Saturday, October 17, 2009

Let The Good Times Roll!: A Review of Vibes by Glen Washington

The main reason why I write reviews and everything else that I write is in hopes to establish some type of open reference to not only what I feel is the greatest music in the world, but also some of the talented names and faces within that music which go so unfortunately overlooked. I don’t mean within the ‘mainstream’ (whatever that means), of course, that’s a given; what I mean instead is that even amongst Reggae fans (myself included) and people who want to learn more about our music, there are inevitably either artists who aren’t known AT ALL or those who although they’re certainly known, aren’t regarded in a stature befitting their skills and/or accomplishments. Of course this isn’t always (ever) an easy thing to convey and it’s made more and more difficult by the artists themselves, who can be downright erratic at times, to say the least. I look at an artist like Mr. Vegas and what he’s done with his career in the last few years (‘retirement’ chat notwithstanding) and dealing with his resurgence is difficult business because, although you’ll hear him referred to as a ‘comeback’ artist, he never really left for any type of extended time, he just wasn’t receiving the proper attention. Anthony B had a similar (although far shorter) experience, as did someone such as Ky-Mani Marley and even Baby Cham, where you have genuinely big name artists who may take small breaks or none at all and don’t receive that same level of attention during that musical gap and here I am trying to tell someone how WICKED ____ is, but ____’s music is hard to come by. That being said, one of the most pleasant and just WONDERFUL examples of a similar occurrence these days is the story of Glen Washington. The Clarendon native has been an ‘underrated’ artist about two or three times during his roughly three decade long career. The virtual yoyo-like pendulum swinging of his successes and popularities is really fascinating as, after having come up as a singer initially (I believe) and then becoming a very skilled drummer after failing to hold a hype as a vocalist - THEN coming back as a singer and scoring with quite a few hits (including ‘Kindness For Weakness’) which helped to (re)establish his name. Subsequently, with that type of a history and with the well known and not so well known accomplishments he’s received, perhaps we should be looking at the predominately lover’s rock/Roots singer more along the lines of his VERY well known contemporaries in Beres Hammond and Cocoa Tea, but of course, we don’t.

Given his recent history, however, perhaps that is about to change for Glen Washington. After enjoying quite a bit of success for a few years in the first half of the 2000’s, Washington, once again, seemed to take a step back towards the shadows (I’m pretty sure he was still recording and touring however) and you don’t see the level of material (in terms of quantity) in those years following 2004 or so (when he released the WONDERFUL Wanna Be Loved album for VP Records), although, again, he kept recording. Well, those times have changed as, not only is Washington, at least seemingly, recording more and more these days, he’s also receiving attention and has the ‘hardware’ to show for it. Earlier this year, Glen Washington once again tapped the very fruitful VP Records (for whom he’s done SEVEN albums, by my count) and pushed the very well done Destiny album which was largely produced by the well comfortable Campbell’s at Joe Fraser, for whom he has also recorded extensively (and their blend of old school and predominately one-drop riddims are right within Washington’s area of expertise). That album was much more of a dynamic lover’s styled piece (which, again, is definitely something for which he is known) and it was just a nice album. I, personally, really got into Glen Washington’s music just as the Wanna Be Loved came through (and it remains one of my favourites to this day) and building on that vibes, Destiny, which was his first big-budget release from since Wanna Be Loved, definitely did very well. Now, for any artist and especially one like Washington, who isn’t the most active, Destiny would have been more than enough for the year, but apparently he had something else up his sleeves as Glen Washington now brings us VIBES. Over the past year or so Washington’s stock has once again been on the rise and, although the Destiny album was a bit of a surprise when it reached, it seems as if he has been leading to this album as much of his best RECENT work has largely been helmed by the same producer, one Mr. Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor. Working extensively for the best Roots Reggae producer in the world is certainly a great thing, even for someone of Washington’s ilk and, who knows, maybe this could be the beginning of a very successful pairing between the two. McGregor, for his part, after having began his career releasing album after album from some of the biggest names in the genre is now coming back to the situation (after focusing VERY extensively on singles and riddim compilation albums) of dealing with such a release and he even pushes Vibes on his very own No Doubt Records (of course, distributed digitally via the coolest people in the world, Zojak World Wide) as, apparently he feels quite confident to its quality. He has good reason. I immediately made the connection of just how EXTREMELY WELL Vibes and Destiny compliment each other as Vibes focuses more and more the conscious and stereotypically (in terms of sound, certainly not concept) Roots side of things while mixing in the love songs and such and Destiny, meanwhile, did essentially the exact opposite. However, for its place in specific, Vibes is one LOVELY album also. While McGregor’s pieces don’t have that inherent old school sound to them (at least not all of them do), that you’ll find at Joe Fraser’s with whom I would think most fans are likely to associate Glen Washington’s sound; what McGregor does offer, instead, are these CASCADING and damn ENCHANTING modern tinged riddims over which Washington performs near magic throughout Vibes.

If you don’t know at all who Glen Washington is or how he sounds (then shame on you), he has a very interesting voice. I’ve always likened his tone to kind of an older sounding version of the late and great Garnet Silk where they both seem to have this type of ‘built in’ ECHO of sorts accompanying a distinctly EARTHLY tone (it’s almost like an autotune, minus the autotune. Nature’s autotune, far more acceptable). Of course, that’s just my opinion. Also, it’s just my opinion that this is a big album and attempting to prove me correct firstly on the docket of Glen Washington’s new album, Vibes, is the its title track. ‘Vibes’ the tune is absolutely wonderful and it’s the type of vibes that each time you listen to it, you’re able to appreciate it more and more. To this point, it’s grown on me such that I now regard it is as the best tune on the album named after it, with such a strong . . . Vibes, which find Washington eschewing the typical route with such a word and taken it to a much higher and greater source beyond just the music. HUGE tune and, again, my favourite tune on the album. Up next is the very familiar lover’s vibed tune ‘Baby’ from McGregor’s Rock Steady riddim. Again, I’ve grown in my appreciation of this song in the months since I’ve first heard it and now regard it as a pretty big tune. I’ve also kind of grown in my appreciation of the Rock Steady which I now see as kind of ’suggesting’ a nice bit of urgency or seriousness to the tune. The same could be said for the electric vibed Drop It riddim which backs the very well done ‘Nothing To Deter Me’, which I hadn’t heard before (it was even absent on the riddim’s album) (it may be brand new). Yes. Despite the fact I called Vibes more of a Roots than a lovers project, Nothing To Deter Me is another love song, but it is QUALITY and you certainly won’t mind the fact that it’s present here, rounding off a very nice opening in full.

The tunes which compile this album are very interesting to say the least. In some cases, they’re completely new to me, while in others, the actual tune may be new, but WONDERFULLY McGregor has seemingly done what I wish so many producers have done and opened the VAULT for the singer. Case and point would be the SWEET tune ‘I’m Willing’. Last year I heard no greater riddim at all than the Rub A Dub and McGregor uses that EXCELLENT piece to back I’m Willing, which is a lovely sung tune on which Washington declares himself willing to stand for His Imperial Majesty and do what He feels is right in the eyes of the wicked. The sublime ‘Some Sweet Day’ well caught my ears because it comes across what sounds like a lax version of the Trumpet riddim (I had to catch it by singing Nesbeth’s ‘Board House’ over it). The song is one of the best that Vibes has to offer altogether, with Washington harkening back to the ‘good ole days’ and promising that His Majesty will deliver such a time to us again. ‘No One Else But You’ was one of the most solid cuts of the recent Sweet Riddim and it has a similar place on Vibes. Big tune there. ‘Fire Burning’ kind of caught me off guard as I just worked my way through McGregor’s most recent effort, The Ghetto Riddim, and lo and behold there was at least one more tune which hadn’t been spinning and here it is. Fire Burning is VERY STRONG as Glen Washington slows things down to almost a standstill and the builds a very nice and COMFORTING vibes with his tune here. More still are familiar tunes like ‘One Day’ (which comes over the same riddim as Gyptian’s tune ‘School Girl from his debut album My Name Is Gyptian) and ‘Feel For You’ which glides in through over the unforgettable 83 riddim, both of which definitely register a nice impact. Still, the most FORTUNATE of tunes on Vibes is ‘Your Love’ (another lovers piece) which is gifted with what is, in my opinion, No Doubt Records’ greatest creation, the Triumphant riddim. Washington over such a piece was a LOCK to be a HUGE tune and that’s exactly what you get here. My choice as the album’s second finest tune altogether, however, is one of the less familiar pieces, the MASSIVE ‘Jah Jah We Call On You’. I KNOW I know this tune from somewhere (at least the riddim), but regardless of its origins Jah Jah We Call On You is absolutely a wonderful vibes and it definitely pushes the levels here even higher, as if it needed the help (it didn’t). ‘Little Girl’ also caught my attention. It’s pretty much a standard love/infatuation tune, but it just sounds SO NICE (“I wish that you were my favourite song, I would sing you all over town) and you can WELL expect to hear that one playing for the couples on the dance floor as it very much has that type of vibes it, indeed. The final two tunes on Vibes which are new to me are also two standouts for the album and both of them definitely rank near the top in terms of quality. First up is the inspirational ‘Here I Go’. This song (is amazing) is the type of song where, if it catches you in a bad spot, could definitely do wonders for the mood, I’m sure. It just has such a reassuring quality to it, despite the fact that it isn’t that different from the prevailing vibes of the album, which is even more interesting. And lastly, closing shop on Glen Washington’s Vibes is the predictable (but LOVELY) ‘In The Beginning’. You almost knew that Vibes would come to an end with a nice acoustic or Nyah drum backed piece and In The Beginning is the latter and a very FULL representation of such. The song, built on the ‘punch line’ that “in the beginning it was the word“, almost serves as a declaration of the album’s RIGHT to exist through His Imperial Majesty; as if Washington is saying, ‘you’ve heard what I’ve made and this is WHY I made it’. The very slow cadence of the tune also plays very fitting backdrop to his wonderfully earthly tones, almost like a microcosm to the album itself.

Overall, I can’t help but think how WONDERFUL Vibes goes along, in tandem, with the Destiny album. As if there were some SUPREME design in the matter: Destiny is more lovers than Roots, although its both, Vibes is (slightly) more Roots than love song, although it too, is both and they seem to fill in the ‘gaps’ for each other so well. It reminds me of back in the day of the multi-release era, where, back in 2002 Sizzla pushed Blaze Up The Chalwa, which was very aggressive and chased it later in the year with Da Real Thing, which was heavy Roots. Glen Washington just covers ALL the bases of his style. Still, if you forced me (in my biasness) to pick a favourite between the two, I may ever so slightly lean in the direction of Vibes. Kemar McGregor’s choice (be it a conscious one, or one which was birthed because he noticed he had a great deal of tunes from Glen Washington) was another in a very long (and recent) line of strokes of genius and however you may lean, you can’t help but notice what a wonderful year 2009 has been for both artist and producer. And I’m just so happy to see Glen Washington on top once again. Well done.

Rated 4.25/5
No Doubt Records/Zojak Worldwide

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