and observes everything everyone does 'to get by' and 'to live' ["Make sure seh that the vendors have a niche and the people feel well-adjusted"]. Most interesting about this one is how Benjamin addresses it using exclusively the feminine pronouns. It is a very subtle touch but one which actually places extra life in the sound in my opinion. For me… say whatever you like, but things regarding PEOPLE and FAMILY just make more sense and carry more weight when they come via the Woman (things such as common sense). Finally, (yep, that's it) (more on that in a minute) closing out "Homage To The Land" is the downright ROYALLY vibed 'Cone' which I hold as one of its signature moments. Listen to 'Cone' with one ear, pay it very little attention and even in doing just that, you can tell that something very momentous is occurring. It has such compelling and gripping sound to it, that you can feel something special going on and the moment is not exhausted by the vocals. Those vocals come in with an ultra-focused and flaring sound (it almost reminds you, if you remember him, of Jah Rubal) (biggup Jah Rubal) (had an album years ago called "Fire Chariot", probably isn't too difficult find still) and, in my head they essentially pick up where our title track stopped. This is a tune about being respectful and mindful of things that happened in the world (and are still happening) before WE got here. It is giving credit to just how far we have come, as a species, over the years and just how necessary it is for You and for I to continue to make a similar level of progression. It is one of our greatest responsibilities as living and functioning human beings. Here, it sounds as powerful as ever and was utilized as a lovely bow on an awesome ["I hold His Majesty in awe"] ["In awe"] ["In awe"] gift of an album.

I do want to mention that, like its two most immediate predecessors from Fifth Son Records, there're only ten selections in full on "Homage To The Land". That isn't a lot and in the age of never-ending Reggae EP's, it is a number which, on paper, fits in more like such. HOWEVER, this album, like "Be Strong" and "In Awe" is no damn EP (not that I have a problem with EP's. Biggup Ziggi). Only one tune, 'To Live' is less than four minutes long (and only by a few seconds) and everything here is STOCKED with a clear attention paid to detail and, subsequently, it all combines for a most memorable set. 

Overall, while I attempted to stress this point somewhat consistently here (I probably didn't do a very good job of it), I'll do it once more: MUSICALLY, this album is excellent. Again, it won't register in the same immediately digestible way as some of the other Akae Beka/Midnite releases, but even that is a bit of a 'mark'. It so completely fills the cast of albums coming from Fifth Son Records with that SOUND. The interesting bit is here: As you listen more and more to those albums, not only do they begin to explode lyrically because they are Vaughn Benjamin albums, but they also do so musically and the results are ever evolving and potentially ever expanding musical experiences. "Homage To The Land" also ranks quite well with its predecessors in terms of its quality. This is a very strong release and one which has only an upside and I can speak from experience. We didn't review this one immediately from last year (because I took a year) (biggup being nasty and sick) (or don't) and I well hold it in (awe) higher esteem now than I did a year ago. So while it may be best remembered by most as THE FIRST OFFICIAL AKAE BEKA ALBUM [!], "Homage To The Land" was more of the same brilliance that fans have come to expect from the outfit over the years - under any name. 

Rated: 4.45/5
Fifth Son Records
CD + Digital

Review #539

{Note: I didn't forget, it was coming}