Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Holding Firm by Ras Attitude

As if I needed more proof that I was getting old than the occasional gray hair I find and, of course, the diminutive person who shuffles about my house calling me ‘dada’ or any derivative thereof, within the last few years I’ve also noticed that my musical tastes have been shifting ever so slightly as well. I am now able to listen to and appreciate things which I originally left as ‘BORING’ or ‘UNINSPIRED’ as, I’m sure, the artists and producers had originally intended, seeing the real power of some of these pieces. This is very interesting to me because, I fancy myself somewhat of a modern listener, definitely respecting and spinning the classics, but not to the point of ignoring the new artists as well and that, in and of itself, wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but as I said, it’s not just with the classics anymore. For example, probably the most significant difference that I’ve noticed is also the oldest and a shift which occurred seemingly overnight. Luciano is a singer that I’ve always listened to but was never able to REALLY appreciate up until a few years back. Prior to that my primary vibsing with the singer came via the fact that he had several tunes like In This Time, Jah Line and Jah Blessings which were combinations with my favourite artist Sizzla Kalonji, which I, honestly, had been overlooking to a degree. Put anyone of them on now and I IMMEDIATELY love the vibes (I happen to be listening to Jah Line right now, big tune). This is also wonderful because, in my buy ANYTHING phase, I picked up quite a bit of Luciano’s catalogue which I am now able to fully appreciate and love. Of course this also led me down roads which led to similarly vibed artists like Bushman and Prince Malachi and, ultimately, to younger singers like Natty King and Prince Theo (and Mikey General, although very different, would definitely be somewhere in there by extension as well). A similar artist, I feel, would be the youthful I Wayne, who doesn’t necessarily fall into the same categories very much as Luciano, but has a VERY high moral code with which he writes his songs for the most part that they take a bit of time and a well educated ear, in my opinion, to really gain a hold of. I find it quite interesting that the tune which brought the Portmore singer to prominence, One Man Can’t Satisfy Her, which, although it did DEFINITELY demonstrate and display that very high ethical level which he delivers his messages, was VERY digestible and easy to listen to. However, many of those same fans haven’t stayed the course with the singer and his status in the game has been a bit diminished since, honestly. Things like these as well as others such as LOVING both Everton Blender and ESPECIALLY Yami Bolo these days (I’ve been on a Yami Bolo streak for like two years now, just out of NOWHERE it began), go to show me that maybe I really am becoming an old ass man.

I also have rather glaring but still (thankfully) quite rare examples of single albums growing on me over a matter of time, in my opinion, for little (if any) other reason than because my tastes have matured over that time. One of the most POWERFUL examples I would point to would be the case of VI Reggae wizard Batch who delivered an album by the name of Jah Guidance in 2005. That album was one of the most SUBTLE which I have ever heard and, initially (and quite awhile afterwards actually) I just didn’t respond to it very much, save for the music (Batch is, by trade, a producer and his music is always TOP NOTCH). Just a few years later and it continues to get better to me day by day as I STILL (and not on a rare situation) reach for it quite often. But then again, perhaps the maturity in my musical tastes had even taken place a bit back then as I would have had to go a little further than head-knocking Dancehall head to get to the point of even picking up an album from Batch. Thus, perhaps it is rather fitting that, in terms of albums, probably an even more glaring example than Batch’s Jah Guidance album would be the case of one Ras Attitude, Batch’s good friend and protégé, whose album LITERALLY had to get up and walk out of my door before I gave it a real listen. Enter Holding Firm. Holding Firm was an album which also came out in 2005 and I got it relatively close to the official release date (that date, in my respect, being the day I saw it pop up on whichever retail website I was ordering from back then) (probably gave it a few cursory listens through the first week before finally REALLY sitting down and giving it the attention which it deserved. When I did get to that, I noticed that it wasn’t the flaring MONSTER like the first Ras Attitude album which I had gotten was, Love Life. That album introduced me to a talent which I thought was VERY much like the Sizzla and Capleton and Jah Mason who I had gotten used to and DEFINITELY by then, although my tastes were changing and had already been changing for awhile, when I got to Holding Firm what I heard was something which wasn’t quite up to those standards; at least that’s what I thought at the time. Holding Firm soon disappeared from my players and my catalogue altogether as I passed it off to a friend or someone or another, seemingly NEVER to be seen again. Fast-forward about a year or so down the line and while listening to clips online of a Ras Attitude album by the name of Royal Lionage, I went back and start spinning through clips of Holding Firm and I heard a COMPLETELY different album! Gone were the (a little bit too) mellow singing which couldn’t possibly have delivered the same NATURE that came through on the Love Life album and the entirely too calm demeanour for tastes. They were replaced by some SMOOTH roots music not too much unlike artists I was listening to at the time like Warrior King and even Fantan Mojah to a degree. What I heard, also, were riddims I would quickly become accustomed to hearing on various projects from Lustre Kings, Zion High, I Grade and the likes. Even though it took me until 2007 (I THINK) to get it back. What I heard was MATURE Roots Reggae music. And it sounded NICE.

Holding Firm was released by Zion High Productions, who hasn’t been very active in terms of releasing, but they have been doing quite a bit of production and they currently have a pretty high profile (and EXCELLENT) album out with Breaking Babylon Curse from Messenjah Selah. They ALWAYS put forth fine material and this project was no different (including a STRONG Rebelution album from Yami Bolo). Getting this project, Ras Attitude’s third studio album, Holding Firm, started was the STRONG tune Why. This song is Exhibit A of songs that I didn’t like the first time around but nearly LOVED the second time I vibed Holding Firm. This tune has a very heavy vibes with an equally heavy message and is downright BEAUTIFUL! Excellent start. The next up is one of the highest profile selections on the album, Wrath Of Jah, which features Attitude alongside the aforementioned Batch, which is always primetime listening when the two come together (still waiting on a Batch - Attitude album sometime). Wrath Of Jah is no different as the two weave a vibes aimed at those who walk away from righteousness and His Majesty towards negativity in life over a BEAUTIFULLY understated and almost invisible riddim. One of the album’s finest there (Batch definitely steals the show on the tune). Completing the opening of Holding Firm is Where Did They Come From on which Attitude employs a tone in singing which isn’t necessarily his best, but works PERFECTLY with the vibes and the sound of the tune. The message here, similar to on Wrath Of Jah, is one speaking on the corrupt system working against His Imperial Majesty throughout society and how those who still trod the course shall ultimately do so under His guidance. All in all a big message and big opening to a BIG album.

The biggest difference between Holding Firm and Love Life and his debut album Happiness (which I received later) is that Ras Attitude takes a WHOLLY softer approach on the album. He sings quite a bit more and chants, generally, much slower throughout. And that’s a good thing. To my opinion the greatest example of that approach comes on the HUGE tune Let Jah Be Praised. This LOVELY tune flows over the same riddim which birthed a WICKED tune by the name of Don’t Waste Your Time from Lutan Fyah alongside Yami Bolo from Lustre Kings and a case could be made that it even tops that tune. This song is just a WONDERFUL praise of His Majesty and I say it so much but I always mean it: If Rastafari is the path in life which has chosen you, this song will reverberate throughout you, just as it did for me, as he says, “Praise Jah and everything will be fine”. DEFINITELY. Big tune and the best on Holding Firm. That softer approach continues to work for Attitude on HF. Check Bad Bwoy which comes across another familiar riddim I know (was used on NiyoRah’s big tune Nothing To Prove), and is essentially a warning to the masses (the youths in particular) to turn away from the gun and even if you do happen to find yourself in that life that there is a better way and not to break even the ‘rules’ in that life: Attitude says, “Why do you rob poor people when the rich man have the money “. Good question. All We Need reminded me of another big NiyoRah tune, Globe All Warming, as it rides the same riddim. Attitude doesn’t reach those levels (that entire album was SPECIAL), but he does a good, although unspectacular, show with the vibes and I think that’s something GOOD in this particular case because the message is one so simple that you shouldn’t overstate it definitely. Smile On Your Face (another riddim I recognize from somewhere) is a changeup here as it comes with its addictive BOUNCING style and the wonderful message not only literal (which is obvious by the title) but for the figurative as well: UP your positivity and you’ll feel better for it. Four tracks almost directly in the middle of Holding Firm have REALLY stayed with me and one of them was apparently so good that I remember liking it the first time I had the album. The first is Life Of Love which kind of builds on the MESSAGE (and only the message) of the previous tune to simply ‘spice’ in some love to your life. The next tune, the title track, was the one which I liked even in first run through the album named after it. The song has a very COMPLEX vibes to it and is one of the very few tunes on the album with a discernible ‘edge’ to it (very SLIGHT in this case, but present nonetheless). This song has a message of overcoming the system and maintaining oneself in the eyes of so much negativity and problems which is a big and IMPORTANT message. That, combined with the sounds make it easily one of the best tunes on the album and a clear choice for the album’s title (although I might have named it Life Of Love instead given the vibes, although that may have been too close to Love Life for the label). The final in the string of big songs in the middle of Holding Firm [aka Life Of Love] is the classically vibed Truths And Rights which sounds downright DIVINE at times to my ears. Marcia Ball (who I think may be from out of Jamaica) checks in on the later tune Without You (I think she also did a tune with Pressure Busspipe), a nice lover’s piece which has another classic vibes to it. And leading down the stretch of Holding Firm, Greetings impresses to a degree and is another tune with a noticeable EDGE to it’s building and it is a straight forward praising tune of His Majesty (Attitude also, nicely and fittingly, gives big respect to the Queen as well, Her Imperial Majesty) . Lovely song and one of the album’s finest moments. To close out Holding Firm, Ras Attitude goes biblical and, unsurprisingly, a bit acoustic, for Olive Tree. This one is a very nice tune, another one praising His Imperial Majesty. It takes such a nice vibe musically speaking, however, that it really stands out in a good way from the rest of the songs on the album, even though I’m not calling it the best tune. Its still something special to my ears and a mighty fine way to end Holding Firm, sitting under that olive tree (I testify that my God is there for me!”).

Overall, I shouldn’t have to say that ONLY roots heads need to apply on this one, but I will anyway. And you almost HAVE to have a MATURE and well conditioned ear and tastes to appreciate it. The overall quality of the album is very high as well, so, if you are such a listener I’m not saying it’ll be the greatest thing you’ve ever heard (it won’t be), but Ras Attitude’s Holding Firm will DEFINITELY have something to offer you and on good terms. Hey, it took me YEARS to be able to appreciate it and now that I do, it isn’t the worst he’s done (that distinction belongs to Happiness) and although it doesn’t reach his best work (that honour belongs to Trodding Home in my opinion), who knows? Maybe in the next four years I’ll like it even more? In any regard, at the very least Holding Firm is a very SOLID addition to the catalogues of modern Roots Reggae fans worldwide. Just give it a minute.

Rated 4/5 stars
Zion High Productions

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