Saturday, September 5, 2009

Finally Paying Attention: A Review of Finally Captured Live by Inner Visions

I often find myself speaking about just how Important the presentation of Reggae music can be on people who have yet to take a deep interest in our music or an interest at all. Often times, for whatever reason (usually monetary) Reggae doesn’t receive the type of glitz and glamour surrounding releases and even down to the releases themselves which aren’t always very well done in terms of general appeal. That being said, however, I think, in terms of the ULTIMATE form of presentation of anything (having someone who does/did something showing you THEMSELVES what they do/did), that Reggae music ranks right up there with the best of them as we are truly gifted with some OUTSTANDING performers. In fact, I think Reggae is one of the very few musical genres which can (and does) tangibly PUNISH artists who may not be very good with their performances. The prime example of such a thing would DEFINITELY be Dancehall superstar Sean Paul who, despite the fact that even the most critical observer of his would have to admit makes (at his best) some downright ADDICTIVE Dancehall tunes, was, for years, held back in terms of status in Jamaican Dancehall largely due to his week stage show. You could make the argument that it STILL continues to be a sticking point with his reputation locally with some fans also, his inability to recreate the same vibes in person that he does in the studio (although he has WELL improved in that area to my opinion). Similarly, but on the COMPLETELY opposite side of the spectrum is the legendary Ninja Man. If you’ve ever really listened to Ninja Man’s music, you would have almost certainly noticed that he has about three or four melodies altogether. That’s it. You’ll notice that songs like Murder Dem, My Weapon and Border Clash all utilized roughly the same melody and, when listened to together through the course of an album, are quite boring. HOWEVER, should you have the good fortune of EVER seeing the Ninja live and in person (even if he’s not at his best!) it’s potentially an experience you’ll almost certainly never forget. The man is that good. And with a very colourful and clear dependence on the live show as Reggae has, I often find it odd that we don’t have more in the way of those performances transferred over to the disc (or the digital these days) for releasing to the masses. The fit would seem to be SO obvious and with a history which is so glaringly full of such material, the very fact that we it so rarely these days is confusing to say the least and we definitely give thanks to people like 2b1 who CONTINUOUSLY make ‘resource deposits’ in the field of live Reggae albums.

That being said, perhaps it’s wise, in one way or another, to look at the Virgin Islands which has largely become a ‘holding place’ for many trends which seem to have left Jamaican Reggae over the course of time. It has gotten to the point where it has almost become a cliché that Virgin Islands Reggae is Jamaican Reggae, circa 1975 as the way things are done (ESPECIALLY the actual musical output) are reminiscent of that era. Two things in particular apply from that in this case: Along with the aforementioned live presentation of the music is the concept of a fully functioning, self serving and EFFICIENT Reggae band which, aside from those groups such as Firehouse or Prophecy or Shiloh (which perform almost strictly in tour and with certain artists, Sizzla, Capleton and Buju Banton in these cases, respectively) (although Firehouse does work as a unit in terms of production although the quintessential lead singer role would typically vary in that case), has been all but lost in Jamaica over the past few years with very few literal exceptions (like Morgan Heritage). Not the case is that in the VI as the biggest and most well known Virgin Islands Reggae act is and has been for a very long time, Midnite. And although whatever ’Midnite’ is these days remains up in the air, you’ll often them, even still, referred to as the best Reggae ‘band’ on the earth. And Midnite aren’t the only ones, of course, the VI also boasts of big talents such as Bambu Station, The Reggae Bubblers, DAPP Band and others still such as The Zioneers and the Red I Band who act in much the same fashion as the previously mentioned Jamaican bands as they can back a variety of different artists (Bambu Station also does this but have their own lead singer in Jalani Horton. Well, if you hadn’t already, feel free to now WONDERFULLY add to those ranks a band who has probably been around longer than all of them, Inner Visions from out of teeny tiny St. John. To speak to Inner Visions’ presence in the music, I can rightly tell you that I have no idea, in terms of a timeframe, when I first heard of them, they’ve just ALWAYS kind of been there. Just last year, the group, which is largely made up of members of the same family, the Pickerings, released their fifth album overall and their very first Live piece, the fittingly titled Finally Captured Live (and I like the word Finally, meaning that obviously there had been quite a bit of requests of the group to embark on such a project). The album was recorded as part of a tour the band made of Europe from 2007. Now, I could speak to the great performers we have in Reggae and I could speak to the downright STRANGE performers we have (like Elephant Man or Capleton, both of whom seem to ALWAYS strike the stage with passion generally reserved for a Soca Monarch stage) but what you hear with Inner Visions’ performance on Finally Captured Live is something SO NICE, and yet SO WEIRD that I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it to this degree in Reggae. While you definitely hear some type audience response and you hear what you might expect to hear in terms of vocal inflections of someone who is singing while moving, for the most part the Inner Visions’ Finally Captured Live ‘captures’ them making the music almost EXACTLY as they might in the studio. Absent are the usual ‘overhypeness’ and such activity as Inner Visions just deliver the music as their fans will know it and their potential future fans should know it.

It’s very interesting that of the groups I mentioned, just last year, Midnite also released their live album debut in the form of Live 94117 and just a few years back in 2006, The Reggae Bubblers also did the same with their effort, Live On Assignment. And were that not enough (and it was), Bambu Station also released a live edition of their Talkin Roots Tour (which featured a whole heap of VI artists, including Pressure Busspipe) on Project Groundation in 2006. It truly comes with the territory, I suppose. Now throwing their names into that market is Inner Visions whose Finally Captured Live gets started with the intro to the show and the first few tunes on the Love One Another Medley. Now this is interesting because it really isn’t a matter of a ‘medley’ as I would comprehend it usually (which would be a piece of a song followed by a piece of a song, followed by another piece) but is, instead, simply FULL song after FULL song, resulting in one track tapping out at just over a minute shy of a half an hour. The big name tune here is also the name of Inner Visions’ very first album and what you’ll hear here is considerably ‘better’ than what you’ll hear on that original album (and you can check it out as WONDERFULLY all of Inner Visions’ catalogue is now digitally available) and still with the big and simple message of spreading the love to every corner of the planet. The next tune, Cool Reggae Rhythm, also gives the original a run for its money (it’s certainly more ‘dynamic’ sounding) as it keeps the levels seriously high and it was right about here that I started to question if I was listening to a LIVE album at all. One of my own personal favourites from the Inner Visions is up next, Pack Up Yo Bundle (it, like Cool Reggae Rhythm appears on the Spiritual Dancer album).This tune is BIG in any form you might hear it in and, again, even though it definitely has more of a ‘bounce’ to it, you definitely don’t want to neglect the message on the tune which is its REAL strength in my opinion. No More tears is a tune which came from the Street Corner Musicians album that I honestly didn’t spend much time with but I recognized it almost immediately and it is a big song really but one which will ultimately take more than just a couple of spins through to be able to appreciate. The VERY solid Black Sheep (which is a lyrical highlight here and a tune which was probably very nice to see live) and the only tune on the album I don’t like, School Daze (Love One Another album) wraps up what is otherwise a stellar start to Finally Captured Live.

Despite the fact that FCL has two nearly half an hour long ‘medleys’ I could have told you what the finest tune here was even before it listening as it also contains a rendition of probably my favourite (at worst my second favourite) Inner Visions song altogether, the MAMMOTH Ethiopia which sounds so close to its original form (Street Corner Musicians album). Ethiopia is one of the most simple and less dramatic sounding pieces that you’ll hear and it’s absolutely brilliant on the literal and figurative levels. The tune is, essentially a repatriation anthem but it absolutely SPRAWLING and covers so many different subjects under that heading and does so on a vibes which you just cannot forget. BIG tune. Ethiopia is the signature of three basically ‘one-off’ tunes sandwiched between the two Medleys. The other two are also very nice: Check Burn Down Babylon (which apparently was a new tune and may be featured on Inner Visions’ forthcoming album Stay Alive in January 2010) and then there’s Spiritual Dancer, the title track from the album of the same name, a tune sent in tribute to Bob Marley and definitely one of the signature tracks for which Inner Visions is known (it takes a minute to get going but it‘s worth the wait). The second medley, Rebel Medley is strong as well (although I might say that I prefer the first) and a definite highlight of Finally Captured Live. It begins with the tune Rebel (DUH) from the Frontline album (BIG song on that album by the name of Evelasting Love is the only Inner Visions tune I’ve heard that may be better than Ethiopia) which is a very nice and very comprehensively written tune to my ears. The song sort of follows in the line one might imagine, given the title but it also speaks of very ‘non-rebel’ like activity such as friendship and love but apparently even Rebels need love (and some would say that especially rebels need love). The next tune on the medley, Can You Feel It is apparently quite the favourite with the crowd. I will say that I do enjoy this tune but it sounds absolutely EPIC on it’s album, Frontline, so while the live rendition definitely held my attention, that original version still sticks out in my head. There’s a tune later on the Rebel Medley that I didn’t too much recognize (apparently titled True Hearts) which is a pretty basic lovers tune but comes across so nicely in the form here. It was about this point (yes, it took this long, I’m embarrassed) where the quality of the instrumentation just becomes so obvious with the one drop on this tune which is downright ANGRY. And Blasphemers, another big tune from the Frontline album closes out the Rebel Medley. Unlike with Can You Feel It, Blasphemers sounds better on Finally Captured Live and ends with a stirring bit which then goes completely musical and is AWESOME at points. Well Done. FCL actually reaches its end with another single tune, Mr. DJ which is just a fun tune to send things out on and it isn’t bad actually at all.

Overall the main thing initially is to not be fooled (as I was) by Finally Captured Live’s misleadingly paltry six tracks as the so called medleys are absolutely FULL of rich material. I’m kind of disappointed that they didn’t mix Everlasting Love in the set list this time around but I’m sure I’ll catch it live myself one day. The Inner Visions are yet another DEVASTATINGLY talented name from out of the Virgin Islands and they’ve taken a step like Finally Captured Live to absolutely just push everything in your face, leaving you with no excuses at this point: After a live album and four studio pieces, you can’t really ask for too much more and, as I mentioned, FCL is SO well put together that it’s almost like less of a ‘live album’ and more of a greatest hits to a degree. So if you, being a fan of modern Roots Reggae (with a slight inclination to the old school) come to your senses and decide to ‘finally’ check them out, Inner Visions’ Finally Captured Live might not be too bad of a place to start.

Rated 4.25/5
Inner Visions Music
2008


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