Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Hosanna by Sizzla

In terms of movies, the term ’cult classic’ usually denotes some type of second or third (or fourth) class film with a lot of second or third (or fourth) class acting, quite a bit of screaming and ’semi-nudity’ (whatever that is). These films usually aren’t even good enough to make it into theatres and are usually more appreciated for what they aren’t, rather than what they are. In music, you won’t hear the term much, what you’ll hear instead is the term ‘underground’ as far as something comparable to the ’cult classic’ in the arena of motion pictures. An ‘underground’ album definitely isn’t registered on the same levels, in terms of perceived quality, as a cult classic film, but if you dig a bit deeper, the similarities may be more vast than you think. With an underground album (or mixtape these days), the production isn’t always top notch: You’re not going to be spending money on the finest producers if you’re not planning on giving it a heavy level of distribution. And also you’re not likely to get the best from the artist themselves, again, reserving their absolute best for their big time projects. In Reggae music, however, as some may call the genre itself ‘underground’, you tend to get some really SPECIAL material from such albums and, just like in the case of the movies, you tend to get some very ‘curious’ followings for them as well. If you SPECIFICALLY look more into the artists who are entirely overactive (such as the artist in question here) you tend to get some pretty nice examples of direct or even indirect underground albums which went on to gain a nice level of popularity. Take, for example, Luciano. The Messenjah is one of the very few artists who seems to have taken quite a WONDERFUL advantage of that JetStar/Charm/Rude Boy mess of labels and the last time he reached with a release on that account, back in 2006 with Revelation Time, he scored. The talk around that year for Luciano was mainly surrounding his VP release (unsurprisingly), Child Of A King which was well deserved, that album was VERY nice. However a small select group of people definitely clung onto Revelation Time and even going on three years out of the way, that seemingly nondescript album (in a long line of nondescript albums) continues to impress. Turbulence is another artist with more than a coupe of lesser known projects to his credit which still receive big respect. Back in 2005, there was a piece from M Records (which I think is a Dutchie label and I think its still active) by the name of I Believe. Turbulence had two higher profile albums that same year; Triumphantly from Kingston Records (Kemar McGregor production) and the AWFUL Songs Of Solomon from VP, and in retrospect you could make strong case for I Believe being the best of that bunch. Lastly, Jah Mason’s entire catalogue is littered with BIG albums which largely went unnoticed by many outside of the hardcore Reggae heads (like yours truly) including the absolute BIGGEST he’s ever had in my opinion, 2004’s Never Give Up. If you’ve never heard, do yourself a favour and dig it up (its actually available digitally now I’ve found), it was simply the best work the Mason has ever done and probably about a hundred people have heard it.

All of that being said, however, by far the KING of releasing albums which become almost ghostlike about two weeks even after they’re pushed out, is Sizzla Kalonji. While the days of these artists releasing three to five different projects a year have seemingly either gone completely, or were a temporary casualty of the economic situation, when they were going and strong around the turn of the century, Sizzla ROUTINELY kept fans on our toes (whether by his own doing or just labels with songs) with multiple releases every year and being undoubtedly the most popular of that bunch that was doing that, ALL of his albums came with the possible condition that ‘THIS IS THE GREATEST SIZZLA ALBUM OF ALL TIME’. Of course they weren’t but, whose counting. Although he may have had more albums in single years a couple of times in his career, probably the most talked about and arguably the most notorious was back in 2002 where he delivered a downright GEM of an album and surrounded it with five other releases. That GEM was, of course, the Da Real Thing album from VP Records and we also got Blaze Up The Chalwa from JetStar, Greensleeves album was Ghetto Revolution (which was pretty bad in retrospect), two pretty much MYTHICAL albums in Up In Fire (2B1) and Blaze Fire Blaze (Whodat Records, which I’m sure never did anything ever again) and HOSANNA! Of all the other albums from 2002,outside of Da Real Thing, Hosanna had more discussion surrounding its release than any of them. Why? I have no idea. Hosanna came via the now presumably defunct Reggae Central label from out of Jacksonville, Florida, ran by one ‘Justice’ M. Halsall. Exactly in the way you’ll have the crazy ‘B-Movie’ or ‘cult classic’ which will, in full, receive quite a bit of attention even when compared to more popular (and actually good) films, Hosanna had an UNBELIEVABLE following and had kind of a chic type of appeal when it came to many hardcore heads, to the point where you had people actually saying things like, “the REAL Sizzla album of the year is Hosanna, not Da Real Thing”. Well those people were insane (and I may have been one of them for a minute) and as the word and popularity of Da Real Thing album spread, that type of discussion was silenced for the most part but Hosanna kind of has fallen into a category of its own. Sizzla has several albums like Liberate Yourself, Brighter Day, Speak Of Jah, and even the Jah Knows Best album which stand as kind of average and middle of the pack type of projects but it kind of sticks out because it’s the one of those albums which is actually REMEMBERED greatly. Hosanna, although it can be pretty difficult to find and as the years go by it gets more and more absent, has remained a fairly productive piece, especially in the annals of independent releases and again, the question is why? Lets see.

Hosanna (despite its title) might be the DARKEST album Kalonji has ever done (with respect to Taking Over), even with the uplifting and straight roots tunes. The vibes on this one are just MOODY and actually I think that’s part of its ‘charm’ to a degree as, released next to Da Real Thing which was far from dark, it’s kind of like the version of Sizzla which was getting all of the critique for going to far but going too far unapologetically on Hosanna. The intro here is a kind of an out of place part of a tune accapella style which, should you listen to it enough will almost assuredly grow on you so be careful. But the first tune on Hosanna actually turns out to be one of its finest Live The Life You Love. What you hardcore heads will notice about this tune is that it actually rolls across the same Queen Majesty riddim as none than Just One Of Those Days (aka Dry Cry) from the Da Real Thing album. This tune clearly isn’t on that level, however its still very good and is typical HIGHLY complex style of Sizzla delivery and writing without sounding like it. It is a bit overstrained, but you won’t mind. Big tune. The next tune is the first sight we get that something unusual is afoot, but again, you won’t be complaining. Catch The Place A Fire was a moderate hit for Sizzla around the same time as this album and it was one of the real attractions on paper on this one (I think it also appeared on a Sizzla Toe To Toe album with Capleton or Junior Kelly). The tune comes through on a HEAVY relick of the classic Promised Land riddim and is just pretty much MIGHTY but its vibed so unusually that you only hear if you REALLY dig into it. There’s nothing missing with the tune however and if you can’t feel the tunes peculiarity, you’ll still pretty much love it. After another accapella stop (not as impressive as the Intro) is the opening’s final tune, a charming but ultimately FLAT lover’s tune, All For Me. The tune is pretty much filler (although FUN FILLER) and ultimately harmless.

If three intro/interludes don’t convince you and neither do two instrumentals flat in the middle of the album, then maybe the fact that the real CLASS of Hosanna comes in the form of two VERY strange and FRANTIC type tune right in the middle of the album. The first of those two is the very crazy sounding Volcano over the old Heavenless riddim (which you’ll have to listen to about forty times to figure out that it’s the one). This tune is just NUTS, not as crazy as the one which follows it, but it seriously sounds like two or three tunes wrapped in one. It won’t really appeal to the PURE roots heads, I’m sure, but it’s damn fun roots anyway. The next tune, the title track, is even more fun and after its pulsing start it ascends into a very bouncing type of vibes over which Sizzla deliver’s a message to His Majesty which, at times sounds like he’s just making it up off the top of his head. The results are HIGHLY effective and just as highly ADDICTIVE. The album’s finest tune and a clear choice for the title tune (despite the vibes here don’t follow it, probably a better title would have been Volcano actually). Just to set away the first half of Hosanna: Both Cut & Clear and World Wide Love are VERY good tunes. Cut & Clear is a straight LUSH Nyahbinghi drum backed chanting and seriously it just really makes you feel good, even its sound alone. And World Wide Love, while more ‘typical’, is very good as well and comes over another classic riddim, the Tonight. And both of those tunes have clean instrumental tracks chasing them both, respectively (the Cut & Clear riddim is LOVELY and it also contains the backing singers from the vocal cut). After Hosanna the song, there is but one more tune on the album named after it which, in my opinion is undeniably good as the other few just fail to really hit the mark and the best thing you can say about some of them is that they are ‘fun’ to some degree or another. The one which is CLEARLY a good song just so happens to be the one which is next up after Hosanna, Conquer Them. I can’t quite put my finger on this riddim, but I’m sure I know it from somewhere but this tune is HYPE, yet put together well. Some may definitely frown on the violent nature of the tune but I will still argue and maintain the tune’s real strength because of the way it is vibed. It’s not done in an obtrusively ANGRY way, its actually an uplifting tune, just, as I said, quite DARK. The difference in Conquer Them and Sharp Shooter couldn’t be more evident. Sharp Shooter is just USELESS outside of a dance I suppose and I can’t imagine it would do MUCH damage there either, in spite of the fact that it rushes in on the Gunmna riddim, originally from the King Jammy’s catalogue I believe. Talk All You Want is a pretty fun sounding tune but it really doesn’t do much. Actually of the tunes following Conquer Them, I’d say it was my favourite, not that its hard to be, but I wouldn’t say it was one of the album’s finest still. Its just quite clever and a kind of darker roots tune which I’m sure grew on more than a few people (and if I keep playing it, I’ll be one of them). The pretty straight forward Dancehall track Words Power & Sound is another one which I don’t feel really does anything for Hosanna. This is another fun one but it doesn’t stick out in anyway and it didn’t, in retrospect cause much discussion. The random interlude sets the stage for the closer, the only tune here which I’d call BAD. Skloom Skloom is just AWFUL. That riddim there MIGHT grow on you, but that would mean that you would have to sit through the lyrics and why would you want to do that to yourself? Bad ending to a bad stretch of tunes for an album which didn’t need it.

Overall for those of you STILL maintaining that Hosanna was in ANY way, shape or form better or even equal to the levels of Da Real Thing, it really is time you let it go. Hosanna, while definitely not the WORST Sizzla album I’ve ever heard (see Addicted), pretty much fits right in the middle of the pack, surrounded by albums like Soul Deep, Life, Black History, but again, it fits into a different category because of the type of fanfare it received and continues to receive. I’d recommend tracking it down primarily for new listeners as it definitely isn’t typical Sizzla and should you be coming from another genre’s background, maybe that would help. So to answer the question of why this, Sizzla’s probably most celebrated of ‘underground’ albums has attracted THIS much attention over the years? Maybe Da Real Thing’s MAGIC has carried more than just itself through all these years.

Rated 3.75/5 stars
Reggae Central Records

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