If you REALLY dig into the annals of the REALLY obscure, you find even more interesting cases such as with the now MIGHTY but once virtually unknown chanter, Jah Mason. The Manchester native whose story I feel like I now know like the back of my hand (traveled from his home PENNILESS in order to get his big break auditioning for the legendary Junior Reid) now ranks amongst the most in demand Roots artist on the modern scene, but just as recently as a few years ago or so, toiled in ABSOLUTE anonymity like so many of his peers. Unlike many of them, however, the Mason had a level of TALENT which is undeniable and even though it took the well experienced yet discerning eyes of Junior Reid, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that he would have HAD TO have gotten through the door in another way had that been his course. I myself became aware of Jah Mason through a compilation which I now regard as nothing less than CLASSIC, the WONDERFUL Saddle To The East from the once powerful Brick Wall label. That compilation I bought while still living in the States back in early 2001 I believe and mainly because it had five new tunes (to me) from one of my favourite artists, Anthony B (including Good Cop which was a BIG tune). It also had four from one of my favourite underground Roots artists, the WICKED Steve Machete, who was then unknown to me as well, but beginning the album was five tunes from a “Jah Mason”. I was HOOKED on the Mason with tunes like Nah Left Mi Woman, Dem Gone and ESPECIALLY Life Too Pressure catching my attentions with his very SIMPLE but still impressive style. Jah Mason wasn’t the complicated ‘word visualist’ like Sizzla and he wasn’t as consistent as Anthony B, but he had this kind of ‘moody’ or ‘streaky’ appeal to him which I hadn’t heard in awhile, if at all. So, I was one who was VERY happy when later in the year I discovered Mason’s own debut album, Keep Your Joy (still waiting for Machete’s unfortunately) for the now (I THINK) defunct Ghetto Technology from (of all places) Seattle, Washington in the States (and my research tells me it’s the only thing they EVER did). Keep Your Joy has since become the first of, by my count, ELEVEN studio albums in the seven years since (not counting 2009 of course) with one more loaded and ready to go. You could also argue that it was one of the best. The album features a Jah Mason who, although CLEARLY still developing his talents, is an artist who has already begun in his maturity and is more than merely a foundation for the WICKED artist who would soon arrive (If he is a 10 now, during Keep Your Joy, he would’ve been a 7 or so).
Around the time of this album Jah Mason would have been one of the many faces hanging around David House, the camp made famous by the aforementioned Capleton, amongst others and, to my knowledge, along with only singer Moses I, Jah Mason is the an artist from that camp who has actually had an album (not including Munga who came much later or Fantan Mojah who apparently didn’t stick around too long) on their own (still waiting on both Military Man and Jah Thunder, longtime members). Getting things started musically on Jah Mason’s debut album, Keep Your Joy after an intro where Jah Mason (formerly Perry Mason) tells us about how he got his new name, is the COOL title track. Keep Your Joy is a tune which has become somewhat of an underground CLASSIC for Jah Mason. The song (and the album for that matter) arrived not too long after Mason’s good friend and frequent collaborator, Jah Cure went to jail and, I don’t know if he SPECIFICALLY wrote the tune for his friend, but that’s how it’s been taken (there’s also imagery and words to Jah Cure in the album’s liner notes) and has DEFINITELY helped the popularity fo the tune which was somewhat of a delayed hit and now you can see Mason still perform it occasionally. Big opening with one of the album’s best tunes. Next up is another nice tune, although not as nice as the title track, Impress, a tune livicated to the Afrikan woman. This one also has a much slower vibes to it, it’s interesting how he goes after these also because it sounds just a BIT awkward here (although not on Keep Your Joy), even though the chorus is SOLID, this tune is EXACTLY what I mean by him still developing here, Mason singing Impress now is potentially a hit tune. Solid enough here still. Completing the opening here is one of only (by my count) two combinations on Keep Your Joy and the largest profile of the two, False Hype, alongside underrated singer Chrisinti. The tune flows on the same King Of Kings riddim Capleton and Moses I DESTROYED with their tune Crazy Looks (which I’m pretty sure is a Jennifer Lopez remake) and these two offer a much more conscious spin on the riddim which is very impressive and ultimately one of the best tunes on the album altogether.
Listening to these now it kind of sticks out to me how much Mason sounded like a version of Capleton. Thus, the majority of the best material on Keep Your Joy is on a harder vibes as Mason had yet to REFINE the smoother style which would eventually score him hits like Princess Gone. A PERFECT example of this would definitely be my choice for the album’s best tune altogether, the WICKED Fire. Fire is a tune which came well within the ‘FYAH BUN’ stage of Roots Reggae in the early 2000’s and it went too far under the radar. This tune is an old school sounding Dancehall track over which Mason just BLAZES against corruption and all out nastiness! It is also a favourite of mine because it appeared on the Saddle To The East album as well, its large on either stage and on this one, it’s the largest there is. [Better] Be True is another one on a similar vibes where it’s hard hitting and it was actually one of the bigger hits on the riddim (its actually available as a single from Bulpus (who produces a bit here). And, keeping in the line, [Woman] Preserve It is a tune which definitely hits hard in telling the ladies to wait before meeting that special someone (preferably, by Mason’s wishes, a Rastaman) to become intimate and just generally keeping a positive vibes with as well. Keep It Like that is another heavy tune and this one actually features an American sounding rapper by the name of Jah Seven. The combination here is quite well and even though I’d NEVER heard of Seven (before or since) he definitely makes a nice vibes with the Mason no the WICKED tune, one of the real attractions on Keep Your Joy. The later tune, Smoke, is one which hits me on a few levels because I don’t know if I’ve heard it from somewhere else or I just know it from here, regardless it is a very BIG tune. It is, however, topped by the nearly EXCELLENT Zion Place which is a KNOCKING tune and downright addictive at times. This one will have you singing right along from chorus to ridiculously energetic verses throughout and it may just be the second best tune on Keep Your Joy altogether. As I said, Jah Mason circa 2001 still had a bit of work to do on the other, less intense portion of his game, but that’s not to say he was completely barren on the vibes and there are some pieces here which show the levels definitely to be solid on that side as well. They probably get no more solid than on the DIVINE Lift Up Di Name which is a straight praising tune for His Majesty, for Marcus Garvey and for Prince Emmanuel and I REALLY like this one. I say Mason has a very straight forward style at this point and Lift Up Di Name is a PERFECT example of what I mean by that with the free flowing style. HUGE tune. None Shall Escape is kind of vibed between harsh and slower as the delivery here is kind of odd at time with the Mason’s almost ‘jagged’ type of vocals. The tune really grew on me after awhile though and I have to say that it’s kind of my QUIET favourites of Jah Mason’s even today still. As Keep Your Joy winds down it goes to it’s finish with two very nice tracks which pretty much have gone unnoticed, Keep The Fire Blazing and Think All Is Well. Keep The Fire Blazing is, as I said, a pretty good tune, but it’s also pretty generic (unlike Fire), although it does have a bit of free-versing feel to it at times. Think All Is Well, on the other hand, is downright BRILLIANT at times. The BOUNCING tune which reminds everyone to really be careful and keep an eye out for EVERYTHING, lest we think all is well, when it really isn’t. Think All Is Well is easily one of the better tunes Keep Your Joy has to offer and a very fine way to end matters here.
Overall, this is damn near CLASSIC material for me. I so LOVED this album, not that it was the greatest album that I had ever heard, but it just came for me at a time when I was going through my own things in my life (like sighting up Rastafari myself) that it basically HELPED me with that (as did Sizzla‘s Bobo Ashanti). As it stands, impartially, however, Keep Your Joy is still a very good album, Looking into Jah Mason’s subsequent releases I would say Keep Your Joy EASILY ranks in the top half of his eleven releases only clearly trailing Never Give Up (his finest) and the Wheat And Tears albums and alongside albums like Most Royal and Unlimited. If you are at all a fan of the Mason’s then you know that means very good and if you aren’t actually a fan, then Keep Your Joy might be a good place for you to start. Of course that is if you can track it down. Should you pursue it and find it, it’s well worth it. Keep Your Joy was the very first stop for an artist who has now fulfilled on all of the promise he showed back then, so going backwards, for your journey Keep Your Joy is definitely a fitting reward.