Monday, April 20, 2009

From Behind The Shadows: A Review of Love & Affection by Pressure

Last year there was an album release by the name of Be Prepared from a simply incredibly talented singer by the name of Jamelody from out of Trinidad on VP Records. Prior to that album, VP’s only involvement with the home of Soca and Calypso had been just that, in Soca and Calypso as they annually release the wonderful Soca Gold compilation and had recently signed a deal with Ragga Soca King, Bunji Garlin which spawned a nice album named Global the year before in 2007. VP, the largest distributor of Caribbean music in the world had all but ignored the likes of (very marketable) Khari Kill and Marlon Asher, both of whom had bonafide hits to their names (Picture Of Selassie and Ganja Farmer, respectively), as well as the ever present and ever consistent Queen Omega as well. And, although the results on Be Prepared were mixed, to say the least, it was considered such an important album because not only did VP link Jamelody, but they also paid his travel to Jamaica where he recorded with legendary producer Bobby Digital to work the lion’s share of the production for his debut album. Obviously they held him in such supreme regards (and PURELY on listening to his voice, you’ll know why as well) that it was a risk they were willing to take. That’s’ first. Secondly, the label and also it’s closest competitors in Greensleeves and JetStar, over the years had also ignored non-Jamaican Caribbean based Reggae acts who had already proven themselves capable of not only carrying vibes throughout an entire album, but actually being able to SALE as well. The leader of this ‘outside’ pack would definitely be St. Croix based staple, the best damn Reggae band in the world, Midnite Band whose LONGTIME contribution not only to Virgin Island based Reggae, but Reggae as a whole, is so well regarded and respected in the extended Reggae community worldwide, that it seemed only a matter of time before VP or someone near that label paid attention. Well we’re still waiting and waiting, in the grander picture, for the Reggae ‘hardcore mainstream’ (if such a thing exists, I would certainly be a citizen) to FULLY recognize the big Reggae artists from outside of Jamaica more and more because, granted probably not Midnite, but some of them are just as marketable as some of our very own Jamaican artists who the big labels have taken interest in and signed and have established fan bases stretching across the planet in full. When this does happen on a large scale (and it will someday, I’m sure), I think you’ll see an even greater interest taken in Reggae music as it opens up the possibility that someone who can take Reggae to the next level within their own area emerging and planting seeds within that community with perhaps even more powerful youths to come.

But maybe we don’t need to wait for the ‘powers that be’ to make the connections. While Jamelody was out last year busy doing promotion for Be Prepared another talent had made the Jamaican connection but in another way. One of the most underrated albums of the year, Coming Of The King, from an artist by the name of King Cephas who was actually from Jamaica (biggup Westmoreland) had linked with HUGE Cruzan veteran producer/artist (/everything else you can think of) Tuff Lion, wonderfully doing so on a smaller scale and that was big blessings, albeit, again, underrated and overlooked. HOWEVER, that being said King Cephas linking up with Tuff Lion was definitely the second most popular DIRECT linking between artists and really the ‘establishment’ of Jamaican Reggae and those outside of Jamaica as the year before, a combination of MAMMOTH proportions had taken place. An artist who had caught my eyes and ears just a couple of years or so prior to that (thinking around 2004-’05) on the strength of his WONDERFUL debut The Pressure Is On, which had literally been DESTROYING the Reggae underground and the internet and had convinced to buy it which turned out to be one of my smartest purchases of that year and in terms of debut albums, one of the smartest ever, period. The album showed me a talented artist who was a MIRROR-IMAGE of Jamaica artists like Sizzla, Anthony B and Turbulence and, while he may not be the single most talented VI Reggae artist around altogether, Pressure’s style CLEARLY was one which was ready for the primetime spotlight in Jamaica at that very moment. Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one whose attentions had been caught by The Pressure Is On album as, for some reason unbeknownst to me, Reggae super producer Don Corleon promptly linked up with the St. Thomas based young veteran of the famed Star Lion Family and in doing so, in one SWOOP, not only aligned him with arguably the highest profile Jamaican based producer at the time (and arguably even STILL) but gave him a HIT tune which one would normally associate with being NECESSARY for young Jamaican artists to reach the next level but hadn’t (at least not to my knowledge) been the case with artists from out of the Virgin Islands (at least speaking in terms larger of the profile with WELL solid tunes such as The Pressure Is On and No Limitation which were certainly big in the VI) to bust into the Jamaican market, which simply didn’t seem to be an option previously. Pressure joined an official stable with Corleon which featured Reggae songbird Alaine and Rasta bad boy Munga Honourable and just as he did for both of them, Don Corleon fulfilled on releasing an album, the second for the potential superstar from out of Rock City (technically his third because this is the re-released version). This album, Love & Affection, named after that aforementioned HIT song DEFINITELY reached far more ears and attentions than did the first as the song itself had grown into such a FORCE that it even got VP’s attention: It appeared on their genre leading compilation Reggae Gold 2007 (and pretty much every other compilation as well). The album named after it? In either form, while arguably not as good as The Pressure Is On, had all the FLARE and the DRAMA one would LOVE to see from an artist leaving one place, headed to a place with literally No Limitation.

This is the second releasing of Love & Affection the album as it was originally released in 2007 but re-released (with two additional songs and a remix) strictly for the very popular Japanese market, both editions have proven to be very popular and rightly so. Getting this started on Pressure Busspipe’s BIG TIME coming out party, Love & Affection is one of the strongest tunes on the album and something that sound as if it may have been a holdover from The Pressure Is On, the well righteous Bless The Children. The one-drop on this wicked piece aimed at uplifting the youths is downright CASCADING! It’s just such a lovely vibes Corleon presents to the chanter and, of course, Pressure hit’s a homerun in the process of dropping a very nice opening bit. One of the album’s singles, Ghetto Life, is up next and it is a bonafide MASTERPIECE. Working through the ages, Corleon provides Pressure with a wicked version of the legendary Baltimore riddim as well as ‘guest’ vocals sampled from an old King Kong tune (now did you know it was King Kong or did you think it was Tenor Saw or Nitty Gritty at first?) over which he pushes a tune on the ills and struggles he experienced growing up in St. Thomas (and still living there). You’ve heard such a tune thousands of times before (think Welcome To Jamrock), but this one goes well above the stereotypical ‘strugglers anthem’ and falls into another category altogether. Brilliance. One of the album’s best there. Completing the opening of Love & Affection the album is Love & Affection the tune which is a FAR cry from the tune which precedes it in so many ways, but is similar because it too was brilliant and is my choice as the album’s best tune altogether (DUH!). This lover’s tune was just SO DAMN SWEET literally I was looking forward to playing it for my wife the first time I heard it, it was my ONLY thought (she probably heard it before I did though actually) and it was very powerful and gave Pressure a Jamaican #1 tune in the process. This is modern mastery in terms of lover’s rock music and someday I think he may even outdo this one. One can only hope! MASSIVE ending to a full on MASSIVE beginning.

The main difference between Love & Affection and The Pressure Is On lies with tunes like the title track and Ghetto Life: L&A is quite a bit more melodic and colourful, whereas The Pressure Is On (produced by the WICKED 340 Studios who brought Pressure to prominence and continue to work with him quite often) was far more straight forward (although ultimately better overall in my opinion). Such a phenomenon is evident throughout L&A. Check Touch The Sky which sounds downright angelic at times as Pressure’s singing tone is well developed now. The tune itself may not be the strongest (but then again, it may be) but regardless the sound on the tune is hypnotic and when Pressure lights into the first verse he builds the vibes so high and that verse doesn’t disappoint at all (neither does the second). Hear My Cry, which is amazing, comes across Corleon’s ridiculous Far Away riddim (another of those serious one-drops) and absolutely RULES the sound. I haven’t spoken too much of Pressure’s lyrical ability but definitely listen closely on this one and the reward is that SPRAWLING chorus synching things up so lovely on another not so simple sufferer’s anthem (which is GORGEOUS!). Still the honour of being one of the more unusual sounding pieces on L&A would DEFINITELY belong to Be Free which is one of the prime attractions on the album. There is an addictive keyboard/piano sound going on in this one (Corleon’s riddim of the same name) and the tune itself is very uplifting and just such a positive vibes pushing us to be free of the corruption and the general negativity in the world and live a better and more pleasing life. Couldn’t agree more and you’ll agree with me that Be Free is A+ material. Need more? Personality (bka Stress) comes in on the once mighty Dancehall riddim, the Bluetooth which is such a FAR FAR cry from The Pressure Is On (it’s a conscious Dancehall tune, of course). As is a later tune, the very popular Never Fail which is stronger than Stress and comes over Corleon’s high-tech Back Ache riddim. And not to just breeze by it, but check Most Wanted as well, the obligatory herbalist anthem, which went under radars for the most part but definitely has a freestyling and Dancehall vibes to it (and having heard Pressure freestyle, it is one of his favourite topics in such a setting), albeit flowing on a noticeable (nice) one-drop. If you’re absolute hypnotized by the title track and want to see Pressure take another lover’s vibe, two tune remain in the latter stages of the album, No Fight and the very high profile So Appealing. No Fight is LUSH, the tune is another lovely one-drop on which he paints a picture ‘so appealing’. Truly music for your eyes. On the actual tune So Appealing Pressure dazzles on the Love Potion riddim with one of the best and most popular pieces from this set altogether. So Appealing did big business for the artist and while I’m not necessarily to put it on the same level as L&A, so many others were and remain doing so. HUGE tune in any regards. The later portion of the album also feature a decidedly conscious direction as well. Check the downright ODD Boogey Man which is another very popular tune from the album. This one features Pressure going both social and spiritual simultaneously as Pressure pushes some of the more impressive lyrics (in a style which almost appears to be purposefully a little TOO laid back) on the album. Africa, to my ears is even stronger (and less polarizing) than Boogey Man. This is the mandatory nyah drum backed tune here which is also the repatriation song as well. I ALWAYS find myself liking these tunes and Africa is no different. Complete with the drumming, which I love, is a nice Afrikan chanting sound with the backing singers which pushes this WONDERFUL song to even higher heights. Also ‘down here’ is another popular song Till Shiloh Comes which isn’t my favourite on the album (sounds a little corny to me at times). Before setting the stage for the very simple yet nice, original album closer, Why. This song is just minimal in terms of sound that you almost go over it, but it has very strong and concise lyrics to it (particularly in the second half of the first verse), definitely don’t pass it over.

The Japanese version features two more tunes, both very nice, Your Love and Blessed Be. Your Love is a very COOL lover’s tune over Corleon’s seldom used riddim of the same name. Blessed Be is a praising tune for the world and for His Majesty, it’s written so two dimensionally that, that becomes its true appeal as he applies a traditionally well spiritual message to more tangible worldly situations. And does so very nicely. There’s also a non-consequential Love & Affection to REALLY end the album.

p.s. Check Show Love as well.

Overall, Love & Affection is DEFINITELY what I’m sure Pressure and Don Corleon set out to do: It is a very accessible album, particularly to the younger crowd with all of its dynamic melodies, and it still introduces the TRUE artist. My well indoctrinated and somewhat jaded and biased ears still prefer The Pressure Is On every so slightly as I’m sure most Roots heads and hardcore Reggae fans will, but that doesn’t diminish this one at all. Pressure is the type of artist who can, rather easily, show different sides of himself without REALLY changing his vibes too much; I.e. while the two albums have different vibes, I’m not SHOCKED that they come from the same artist. Pressure Busspipe’s career to date has been a BLUEPRINT of how to bust an artist. Whether under the guidance of Studio 340 or Don Corleon (or both), he has managed to show how Reggae in the Caribbean outside of Jamaica is not only GOOD but saleable. Love & Affection, the song and the album is potentially such a SIGNIFICANT album for the future of the genre as it puts notice to the ‘powers that be’ to take a closer look at the best region on the planet, outside of just the single best place on the planet.

Rated 4.5/5 stars
Don Corleon
2008 [re-release version]

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