Sometimes I just get really good feelings about these things. Not that I’d go as far as to call myself psychic or anything, but throughout the years I’ve definitely shown, at least to myself, that my instincts in ‘picking em’ can be pretty good at times. Of course this goes above and beyond the typical notions. For example, I had a pretty good idea that I might in some way, sort of, kind of, enjoy Tarrus Riley’s latest masterpiece Contagious and the very fact that I was certainly didn’t shock me to any great level. And definitely the same could be said for quite a few high profile releases this year, which lived up to my initial expectations. What I’m referring to here, more specifically, are these releases which, although they may be proportionately (in Reggae terms) relatively high profile, they’re usually not at all, but something about them tell me that what I’m dealing with there is something I literally cannot afford to miss out on. In regards to similar projects to the one I find myself dealing with here, I can draw on pieces like the initial Culture Dem album from Lustre Kings Productions, which summarily went on to become one of my favourite albums of all time (and while working my way through this one, I found myself referencing that masterful project by thought more than a few times). Further back than that, there was the personally MASSIVE Saddle To The East as well, of which I had a pretty good idea that I would more than just enjoy. As far as artists (semi-related here), just last year two pieces stood out, both Back To Africa by Harry Mo and King Cephas’ Coming of The King albums. These two albums became two of the best albums of 2008 in my opinion and I basically KNEW it would be so even before I picked them up and both also were unfortunately overlooked and were without very much talk and hype at all. So now it seems as if I have hit the jackpot again, however, this time perhaps a downgrading of my clairvoyant status is in order as, if you knew ANYTHING at all about this album and couldn’t see that it was a LOCK to be EPIC, then please, please stop reading my reviews. When you throw into that same mix, a strong consideration of the album’s origin, being the latest creation of Laurent ‘Tippy’ Alfred and company at the largest and most reputable (almost strictly) Virgin Islands Reggae label, I Grade Records, whose track record is about as strong and consistent as anyone’s currently in the game, you get to a point where, if that feeling that what you’re getting yourself into is really that STRONG (and it is), it’s basically a guarantee.
So, let us make a Joyful Noise. There is a very nice website by the name of ViRoots.com which listed an album right in the middle of the homepage as far back as maybe two months or so ago. The album, if I recall correctly, was heralded as I Grade’s first compilation release since Weep Not. That incredibly upstanding album, Weep Not, from back in 2002 has become very much a CLASSIC in the eyes of many (including yours truly) as it was packed full of vibes from a nice variety of artists and was just all around very well done. Since then, while not reaching back into the compilation stream (which is astonishing when you think about it), I Grade, instead, has maintained its status via pushing albums from some of the biggest artist on the VI Reggae scene and, in the process, like I said, establishing that name and that brand as the most reputable on that same scene and worldwide as one of the most dependable in Reggae today. With all of that being said, when I first saw the cover to this album by the name JOYFUL NOISE and saw that it was coming through I Grade Records, I had absolutely NO DOUBT that it would be not only one to check, but potentially one of the single biggest pieces of the year. Why? Well, besides everything surrounding the reputation of the label (and my own personal opinion of I Grade, which is very high), the planets and stars just seemed to be aligning themselves properly as, although I had NO idea exactly what (and more importantly WHO) would be on the album up until about a week or so before its release (and I didn’t know exactly when it was coming until quite recently either), the actual TIMING of such a project just seemed so nice as, apart from a few bright lights here and there (most recently Ras Attitude’s MASSIVE album I Meditation), there hasn’t been a TON of spectacular moments on album this year from the VI scene. It’s been solid, definitely, with efforts from the likes of Attitude, Midnite and Lady Passion (unless I’m forgetting something REALLY HUGE), but a ‘boost’ of sorts would definitely look nice. Meet the boost. Joyful Noise from beginning to end and everywhere in between is ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR and I had no doubt about it from the very first second I saw it. When I finally did actually get to see the tracklist, I was even more impressed than I has suspected I would be as, joining the names and faces I expected to build a set like this, were (WONDERFULLY), a very nice blend of artists from outside of the VI, including two of my own personal favourites EVER and a very special artist adding a track as well. Also, there are a few names from the VI scene who you may not have expected to see here (I certainly didn’t) and ALL of them are very welcome surprises and, on top of that, really skilled artists as well who are capable of pushing the vibes here even higher, if that’s possible. As it plays out, what you really start to notice of Joyful Noise is that EVERY song is on point. Going through a duration of twenty tunes, in order to say that, you must have some serious talent and that’s exactly what you have here. Again, having released music, and, in many cases, full blown albums, for some of the most talented VI artists for the last decade or so (and a few outside of the VI), Joyful Noise couldn’t have come from a better or more fitting imprint; a fact which is reinforced twenty times on the album.
The way the album plays out is that there are twenty tracks which are divided in four ways, with each set of five coming on the same riddim (spread out in fours, not consecutively). The four riddims which make up the album, The Discipline, Flying High, Harvest and Grasslands are all very well done and feature some of the best players of instrument in the business. The same could be said of the vocal artists and the first to try their hand at this HUGE project, Joyful Noise from I Grade Records, and get us started is the surprising Duane Stephenson. Having gained so much attention just in the past two years, I was kind of surprised to see his name here, but Stephenson is definitely one of the shining stars on the album and his (SWEET) social commentary ‘Hard Times’ (Harvest Riddim) is an excellent way to begin matters. Speaking of surprises, definitely one of the most welcome is one of my aforementioned two favourite artists, Trini Reggae Empress Queen Omega, who KNOCKS through the Discipline riddim with her outstanding praising tune ‘Footsteps’. “He’s for real. He promises to lengthen up my days, if I would only give HIM the praises due unto HIM”, she says on the lyrically GLEAMING tune, which has to be regarded as one of the best on Joyful Noise and I’m STILL struggling to find which tune may be the absolute best here, but Footsteps is right up there EASILY. The surprises continue with the next tune as the once much ballyhooed and discussed Nazarenes from out of Ethiopia push through next with ‘Everlasting’. This one, although it had to grow on me a minute, kind of hit me odd as I was between sleep and consciousness and had the tune on repeat and awoke wondering exactly what I was listening to, only to find that it was Everlasting which is absolutely brilliant over the Flying High Riddim. And I hope to see the Nazarenes in the fold a bit more with a bit more well known and skilled producers such as Tippy.
Of the four, my favourite riddim on Joyful Noise is the probably the GRAND Grasslands, which backs not only my favourite tune altogether on the album, but another which gives it a great run also. Pressure Buss Pipe (apparently set to give us something later as well himself) dives in and does so with amazing results on his effort, ‘Modern Pharaoh’. This one hits on so many levels, as it’s a social commentary, a historic track and just huge all around and not only rises to the top of Joyful Noise, but near the top of his already nearly legendary catalogue! BEAUTIFUL! Duane Stephenson comes back and, in my opinion, tops Hard Times with the ENCHANTING ‘I’m Fine’. TEARS! I, honestly, haven’t been paying the August Town native as much attention as I should have, but after Joyful Noise and the broken hearted lament, I’m Fine, which is unfortunately so relatable, specifically, I definitely will here, forward. The always welcomed Batch also goes at the Grasslands with his wonderfully uplifting tune for the young, ‘Youths’. The ever-present Jahdan Blakkamoore also makes a very nice approach on the riddim with the dazzling ‘Red Hot’ which is excellent as is ‘Power Of Love’ from the final surprise on Joyful Noise, Norris Man who checks in with the finest tune I’ve heard from him in maybe two years.
The Harvest riddim is one VIBRANT one-drop which features constant Tippy collaborator, the legendary Tuff Lion, on guitar. This one gets voiced by, by far, the most eclectic group of artists on Joyful Noise. To my ears, its greatest turn comes with the woefully underrated Guyanese chanter Arkaingelle at the helm of ‘Song Of Praise’. As Arkaingelle showed on his debut album from 2008, O’Pen, he is definitely someone to watch and Son Of Praise is just so nice and free-flowing that it really gets the you moving and appreciating the vibes. Veteran Junior P also does very well (as he always does) with the Harvest on the antiviolence anthem ‘The Reason’. I was very happy to see Danny I return to an I Grade project and he does so in grand fashion with a very Army-like sufferers’ anthem in ‘Hold On’ (one of the best tunes here) and finally, the last effort from the Harvest riddim goes to none other than the oft-mentioned (around here), Messenjah Selah, who continues his SOLID streak with ‘Your Own World’ (“your aim, your motivation is to control population, so you give a damn about the current situation”).
Joining Queen Omega on the (COOL) anthem like Discipline riddim is a star studded lineup and one SCATHING underground VI talent. Superstar Mr. Vaughn Benjamin makes the first of his two appearances on Joyful Noise on the riddim with his typical cryptic brilliance on ‘Judgment In Measurement’. LUTAN FYAH, who I seem to run into these days just as much as Selah and Jahdan, gets the title track for the riddim and deservedly so (although calling in the Footsteps would have been nice as well), as he runs right next to the Queen’s tune as the best on the riddim to my ears (“Man richly blessed and a I, which the wicked come to destroy, them fear because we love Selassie I!) (WOW!), delivering a NECESSARY message to maintain one’s focus, humility and discipline on our journey here. NiyoRah, of course, has to be here and he comes with a very welcome EDGE to his tones on ‘Gone Crazy’, apart from the riddims and how I’m working with it, Gone Crazy is EASILY one of the biggest tunes on Joyful Noise altogether. I could spend HOURS analyzing the lyrics on this tune as it’s absolutely OBESE with ideas, but I’ll just tell you (at least for now) to make sure you don’t miss it (“pagan system never give we any justice. Just for that, I and I say light up more spliff!”). And with final selection on the riddim is Sabbattical Ahdah with ‘Love and Iverstanding’, yet another reason why this criminally overlooked chanter needs to be heard on a far larger scale.
Lastly is the downright complexly BEAUTIFUL Flying High Riddim. Joining The Nazarenes is another very solid lineup. To my opinion, the star of the riddim is Trini chanter Isasha, who pushes the MAMMOTH praising shot, ‘Haile I’. I don’t quite think Sasha has gotten the proper respect after following his unforgettable ‘Don’t You Know’ and he probably won’t start getting it now, but simply as a fan, watching his development has been wonderful and Haile I joins a very nice stretch of tunes from the artist post-Don’t You Know. Both Vaughn Benjamin and Jahdan come with their best pieces in my opinion Joyful Noise on the Flying High riddim, with the title track and Deep Tangle Roots, respectively. Flying High (the song) is one of the best vibes you’ll hear from Jahdan period and he supposedly has a big Reggae album coming before the new year which I’m WELL looking forward to at this point. And finally on the Flying High riddim is a triple headed combination of Batch, NiyoRah and Danny I on another highlight on Joyful Noise, ‘We Want Reparations’. This is the type of tune on which Batch shines time in and time out and the very fact that he has Niyo and Danny I is just a bonus. They both do very well alongside Ras Batch as the trio DEMAND what is rightfully owed to the children of Afrika.
Overall. Joyful Noise is clearly the best Roots Reggae Compilation of the year and, off the top of my head, I’d be tempted to call it the best to come around in the last half decade or so. It’s THAT good and what I take from it, as a whole, is just a vibe which is so STRONG that it stretches to each and every tune on the album. That’s a big deal: Twenty tunes and not a single ‘SOFT’ spot. No filler anywhere to be found. The only ‘bad’ thing here is that we probably we will never get a sequel. However, for this one time, Joyful Noise is SPECTACULAR. It’s one of the MOMENTS of the year and, for what it is, it’s one of the best I’ve EVER heard. I knew it would be. AMAZING! GO GET IT!
I Grade Records