Thursday, August 27, 2009

Always Welcome: A Review of Culture Dem Vol. 3 by Various Artists

Just within the last three years or so the business of releasing of Reggae albums has changed so dramatically by my observations that it literally looks like a different landscape altogether at this point than it was in 2005 or so. Besides the obvious: So many record labels have gone under including two of the former ‘big three’ of Reggae labels, Jet Star and (kind of) Greensleeves (and if you would have told me back then that Jet Star and ESPECIALLY Greensleeves, who I LOVED, would be out of virtually out of business just a few years later I wouldn’t have believed you at all (although if you would have said that VP Records would have bought Greensleeves, I may have rather quietly jumped for joy)) and with the usual changing of the times, there are artists who are viable now that either weren’t a few years ago or weren’t around at all. We’ve also, surprisingly, seen fewer and fewer album releases from the pack of artists including Sizzla, Turbulence, Luciano, Anthony B and others, who were ‘notorious’ for releasing upwards of four or five (and sometimes MORE) each and every year. This is undoubtedly due to the different labels having vanished from the scene, although, perhaps it’s another issue of the changing of the times as nowadays neither Lutan Fyah, Natural Black nor Midnite seem to have difficulties getting albums out almost whenever they want. As many fans weren’t too fond of this practice, it kind of has gone largely unnoticed but, as someone who pretty much appreciated it (except when I was BROKE), I do have to admit that I would love to see Sizzla push three albums in the last four months of 2009, for old time’s sake. There has also been the WONDERFUL development and effect of the digital market on the music. In Reggae, in particular, where there is SO MUCH hard to find material and the demand for it, while perhaps not up to the standard which would warrant completely new pressing and printing of the albums again, might just be enough to call for the far less pricey digitization of a given piece and I cannot begin to tell just how much rare still I, myself, have gotten through the digital means. Also, on that same front, although it may not be the best decision financially, there still remains a pretty steady stream of new labels popping up almost monthly (although more in terms of actually making music and less on the distribution side) and going digital is definitely a lot easier for them before they have made enough money to be able to actually print music on any grander scale (so we biggup people like Zojak still). So definitely things have changed in Reggae albums and thankfully, I think, ultimately for the better.

Like the many multiple album releases from several artists and the various labels, another ‘casualty’ of the last few years of sorts, has been the Reggae COMPILATION (not mixtape). Again, undoubtedly due to the vanishing labels we’re seeing far and far less compilations than we did before. BOTH Greensleeves and Jet Star were large providers of compilations (ESPECIALLY GS who would, year in and year out, release FAR more compilations than they would actual albums from their own SIGNED artists. VP has also taken a step back from the compilation, releasing much less editions of their famed Riddim Driven series than before and now limiting their just as famed Strictly The Best series to one album per year instead of the double release it was through most of its history. It is that series aspect, in particular, which you’ll find is missing on the large scale and just sitting here trying to think of what my favourite running series of Reggae compilation is, I’m kind of having a hard time and ACTUALLY, unless I’m really overlooking something, that honour may belong to Greensleeves’ Biggest Reggae One-Drop Anthems (the 2009 edition of which releases in just a couple of weeks from this writing) (and the tracklist is looking nice!). Perhaps I would have to come up with a new title for the compilation in question here, however (maybe I could call it my favourite compilation ‘emeritus’ or ‘favourite in recess’), as from back in 2002, I’ve always made it a case to keep an eye out for not only the Culture Dem series but its creator as well, the Lustre Kings Productions label from out of California in the States. Although that may sound like quite awhile (and it is) and LKP has definitely done far more great things besides Culture Dem, in that seven years’ time, we’d only had two installments of the compilation. The original release was absolutely WONDERFUL and rather easily one of my favourite compilations EVER. It introduced me to, in large part, Lutan Fyah and LKP would go on to release his sophomore album (almost immediately after his debut), Time & Place which still remains one of his biggest to date in my opinion. The label would also release albums for Turbulence (The Future, through Jet Star) in 2003 (one of his best), Midnite (Infinite Quality) and more recently, Al Pancho (Joy Bells Ringing), Noble Society (Take Charge) and Norris Man (Know The Road) just last year. They would also, more importantly for the sake of this review, release a nice and solid volume 2 of Culture Dem in 2005. Now, almost COMPLETELY OUT OF THE BLUE, having seemingly decided that they’ve enough material to feed into it both kind of old and kind of new (and very new), Lustre Kings Productions now releases volume three of Culture Dem which I GUESS I’ve been ’eagerly anticipating’ (of course I didn’t know when, or if, it was coming) and I GUESS lives up to my ’hopes’. The album basically follows the proven winning formula laid by its two older siblings in terms of set up and for the most part, the actual SOUND of the album. Of course, it’s predominately hardcore modern Roots Reggae (although one of the sections has a decidedly Hip-Hop edge to it) (which is pretty nice in that case) and that’s the fan who is going to appreciate it. Despite the fact that basically no one knew it was on its way, Culture Dem 3 proves to be a fine piece and a fitting new addition to this quietly WONDERFUL Reggae series.

The way the album is structured (just as the previous two were) is with a few different riddims (five in all) basically taking turns with several tracks on each riddim. The album (again, just as the first two) also happens to feature some of the most talented Roots artists on the scene right now which definitely can’t hurt. Getting things started on Lustre Kings Productions’ Culture Dem Vol. 3 is the very odd Salaam Addis riddim with three VERY familiar offerings. I find myself running into this case on MANY compilations because I just listen to A LOT of music: I know all three of the tunes on the riddim. I’ve heard them all. The first is PROBABLY the finest as Lutan Fyah teams up with Natural Black and Turbulence on Move Out. The Salaam Addis is this crawling, Asian stringy sounding riddim which sounds like a meditation riddim (having vocals across it almost ‘ruins’ the mood of it) that just sounds LOVELY but kind of weird in its place at times. Noble Society checks in next with an effort from their album Take Charge, Mama So Divine. It’s probably because I’ve listen to it the least of the three but this song sounds quite nice here. Lastly, is the well popular Dew from Vaughn Benjamin, which appeared on his 2007 album Infinite Quality (and its dubbed out version from the following year). The tune is the EPITOME of strange on the surface but you have to REALLY listen to it deeply. Doing so can make the Salaam Addis virtually disappear leaving you to sift through Benjamin’s brilliance for the true strength of the tune. The song completes an opening which is ‘very interesting’ to say the least.

Then the fun begins. Every other riddim on Culture Dem 3 is a bit more ‘hospitable’ (to my vocabulary) and NORMAL as, after having tied your mind in knots, Lustre Kings Productions gives you a bit of head bobbing opportunity with the stirring rest of the album. Up first/next are three tunes, two of which are familiar, from the LUSH Clean Life riddim. Both Norris Man and Al Pancho check in with two of the best cuts of their recent LKP albums, (Know The Road and Joy Bells Ringing, respectively) with the condemnatory Live Yuh Life Clean and the very intelligent Worlien. The tunes are kind of similarly vibed, as both chanters, in one way or another, go after those who fight against righteousness and they’re big tunes definitely. But the real attraction here was a tune I hadn’t heard AT ALL before First & Last which features bigtime Lutan Fyah alongside (I THINK) former 5th Element singer King Imani, who I didn’t even know was (still around) working with LKP. This song is probably the best new(er) song on CD3 to my opinion as the two make a wonderful combination you NEED to keep an eye on Imani, I was quite high on the sweet voiced singer with a few tunes I had heard from years back from him and First & Last is probably better than all of them, so definitely I’m looking forward to seeing him out there more. Next in is the previously mentioned Hip-Hop vibed piece, the Afrobot riddim (I knew they’d run out of names eventually for these things). The riddim gets three shots (again) from some of the more energetic artists on the album with Determine sounding very good on his COOL Burn Out Fi Dat but he’s outdone by Mabrakat (who’s back after appear on CD1 but not CD2) who basically WILLS his HYPE sounding tune, I-Aughters to the head of the class of the Afrobot (and, oddly enough, I DON’T like Jah Mason’s bit on the riddim, If Night Should Turn To Day). The single strongest riddim on CD3 comes in next in the form of the VERY familiar Rainbow riddim. The sweet Arabian sounding riddim, if I recall correctly was one of the very first LKP put out and even featured on Lutan Fyah’s aforementioned Time & Place album. That tune, She’s Like The Rainbow is also featured here but it’s the first two, Jahdan’s WICKED Golden City and I LUE (!) returning from CD1 with the BIG See Dem Going Down. Jahdan (from Noble Society) supposedly has his own solo album forthcoming and if its full of tunes like Golden City, it’ll be SERIOUS! The song describes the world of His Majesty and how we are to reach for it (it also features one of THE lines of the album, “. . . in My Father‘s house, there are many mansions - And we no pay no rent!). Big tune. And the criminally underrated I Lue gives a tune which I THINK I know from a different riddim but it sounds BIG hear, See Dem Going Down. Always like to see I Lue doing ANYTHING at all because the man has LYRICS and if you’ve never heard Bushman’s good friend, definitely take a listen to See Dem Going Down. Culture Dem 3’s last bunch of tunes come across the recent Proverbs riddim. I’m partial (as hell at this point) but the riddim features my choice as the best tune altogether on CD3, Messenjah Selah’s She Ask Me Say. The tune grows on me more and more each time I hear it and by this point, it’s definitely one of my favourites, period, right now. The rest of the tunes here, however, are largely unfamiliar to me. Chezidek comes through with the nice Right Time on which he declares Babylon’s reign of terror soon over. LKP veteran Khari Kill comes through with the even stronger Levitate, one of the biggest tunes on the album, definitely check that one there. And the Trinidad Roots fireman leads us to the ending two BIG artists, Lutan Fyah who absolutely DESTROYS whatever is left of the Proverbs riddim with his VERY BIG Slow To Anger and lastly (and WONDERFULLY) veteran loud voiced singer Chrisinti links with LKP on the beautiful unifying vibes Same Hands. Chrisinti has always been in that second pack of my favourite artists and he’s always managed to stay there because of efforts like this from one of the most consistent Roots Reggae artists in recent years delivering a BIG close to a BIG compilation.

Overall, Culture Dem Vol. 3 isn’t as big as Culture Dem Vol. 1; I could have told you that before I even had the album. However, it is bigger and considerably so in my opinion, than CD2 and a more than welcome addition to this series. Unsurprisingly, it gives a nice insight to what has and what will be going on with Lustre Kings Productions. Up next is apparently a riddim album release for the Proverbs riddim (which ‘coincidentally’ is the only riddim on CD3 to get five tunes) which supposedly is HUGE with artists coming from all over the place besides the five here (I’ve also heard a nice one from Marlon Asher). Culture Dem 3 is recommended to fans of modern Roots Reggae of all degrees and even though I may have to wait until 2012-’13, for volume four, as long as His Majesty keeps my time here, I’ll be waiting.

Rated 4.25/5
Lustre Kings Productions

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