Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Coming Soon #79: The Birthright

"Born A King" by Sizzla Kalonji [Muti Music]

First up this week is the wholly inescapable Sizzla Kalonji who is back, once again, with a brand new album, "Born A King". The chanter (who just last week celebrated the beginning of his 39th year of life), has set an old-school like pace in 2014 as, as we near the end of the first third of the year, he already has two full sets to his credit in "Nah Worry Unu Self" and the still very brand new "Radical". This time around, Kalonji links with Mista Savona and Muti Music on an album which has been forthcoming for quite awhile. The label has released singles including 'I'm Living' and most recently 'Blessed' with several different versions of the song ('Blessed' had nine, if I recall correctly) and have taken a very interesting route to this point and one which has definitely peaked my interests. In listening through the clips, it appears that the album may be a bit more intense than either of its predecessors and I hear several different styles involved. Well looking to hearing the final project and I do have a fairly good feeling about this one. Errol Dunkley, Vida Sunshyne, Alton Ellis and Turbulence guest. 

Releases on May 6
"Words of The Wise" by Exco Levi [VP Records]

Apparently, along with being a fine one for albums, 2014 is also turning out great for Reggae music EP's as well as the latest to join a line including the likes of Chronixx, Tydal and Amlak Redsquare is the highly potent Exco Levi who links with VP Records for seven-tracked "Words of The Wise". Levi has spent the better part of the past three years or so being amongst the most consistent faces in the genre and though 2014 would seem to be a perfect year for a full album release for him, I suppose that an EP is better than absolutely nothing. As far as I can tell, the lion's share of material to be found on "Words of The Wise" comes via Penthouse Records and Shane Brown and the project does include his most identifiable tune to date, 'Bleaching Shop'. Certainly we'd love the full album, but hopefully this set does go to push further Exco Levi and his monstrous talents to the masses. 

Releases on April 29
The African Children Riddim [Oneness Records]

Apparently our friends at Oneness Records decided to make 2014 a big year for themselves as, very closely following the Rise Up Riddim, the label is back at work with the African Children Riddim. This track, like the Rise Up, is quite familiar to our ears, mostly because it backed the title track of Denham's Smith 2013 EP, "Not The Same" and, as is their norm, Oneness has definitely surrounded him with some incredible talents as well. Achis, like who? Exco Levi for example! Also taking a turn on the track are the likes of Luciano, Ras Muhamad, Mark Wonder, Naptali, Michelle Gordon and others (always happy when they include a female voice). Oneness' name attached to projects, especially projects like this one, virtually guarantees a high level of quality so definitely check out their African Children Riddim when it reaches. 

Releases on April 25
"Bring Them Together" by The Lambsbread [Jah Youth Productions/Rumble Rock Recordz]

Also very active this year has been Jah Youth Productions and, apparently, they can find no reason to stop now (because no such reason exists). Following BIG albums from Rob Symeonn ["Indigenous"] and Perfect Giddimani ["Better Off Dread"], the label is back again, in the same month, alongside our old friends at Rumble Rock Recordz, with yet another brand new album, "Bring Them Together" from Hawaiian duo, The Lambsbread. The Lambsbread has always been someone who I've been meaning to take a deeper listen to at some point and I told myself that, the next time they released an album, I'd definitely listen and review it and that is exactly what I'm going to do after they've taken this next step and done it for someone who have had no problem getting my attention this year. The bits that I have heard have been solid, but I am definitely well looking forward to placing a reviewer's ear to this project and taking it in fully. The aforementioned Perfect, Fantan Mojah, Prezident Brown and others are featured. 

Releases on April 29
The Oil Stain Riddim [Fox Fuse]

I looooooooooong ago thought that this set had reached its official digital release, but apparently it hadn't and you can take advantage of that now as are the apparently all-conquering Fox Fuse. The Oil Stain Riddim was very popular last year and deservedly so. The track from Stadic Studio and Wetty Beatz did some damage, including netting Skinny Fabulous his ninetieth St. Vincy Soca Monarch crown, as well as his first Road March title with 'The General' and it also carried songs from Fay-Ann Lyons, Problem Child and Pumpa. HOWEVER, with that being said, my favourite song on the Oil Stain, which is present on this release, came from the brilliantly unpredictable Lavaman who told everyone who would listen (and even a few who wouldn't) that "MY BEHAVIOUR STINK!" on the entirely ridiculous 'Wrenk'. 

Releases on April 29
The Titans Riddim [Fox Fuse]

And because you can't do a Coming Soon with only one set from, also be sure to check out the Titans Riddim which includes a trio of EXCELLENT tracks. Machel Montano, Kes and especially Destra Garcia with 'State Of Mind' deliver sterling pieces on the Madmen produced composition. Not on that level, but not far behind, is also Kerwin Du Bois with Spoil Mehself. For what it is, this is an excellent release and more top notch music delivered by Fox Fuse.

Releases on May 13
"Get Rid A Di Wicked" by Lutan Fyah [Breadback Productions]

And also we update an album we told you about last time, the forthcoming album from Lutan Fyah and Breadback Productions, "Get Rid A Di Wicked". It was supposedly set for a late April release date, but now has apparently been delayed until June... which isn't really far away now. So you'll have to wait, but it should be a good one. 

Releases in June 
CD [I THINK] + Digital 

In Stores Now
The Rising Riddim [Soul Rebel Sound]

Soul Rebel Sound and The Scrucialists have teamed up for the very familiar Rising Riddim, with big results. I'm fairly certain that the origins of this track go back a few years now because I can remember some of these songs (two in particular) and now it reaches (or re-reaches) an official release. The songs which stood out to me were 'Get Some High Grade' by Jah Mason and 'High Grade Promote' which featured Lutan Fyah alongside both Spectacular and Leopard. But also standing out now are songs from Torch, the always interesting Wildlife and others. 

The Penthouse Riddim [Jugglerz Records]

Jugglerz Records is back following their Madskull Riddim from early in the year with their latest creation, the delightful Penthouse Riddim. This sterling old school vibed composition plays a nearly perfect backdrop to some just as excellent vocal talents. One of the most impressive lineup of artists thus far this year - the Penthouse includes contributions from such names as Ziggi Recado, Lion D, Delly Ranx, Perfect Giddimani, Sanchez, Collie Buddz, Terry Linen, Angel Doolas, Burro Banton, Bobby Hustle and others. Several of them score really well as does Beenie Man, with 'Survivor'.

"Greatest Gallis" by Beenie Man [MD Entertainment]

Speaking of Beenie Man, finally this week, also recently taking the route of releasing an EP is the Dancehall legend who brings forth "Greatest Gallis" on his own MD Entertainment imprint. The set is named after Beenie's tune alongside Sean Paul and includes six relatively fresh other tracks as well. Nothing here is really huge, but there're useful pieces such as 'Boom Wine', the closer, 'Sneaky' alongside Kali (which I don't think I've ever heard before) (great riddim on that song) and 'Truckload'. We've essentially given up on waiting for Beenie's next album and I think that this may be as close as we get for the near future, but "Greatest Gallis" does have its moments… just wish it had more of them. 


Monday, April 21, 2014

Extended Play: The Best Reggae EP's

Of the many nice recent developments that the digital medium has brought to Reggae music, definitely one of the most interesting has been the proliferation of the Reggae EP. In just a short while, we’ve seen it used in nearly countless ways; be it just ahead of albums, to meet the demand of music from or to entirely introduce a new artist, or even just as collections from an established name, EP's have flooded the scene and, already, are quite difficult to keep track of as they are released at very impressive rates. Today, however, we place a cap on things and examine some of the best EP’s to date. Extended Play: The Best Reggae EP's

{Note: No multi-artist compilations}
{Note 2: Though it sticks to the last few years, we intentionally avoided any 2014 releases}
{Note 3: No Soca}
#10. "Same Difference" by Ziggi Recado [Rock 'N Vibes - 2010]

Ziggi Recado's "Same Difference" album definitely had a multi-purposed direction. Of course, it existed to push more great music from Ziggi and would arrive, ultimately, a year ahead of his next full release, but it also served as a kind of reintroduction of the artist to the masses. Previously known as just 'Ziggi', as you can see emblazoned on the cover for "Same Difference", this release would mark Ziggi's official renaming as 'Ziggi Recado' (and in a genre like Reggae where Ziggis and Ziggys aren't very difficult to find at all) and, in retrospect, they chose a very clever way to make things certified and official. Musically speaking, "Same Difference" was also interesting. Featuring more than one production of Necessary Mayhem, including the very popular 'Ganja Smoke In The Air' [bka 'Joker Smoker'] would also feature the legendary Marcia Griffiths as well as the WICKED 'Baddest'. 
#9. "Not The Same" by Denham Smith [Oneness Records - 2013]

Almost serving as something of an addendum to his debut album, "Come Wid It", which arrived just a year before, Denham Smith's HUGE EP set from 2013, "Not The Same" really just continued the introductory phase for many to this wonderful talent. Vibed courtesy of the outstanding Oneness Records from out of Germany, this project was probably one of the best promoted on this list and, as you got into the music, you quickly figured out why. Pinnacled by an absolutely enormous title track and an opener in 'If A Me Alone’, "Not The Same" was sublime! Also present was 'The System', a very underrated track in my opinion and other gorgeous contributions as well. The virtually inescapable Jah Sun featured.
#8. "Same I Ah One" by Midnite [I Grade Records - 2013]

As the latest in an ever increasing and expanding cache of good ideas from I Grade Records, just a few years back, the biggest label in the Virgin Islands turned to the idea of producing pre-album EP's. And if I recall correctly (and I never do), the very first of these was born for the "Kings Bell" album from Midnite in 2011. On the most recent set, the label returned to Midnite in a big way as, just ahead of the then forthcoming "Beauty For Ashes" was an EP release surrounding the album's first single, "Beauty For Ashes". Most remarkable here, perhaps, was the  fact that - along with the actual song and four more mixes of it, the "Same I Ah One" EP answered some big questions of the album. This set dealt exclusively with combinations. Pressure Busspipe featured on the title track, while Ras Batch and Lutan Fyah would also answer the call on 'Weather The Storm' and 'When Jah Arise', respectively. As was the case with "Kings Bell', "Beauty For Ashes" also turned out quite well and definitely this set helped to peak interests. 
#7. "Sara Lugo"  [Oneness Records - 2009]

The debut self-titled EP from German powerhouse Sara Lugo, would arrive a couple of years ahead of her outstanding debut album, "What About Love", and it would also include a pair of her best songs ever. Both 'Rock Steady' (the best version of the song) and 'Familiar Stranger' appeared here as did the lovely 'Mother & Child' and even 'And They Cry' alongside Naptali (which I had forgotten was on this set). Ultimately, what this set is best remembered for, at least by me (besides the two giant songs), is for helping to bring to attention, formally, one of the absolute most delightful and fascinating artists in Reggae music today (and, looking back, one of the most in both cases in a very loooooooooong time). Lugo has gone on to become a favourite of ours in the years since and this EP helped to ignite what is sure to be a fantastic career. 
#6. "Africa Is Our Home" by Jah Turban [SJP Records - 2010]

You may have missed it but, back in 2010, a release came via the wicked Denmark based Jamaican chanter, Jah Turban, "Africa Is Our Home", which has gone on to become one of my favourite and one of the most meaningful EP releases to date (even though its four years on and we're still waiting for an album). Through the set's six tracks, Turban dazzled and, in some cases, did so in an unforgettable manner. Highlights here included 'Babylon Doom', the title track and definitely the big closer, 'Move Vampire'. The other three selections, still, were very good as well - in 'Mystic Of Jah' (especially that one), 'Show Some Love' and 'My Empress' Jah Turban showed more top notch talent and though he doesn't seem to be as active these days as I would have hoped, Jah Turban will likely always be someone whose releases I keep an eye and an ear on for the foreseeable future and much of that is because of what we heard on "Africa Is Our Home". 
#4. "Raise Hell on Hellboy" by Bounty Killer [Payday Music - 2009]

Grrrr! After all of these years, the prospects of finding a seemingly perfectly angered version of Bounty Killer in a fine form remains one of the biggest attractions that Dancehall music has to offer. Though he can be consistent, as has typically been his case, the Killer needs a bit of a 'challenge' and extra 'motivation' and he had bountiful amounts of both back in 2009 when he released 'Raise Hell On Hellboy for the wonderful people at Payday Music. For what they were, this EP carried a couple of bonafide classics in 'Mi Enemies' and the devastating 'Chatta Box' and songs such as 'Ungrateful Hellboy' weren't extremely far behind. Obviously, most… okay, ALL of the arsenal here was aimed in the direction of former Killer protégé, Vybz Kartel and it never really did pinnacle in the way it likely should have (and now it never will, or at least not until they're both very, very old men), but hearing the Killer at his destructive best, as I said, is something I could just never tire of.  
#4. "J Boog" [Washhouse Music - 2011]

Not very far at all ahead of his the forthcoming and heavily anticipated album, "Backyard Boogie", the sweet singing J Boog put together a compilation of some of the things he had been working on up to that point and released eight tunes and nearly half an hour's worth of it on this sublime self-titled EP. The main attraction here was the tune which was (and remains) the main attraction of his entire career, the Don Corleon produced 'Let's Do It Again', but it wasn't alone. I came back to this release and had completely forgotten the quality of songs such as 'Coldest Zone', 'So Far Gone', ESPECIALLY 'It's So Hard', 'Every Little Thing' and others still. An EXCELLENT release and 2014 would be a lovely year for a new album from J Boog in my opinion and in yours too.
#3. "Liberation" by Ziggi Recado [Dredda Records - 2012]

Just a couple of years ago, Ziggi Recado, again, did something really interesting with an EP release. Where the first entry on this list had the intention of reintroducing the artist, "Liberation", one could make the argument, also did the same thing and it did it in a way which was hard not to pay attention to. First of all, the set was his first of substance following the split between Recado and his longtime homebase, Rock 'N Vibes, and for it he linked with our friends at Dredda Records… twice. Though officially an EP, "Liberation" was basically an album dosed out in two volumes over the course of about six months or so. The first edition was impressive with big tunes such as 'Rising', 'Green Medicine' and 'Merciless' shining (biggup Oneness), but the second volume was even better. It carried the single best tune on the whole of this project which was the title track (one of the greatest lyrical assaults of Ziggi’s career in my opinion) as well as golden tracks such as 'Pure N Divine', 'The Anchor' alongside Mr. Mojo from Morgan Heritage, 'Till The End', 'Nothing But Love', 'Balance' and… I've just named every song on the EP as Ziggi Recado just snuck an extra album in on everyone.  
#2. "Lively Road" by Smiley [Love & Unity Music - 2010]

"I just caaaaaaaaan't take the distance no mooooooooooooore!" I'd have to wait even longer for an album from Aruban born Dutch standout, Smiley, but what he did back in 2010 in the form of "Lively Road" made the waiting a bit easi… actually no it didn't make it easier - it made it harder! "Lively Road" was MAMMOTH! It took some of the tunes (two in particular) which really helped to bring Smiley and his infectious style to prominence and placed them on a single project and that project was sublime. Of course present were both 'Distance' and Smiley's first big hit 'Dem A Wonder' alongside Junior Kelly, but it also offered the House of Riddim produced 'Big Money Bag', the title track, 'Da Weed' and other very sizable moments. Also, and this is a quality shared by the top three entrants on this list, "Lively Road" came off like an album and a good one. The songs ran so nicely together and it really had this downright seamless presentation which isn't always in attendance on EP's. 
#1. "Lead The Way" by Kabaka Pyramid [Bebble Rock Music - 2013]

And at the top of the list and leading by example is the scalding Kabaka Pyramid who, just last year, did wonders with his own 'EP', "Lead The Way". Checking in at ten tracks and nearly forty minutes (and it had bonus songs and a deluxe edition which made it even longer), if they'd call this his debut album, I don't think anyone would have had a problem with it (it probably would have made our best albums list and likely its top ten) and his subsequent debut album (and 2014 will just be incomplete if it doesn't give it to us) will have some considerable work to do in topping this EP. In my opinion, these days the Pyramid has very little in the way of peers when it comes to lyrics -- he is SURELY one of the best in Reggae music today -- and if you haven't noticed that, tunes such as 'King Kabaka', 'Lead The Way', 'LIBERAL OPPOSER'… (and I'm on my way  to naming every tune here again) showed that fully. What he is capable of doing with the spoken word these days is as impressive as anyone and he did SPECIAL things in that arena with "Lead The Way": The Best Reggae EP.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Vault Reviews: "A New Day" by Luciano

Nightly. When you are an artist who has a really high number of albums, it's always very interesting to go through and see exactly what makes particular ones stand out. Of course you have the polar ends. There're albums which will always be remembered for being great or… very un-great and, fittingly so, these sets have attained some level of immortality and when you look back on someone's career they are the ones which will rise most vividly and bring out the most passion, whether positive or negative. And, even more curiously, there are records which stand out for other reasons. Be it something as simple as an unusual cover or some other type of characteristic, or something as complex as a different type of producer, these albums also will likely never be forgotten and, again, for some atypical reason. Here, you're looking at albums such as "Words of Truth" from Sizzla Kalonji which was the album which had a full album and then a live piece attached to it. Sizzla's catalogue is ripe with such obvious pieces as you also had records such as "Burning Fire” which was (awful) released twice and (far more legitimate) others still, such as "The Overstanding". Another VERY nice way to distinguish albums, historically speaking (in the current sense, it doesn't really work too well), is with actual songs which headline a piece so grandly that, when thought of, they are the most immediate trait. Possibly the best example of this one is Midnite's "Let Live” album. In Midnite's case it's magnified because 'they' are almost exclusively known for albums and 'their' prolificacy in making them. So rare is it that a single song manages to capture so much attention that if you were to ask five fans their favourite five Midnite songs, you'd likely get twenty-five different tunes listed. But "Let Live" carried an inescapably fascinating piece called 'The Gad' which, all of these years later still dazzles fans… in a mumbling kind of way. And with personal tastes and opinions being what they are, you can likely come up with a list of your own of albums (and riddims, which may've been an even greater way to illustrate this point, but I don't feel like starting over) which you remember at least largely, if not entirely, based on the strength of a single tune. And it isn't to say that the rest of the album was rubbish or in anyway unremarkable, but the first thing that comes to your mind about it is one lasting song which has always and will always stay with you. 

Someone who is definitely no rookie when it comes to creating timeless material is the great Luciano. He is also someone who well qualifies for these set of circumstances as, throughout the years, 'The Messenjah' has a staggering amount of album releases to his name. And as we now may be moving into the situation of Luciano having now THREE generations of fans grow up listening to his music, he's made tunes which have no date of expiration and are to be regarded as the very best that the entire genre of Reggae music has ever produced - and many of them have ended up on albums, wonderfully. 
"Great Controversy" [2001]
Albums like "A New Day". The set, released way back in 2001, is one of Luciano's best albums ever. From beginning to end it was a sprawlingly BEAUTIFUL creation and one which has definitely not lost a sparkle of its brilliant shine in the near decade and a half following its release date. Surely that has a great deal to do with its director. Handling the production duties was the venerable Dean Fraser, a loooooooooongtime collaborator of Luciano's, dating back to when the duo roamed the releases of Xterminator Productions - Luciano as its biggest star at the time and Fraser as its musical director. 2001, in retrospect was an excellent year for Luciano and his fans as, not only was there "A New Day", but the singer also generated a "Great Controversy" on another for Jet Star, and probably more popular, set from the same year. That era, in general, was a very good one for the artist ( has been every single era in which he has participated, essentially) as other really good projects emerged from around the same time, when he was in the process of leaving and shortly after he actually did leave Xterminator. A personal favourite of mine, "Serve Jah" was just a couple of years on and, a couple of years back was "Sweep Over My Soul", which was an Xterminator album. So, Luciano was definitely in a fine form and that was also the case on this album. I should also mention the presence of VP Records. This was at least the third set that VP did with Luciano (they'd also go on to do "Serve Jah" and others, of course) and although it may not have enjoyed the type of popularity run as the aforementioned "Sweep Over My Soul" or "Serious Times" (which is my favourite Luciano album ever), "A New Day" is still well regarded and, looking back, VP did a fine job with it. Yet, despite such immediately impressive background credentials as those, "A New Day" is an album which most glaringly sticks in my mind for its carrying of one MASSIVE song. That song may just be the single finest I have ever heard Luciano sing (which is saying so much, coming from him) and one of the finest that I have ever heard anyone sing. And, looking back, it would have had to be that fine to single-handedly grab up so much of the attention here. However, as I said, this was one the artist's best, so it exists as the BRIGHTEST of several stars. Let's discuss!

'No Night In Zion'

Checking in at more than an hour spread across seventeen tracks, "A New Day" was a monster! And, though it may not be recalled as such, it was just such a sprawling project that, despite being headlined by a single tune, it was one of the most FULL efforts Luciano has given us to date. That fullness begins with the much aforementioned and downright DEVASTATING 'No Night In Zion'. TEARS! BOOM! BREAK SOMETHING! Luciano's abilities are maximized on this song in just about every single possibly conceivable way as he sings to the heavens in delivering this mountain of a tune. It is, of course, a spiritual piece but I've always seen a tangible application of 'No Night In Zion' as well: IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD! It is the musical embodiment of a smile, the signature moment of "A New Day" and absolutely one of the single best songs that I have ever heard from anyone. Charged with the most unenviable responsibility of following the opener is the very capable 'Oh Father I Love Thee'. Given the fact that it follows 'No Night In Zion', I've definitely heard this tune hundreds of times over the years and that's a good thing in this case. It is stereotypically highly spiritually aimed Luciano and a joy to listen to! 'Is There A Place?' may not be as good as either of its predecessors, but it's still quite strong. This a piece about persevering through tough spots in life, particularly in manners of love and relationships which may not be Luciano's specialty (it isn't), but this is a nice song. 'Happy People', also, may not be the best thing that he does well, but then again, it may be. I've always liked the way he unites 'people' and 'land' in this tune. - saying what is good for the world is good for the people that live on it and though it somewhat of a broadly written composition, it is another SWEET song on "A New Day". 'Road To Life' finds Luciano going Dennis Brown and doing so with a big tune in hand.

“If you're not matching then you're clashing -
No, you can't be right
If you're not watching, you'll be crashing -
Down the road of life

Take time to show someone you care -
Always be there 
Don't be unfair, give them a share of your time
Never forget!
Where you're coming from
Never forget!
Who you are
Don't disrespect!
Those who lend a hand -
Who helped you to reach thus far"

What I take from the tune is a message of simply being careful and showing some patience in all things, with the biggest fear presented being overlooking something or someone. 

Though 'No Night In Zion' may dominate the tracklist on "A New Day", as I said, by no means does it stand alone on the album. Including 'Oh Father I Love Thee', there're several tunes on this album which are wholly excellent. One of them would definitely be 'Nah Give Up' which is a tune actually produced by Luciano himself. This lovely creation is a piece calling to action people of Afrikan descent and its presentation, its MOOD and just about every other quality of it is golden. I also see it as a song just asking for better behaviour and upstanding life from all people as well and there are more than a couple of at least decent albums from Luciano on which 'Nah Give Up' would be the clear leader. Another of the biggest winners on this album would be 'African Skies' which is a CLEVER repatriation tune ["All mental scars will be dissolved under stars"]. This song kind of stands as a lighter version of the opener for me and it pinnacles in its latter stages where things slow down, the drums come in and, though in a chanting style, Luciano opens up and just says things from his mind. It is a BEAUTIFUL track! And speaking of nice things, also check both 'Spring Summer' and 'Tell Me Why'. The former is a cool song on which Luciano expresses the indomitable nature of his love and respect of The Almighty ["Spring, summer, autumn or winter, I will be loving Jah Jah. I will love Jah forever more"]. 'Tell Me Why', on the other hand, is a largely anti-violence (but he goes in a few directions) which calls for immediate changes in the world. Yet, I do have to mention in its instance that 'Tell Me Why' is also one of the most sonically pleasing selections on the whole of "A New Day", a feature which also surely brings it to my attention mightily. And there's also 'Traveler', which is probably my second favourite song on this album (this song is almost like a bonus whenever I spin this album. I come for "No Night In Zion" and then later remember that the same record carried 'Traveler'). 

"So I guess you know the story well
Oh Afrikans have been through hell
They were taken away to captivity 
They suffered the bonds of slavery
I stopped at the Gorée Island
And what I got to overstand -
Hundred-million or more packed like fish inna can -
And shipped weh to the Caribbean"


Well a longtime dem ah tell mi pure lie
And ah gwan like Afrikan dropped from sky
But enough things I man go deh go learn
Wi original and a dat mi confirm 
Well people there's a conspiracy -
To distort Black Man's history
And take away the anciency

Always love songs which deal so heavily with matters of The Afrikan Diaspora and 'Traveler' is one of the best of its kind that I've heard. Absolutely brilliant. 

And even some of the remaining efforts on "A New Day" are quite good with one being its title tune. The song kind of has that feeling that you would think of in a tune named 'A New Day', with a kind of a bright tone to it, and I actually well considered placing it in the previous lot of songs because it really is a nice piece and a fitting title track in my opinion (one of the best vocal performances on this album, also). Also nearly exceptional is 'Hardcore' (biggup Sizzla) which is one a pair of changeups on this album. It has somewhat of a different sound to it and Luciano's approach, at least in part, is almost deejaying at times and when he's done throughout the years, sometimes he's had some very impressive moments (check the title track from the "Rub-A-Dub Market"). 'God & King' is another borderline great song to my opinion. For me, this is a song about seeking a higher standard of life and the things you do in it. It also has this GLOW surrounding it and a really serene nature. Fraser beautifies it with his horn work at points and it makes for a fantastic display of a song. The same could definitely be said for the forward thinking 'Save The World' ["If you wanna save the world, you gotta save the children"] and the album closing, 'Journey'. It took me awhile to warm up to the latter (which is carried by an older riddim which isn't a favourite of mine and does sound somewhat awkward even here), but it has a typical Luciano charm to it, ultimately, which is unavoidable. Finally, check a pair of earlier tunes from the album, both of which are at least decent but not approaching standouts in my opinion. One is 'God Is My Friend', which is the other changeup. A remake of an old song by late R&B legend, Marvin Gaye, it is a suitable and solid cover, but unexceptional in my opinion. And then there's 'Only A Fool' which is just a quintessentially decent track from an album which is far better than "decent".  
Overall (what an easy review to write!), "A New Day" was a very solid set with occasional streaks of gold and one in particular. 'No Night In Zion' was and remains a PERFECT song and it will likely forever be the face of this album (at least for me), but it also is a doorway of sorts. I don't see a time in my life when I do not want to listen to this tune and to do it, I'll come back here and also get to relive songs such as ‘Traveler' and 'Nah Give Up' and 'Oh Father I Love Thee' and others. That, in full, is the legacy of an album like this one and I don't think that's bad. It is an indefinitely lasting positive attention and such concentration is how I'm sure Luciano wants his music to be appreciated. So, while he may (and he does) have better albums to his credit and will probably make even more of them in the future, "A New Day" is not to be overlooked. One song will get you here and it may even keep you here, but what else you find, collectively, may be just as good. One of the best albums Luciano has done.

Rated: 4.45/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Review #502

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 -
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
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

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
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!