Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Purification Session by NiyoRah

I’m sitting here trying to figure out exactly how many TRULY GREAT Reggae albums that I have heard in my years of listening to albums and although I don’t consider myself to be the harshest of critics, the number really isn’t that high compared to the overall amount of albums I’ve probably heard. And, of course, that’s both a good and a bad thing. It is a good thing in the sense that the word ‘great’ is far too often thrown around, especially in matters of the arts (musical or otherwise) and bad in the sense that I can honestly say that I’ve probably heard upwards of fifty thousand or so Reggae ALBUMS and how many of them were TRULY GREAT? Maybe thirty. How many of the great ones were from the modern era? Maybe fifteen. So what makes a great Reggae album? Different things and it depends on the specific album, of course. But in the scope of a Roots Reggae album (which is, after all, why we’re here) the top criteria to my opinion is that the particular album serves its purpose. Now that’s interesting, of course, because either the purpose of the album, musically speaking of course, is not stated and is WONDERFULLY left to the interpretation of the listener; or the purpose of the album is some rather lofty and unattainable goal (I.e. “Ridding the world of oppression in any form in which it may exist“) which cannot be achieved in the course of the album, however, it is, again, left to the listener’s interpretation to see how far along that album has come. My first and foremost example of a great Reggae album in the modern era is, of course, Sizzla Kalonji’s Black Woman & Child which is the single greatest album of any genre I have EVER heard in my life. For my own personal opinion, the purpose of that album was to UNIFY and really just UPLIFT Afrikan people and I feel that was a goal which was rather EASILY accomplished in the course of that masterpiece. Similarly, another great one would be Buju Banton’s CLASSIC album ‘Til Shiloh in 1995, which, in my opinion , had a similar purpose as a later album, Capleton’s More Fire. The kind of parallel attribute which they both had in common was that they both somewhat REDEFINED the genre. Whether you took them as Roots Reggae albums adding a Dancehall-ish dimension or vice-versa, they both had that sort of rippling effect on the industry (and I’ve always made the argument that More Fire was one reason in Sizzla’s hyperactive experimental phase) as well as the fans of the music. There are more criteria, of course, for GREAT albums (like music quality) and other albums, of course, which have met these ‘requirements’ on my levels, such as Jah Cure’s STIRRING Ghetto Life and Sizzla’s other opus Praise Ye Jah which have stood out from the pack of miles of Roots Reggae albums as being head and shoulders above the rest.

Well sometimes you can be a standout without actually standing out. A few of my favourite albums in recent years have gone so far beneath the radar that I often feel as if though I’m the ONLY person who knows about them because of how little they’re actually discussed amongst Reggae heads. Albums like Elijah Prophet’s King of Kings, Jah Mason’s Never Give Up and Queen Omega’s Away From Babylon didn’t receive much buzz at all in their respective runs (add Daddy Rings’ MASSIVE The Most High album to that bunch) but each, their own ways were downright SPECIAL projects and big credit goes to the artists, producers and labels who definitely haven’t received their fair share of credit throughout the year for putting forth those pieces. Well another album I have held in similar regard over the past couple of years or so as being a GREAT piece is definitely the wonderfully titled Purification Session from Rock City based Dominican born chanter/singer NiyoRah. Not only did this album virtually catapult itself near the top of my list as far as albums go, it also did the same for the artist as well upon its release back in 2006 from Laurent ‘Tippy’ Alfred’s I-Grade Records. Now Purification Session was one which came with a ‘primer’ for me because I had thoroughly enjoyed Niyo’s very first album the year before, A Different Age, which definitely opened my senses to receiving the next album after it (incidentally, I should just mention that A Different Age was a part of the biggest promotion I’ve ever known I-Grade to half as it virtually simultaneously released it along with Conquering Sound from Ancient King and Rasta Awake from Army and I find it VERY interesting that the only artist for whom they have released an album since then has been NiyoRah). NiyoRah, even before A Different Age had my ears opened to his vibes being a part of the famed Star Lion Family from out of St. Thomas alongside superstar Pressure Busspipe and other strong members as well (Ickarus, Raffijah, Kimbe Don etc.) and after Pressure was the first of the SLF to release an album (and Niyo actually reached a sophomore piece before Pressure and since then Ickarus has debuted as well with Mind Of The Icktionary in 2007). In all of their exploits, together or solo however, the single GREATEST project to come forth from the Star Lion Family and its members has been Purification Session! This album went so far, at least to me, to arguably establishing NiyoRah’s talents as the best in the group (when at their best although I would probably say that Pressure has shown himself to be a bit more consistent at this point, just given his opportunities up until now). Purification Session was just such a big project and an undeniably large improvement over the A Different Age album which was already a very fine and solid introduction from Niyo and one could even make the point that the first album has been even more respected and discussed than it’s follow-up. Regardless of that case, Purification Session is the best album NiyoRah has done to date and back in 2006 ranked alongside albums like Tanya Stephens’ BRILLIANT Rebelution and Lutan Fyah’s MASSIVE Phantom War as one of the best Reggae albums of the year, period.

On the A Different Age album, production was left to Tippy himself and company (Tuff Lion), however, wonderfully, joining I-Grade on Purification Session is very familiar collaborators Lustre Kings Productions and Zion High in the States. That definitely spices up the vibes on an album where EVERY SINGLE SONG is at least solid. Solidifying itself and getting things started on NiyoRah’s OUTSTANDING sophomore album Purification Session is one of the real highlights on the album, the simmering Nothing To Prove. This SWEET vibed tune is one of Zion High’s productions and Niyo uses it to deliver a nearly brilliant tune of Afrikan upliftment and unity. This tune in the form that it appears here, wouldn’t have been on the first album as Niyo had simply improved so much between the two. LARGE opening. The next tune is arguably better, from a musical standpoint, and although it is much more specific as Niyo uses a storytelling style to deliver his powerful message of looking to His Majesty and righteousness in general to get us through hardships we may face in life, on the tune There For You, another Zion High production. Keeping things going on the opening few tracks is a BIG Livication to all of the Afrikan Empresses, Special Request. Although pretty expected is Special Request, it still rises to amongst the CLASS of Purification Session and I really enjoy the direction in which Niyo takes the tune from a lyrical point of view: He doesn’t just approach it from the standpoint of simply lauding the Woman (which is more than acceptable), but he also focuses a bit on the actual relationship between Man and Woman, as he says on the hook, “Special request, bigging up the Rastaman weh love Lioness”. And a GENIUS Tuff Lion guitar solo leads the tune out. BIG tune, Big beginning to a BIG album.

A Different Age only had one official combination, R.O.C.K. which featured fellow Star Lion members Kimbe Don and Ickarus alongside NiyoRah, but what happens on Purification Session is absolute MAGIC when it comes to the combinations. The first of the three tunes is also the best in my opinion and the finest on the album altogether. African Chant was the LONG awaited first big time official combination between Niyo and Pressure Busspipe and it certainly didn’t disappoint! This tune is MASSIVE and the two make a very MIGHTY duo, as expected, it’s a song that if you are of Afrikan descent (and I am) will definitely strike a chord in you, trust. HUGE tune, album’s finest. Incidentally the producer of African Chant (on behalf of I-Grade) is the artist on the second combination on Purification Session, the peerless Vaughn Benjamin, who checks in with Niyo on the WICKED tune Lion Have Mane. The crazy bounce of this tune (produced by Tippy) is right up Benjamin’s alley and he absolutely steals the show and reaches a point in the late middle of the song where Niyo is simply playing active backdrop to Benjamin’s brilliance! The tune is a mighty praising one for His Imperial Majesty and you simply will not forget this one! EPIC! The final combination here is certainly the most unexpected as the SMOOTH tune Nobody Knows features Cruzan veteran and potential superstar Ras Attitude joining NiyoRah. Unlike the first two tracks, this one is so laid back that it basically flew beneath radars in my opinion, but the ABUNDANCE of talent on the song, which simply reminds us to accept LOVE, is evident throughout. Let it grow on you, you won’t regret it. When Niyo is left to his own powers he definitely keeps the vibes of Purification Session just as high. The tune Kick Up is one after my own heart as it comes across one of my favourite LKP productions, the Shining Riddim (Lutan Fyah’s Fire In The Barn, big tune on that riddim) and is a wicked lyrical SLAP in the face to corruption and the systems which promote it. I don’t often find myself really enjoying acoustic sets (especially not in the middle of an album), but the one here, We Are One caught me A LITTLE. Perhaps it’s the fact that this tune is ran by Tuff Lion, or perhaps its Niyo’s sweet vocals or message. Either way, the tune is a winner for me. Another winner is definitely I Love The Way which I believe was featured as a single for Purification Session. This is another familiar one as it comes across LKP’s Arabian vibed Time & Place riddim (I THINK that’s the name) and is just a dynamic and sweet lover’s tune which was certainly aided a bit by the nice video. I Love The Way can definitely be regarded as one of the signature tunes from Purification Session and another three come up not too long after; Caught Up Inna Image, Globe All Warning and the HUGE We Shall See. Caught Up Inna Image is a more aggressive swipe like tune at those who deal with the more material things and vanity and such and with that HEAVY riddim backing it, really does big things. Globe All Warning is just BRILLIANT. The tune is (DUH!) a piece on the environment and the destruction of it and it is HIGHLY lyrical. There’s nothing obtrusively wonderful about the tune but you REALLY have to get into the lyrics as Niyo not only paints a BLEAK picture of the world and it’s future, but he also paints a way out of the coming failures. Its just so well written as the song appears to, midway through, shift from the negative to the positive. BIG one and easily one of the album’s finest. The tune We Shall See is a previous single from Rastar on their own riddim named after the label and was the biggest tune on that HUGE riddim as Niyo pushes a MARCHING upliftment vibes that is simply too aggressive to have been present on A Different Age. This song was probably one of my favourites from 2006 altogether and on this album, it isn’t very far from the top at all! As Purification Session comes to a close there are still a couple of surprises around. None of them bigger, perhaps, than Wha Yu Feel Say which is EXHIBIT A if you need to see the shift between the first album and this one. The song is pure KNOWLEDGE and comes in a pretty straight forward delivery on a Dancehall DJ’s cadence! The song is probably the most lyrically impressive on the album and that’s saying a great deal here. Definitely check that one out. The aggression sticks around on the next tune a bit with Defend which is a song which urges peace but not passivity and to DEFEND yourself if/when the time comes. That’s a big one there. Always is another acoustic piece, this time in a nice lover’s vibe (kind of reminds me of Sandy Weekend from A Different Age, as far as how its sung, a little). It sets the table for the aforementioned Nobody Knows and the SWEET closer Inner Light. This one is one of the album’s best as well. It really could have been an instrumental and still be strong as that riddim is just GORGEOUS and for his part Niyo pushes a tune which urges the masses to pay special attention to the voice coming within to end this eighteen track piece of MASTERY.

Overall, NiyoRah’s Purification Session is probably one of the best ten albums that I’ve heard since the turn of the century. Yes, it’s that good. What is probably most impressive is the fact that I remember listening through the A Different Age album when it released and thinking how impressive the youth sounded back then (and how much he sounded like Warriour King) and definitely that was a solid album, yet Purification was LEAPS AND BOUNDS ahead of it in all respects. Musically speaking, it just may be the single greatest album that I’ve ever heard from the VI Reggae scene altogether and lyrically one of the more impressive (of course, on that side of things NiyoRah has to ‘compete’ with walking word processor Vaughn Benjamin) ones. Over the almost three years since it’s release, I find that it’s material has only gotten stronger and only gotten more anticipating of his inevitable third album, maybe even this year (I-Grade did release a mixtape for Niyo in 2007, Stolen Scrolls which was full of tunes from his first two albums). Regardless of the future, leave it at Purification Session and its STILL VERY IMPRESSIVE. As I said, one of my top criteria for a great Roots Reggae album was if it accomplished its purpose. The purpose here? To make good music: Check. To praise His Majesty: Check. To uplift the masses: Check. To actually purify: Check. Mission accomplished. One of the best damn albums I’ve ever heard, period. AMAZING! GO GET IT!
Rated 5/5 stars
I Grade Records

No comments:

Post a Comment