Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"The Escape": A Review of Creation by Anthony John

I’m always kind of conflicted when I get things like this and sometimes it just really bothers me to some degree. We have an unfortunate situation going on now where there are SO MANY of our artists in Reggae music who, virtually as a necessity, are ‘forced’ to go overseas, particularly to places in Europe (and now Asia certainly has a burgeoning market) in order to earn a living and get their messages out to crowds who are able and willing to appreciate them. This almost ALWAYS happens with Roots Reggae artists and not all of them, but a DEVASTATINGLY talented few. It’s a bad thing I think, because in the Caribbean where they are from and where their music is seemingly most potent and palatable, we should be able to show these clearly talented individual a proper support. HOWEVER, it goes to the credits of these artists a situation which I believe is ‘re-enriching’ a foundation which, years from now (or maybe even tomorrow), may just set the stage for a GLOBAL REGGAE SUPERSTAR to emerge in a Roots style, with the ‘soil’ having been ‘fertilized’ by individuals such as the one we’re dealing with today. So, it’s kind of a conflict for me as I said, but one which is slowly diminishing and largely due to the talented artists and PRODUCERS coming from the European scene. When you can produce the bonafide album of the year, as it did last year (as well as a top contender) (biggup Nereus Joseph), it makes it hard for people like me to put up much of a complaint and projects like this also do the same. Well, now we can apparently take names like Mark Wonder, Prince Theo and Lorenzo as of late and an unfortunately VAST list of others, as BIG TALENT Jamaican Roots Reggae artists who have gone to Europe to do incredible works and add to them another big talent in Anthony John [aka Mr. Music]. My own experience with the artist comes as a result of him being one of a few very solid names on the ‘roster’ of artists at the once quite impressive Jah Warrior camp from out of England a few years back (a ‘roster’ which also included Lutan Fyah, Jah Mason (for whom the label released an album Most Royal), Peter Broggs and the immortal Alton Ellis) (biggup Earl 16). While that link never produced an album (at least not to my knowledge), it definitely put him on my own radars and I’m sure did similarly for quite a few fans worldwide. And it’s so interesting that I don’t too much know him from his work in Jamaica, because in researching this project . . . I have learned SO much, to say the least.

The first thing that I’ve learned is that Anthony John has apparently now linked with the previously unknown to me, Flyroots Productions from out of France. The same label also has released a very strong riddim album for the Breadfruit Riddim (which I may also get around to reviewing someday) and is apparently in the process of setting themselves up quite nicely for a great run. Also, I should add that Flyroots is apparently a label he himself runs in part as well, so not only has John gone to Europe as an artist, but he’s done so as a business man as well (and I could guess a few other things, like I THINK he runs it with his wife, but I digress). The next thing that I learned is that, although I may have been waiting for and expecting an Anthony John/Jah Warrior release, if it actually did materialize, it wouldn’t have been his first album. Nope. Anthony John SURPRISINGLY has already had two albums to his credit, 1996’s Do Good and just a few years back in 2006 with Won’t Loose Track and I’m sure I’ll probably go looking for them both someday, especially the latter (typo and all). The next bit of biographical information that I encountered, wonderfully, was that Anthony John and I actually share a birthplace also (BIGGUP ST. ANN!) as he shares quite early on here. Here? “Here” is of course Anthony John’s brand new album, the third of his career, Creation from Flyroots Productions. Of course the album itself also becomes a matter of education as well to a degree, not the smaller part of which is to introduce and educate the masses on the artist that is Anthony John, as this is by far his most high profile release to date. Apparently he’s been quite busy in terms of performing and just generally getting his name out on the European scene and so much so that the album is probably a big deal over there, but when you get to listening to it, it should be a big deal everywhere. In terms of his actual style, Anthony John is primarily a singer, although there’re definitely some chanting like overtones to his vibes occasionally. If I had to compare him to someone, I’d probably say that he sounds like a modern version of Reggae great Horace Andy on a level. While he doesn’t have that BRILLIANT frailty to his voice that Andy does (no one does, which is partly why the man is so great), John is more versatile and ‘open minded’ in his approach, which is interesting to say the least. The literal direction of Creation is also a bit of an education in terms of how it develops through its duration. Anthony John has a very ‘FRESH’ type of approach to his music and I know that’s kind of odd considering that I just compared him to a nearly sixty year old man, but I’ll explain of course. What I mean is that, while I don’t consider him THE finest lyricist that I’ve heard (although apparently he’s good friends with one of the best, more on that in a bit), he has a very perceptive bit to his style of writing which is going to separate him from MOST of his singing Roots Reggae peers (many of whom are more well regarded than he is, at least so far) and that’s definitely a good thing. It’s just very interesting and invigorating hear someone who has a different take on things (however slight), particularly in a genre which is often criticized (appropriately at times and inappropriately at others, in my opinion), for being somewhat robotic in general. That cannot be said about this project, however, as even though it isn’t the most varied set I’ve ever laid ears on, Anthony John’s Creation is far from the ‘status quo’.

The album is produced by Anthony John (and his wife, I THINK) and is very well presented and just well done in general. It’s always nice to see something actually spent some money on something and didn’t just call in each and every favour owed to them in order to produce a work as substantive as this. Getting said “substantive” material started on Anthony John’s new album, Creation, after an intro (which I’ll deal with later), is a bit of a literal introduction ’Roots John’. This VERY DIRECT tune isn’t exactly what I would call joyful or such, but it has such a nice vibes surrounding it that it almost comes off like that as John essentially gives a very ‘stylized’ view of how he has come to be where he is. By its end, I come away with the feeling that Anthony John is downright ecstatic to be doing what he does for a living and that people (like me) are grateful that he does it. Very interesting and BIG opening (and lest, I forget, it‘s also apparently produced by my new favourite producer Sherkhan). Next up is a tune which sounds more like something you might’ve expected to hear playing on the album, but, as I alluded to, it’s not just a straight forward piece of tune like you’ve heard dozens of times before, ‘Dem A Fight’. The tune speaks out on the fight faced by John and good people in general against corrupt society. The thing which caught my attention IMMEDIATELY, and ‘Exhibit A’ regarding what I mean with John’s unusual lyrical approach, comes on the chorus of the tune where John says, “dutty babylon ah fight against I. Dem still ah fight against Rastafari. I KNOW WHY”. He actually takes the next step and claims to have knowledge of the reason of the fight (and by extension one can assume, the purpose behind the actually “corruption”). To my ears, John goes about explaining said reason as what I interpret as ‘insecurity’ that they know that what they’re doing is FUCKED UP (“the truth’s staring them in them face”) and wrong and it bothers them when they see someone else doing that and doing so happily. I could take this one in a few different directions, it’s just a HEALTHY tune and one of the best on the album. Speaking of ‘well-fed’ tunes, I’m going to go ahead and proclaim ‘Strive’ as being nearly obese. This SPECTACULARLY vibed tune strikes a chord on an inspirational message. Everything on this tune, from the lyrics, to the melodies and the riddim itself make it such a powerful vibes and one of the definitive highlights on Creation (if you wanted to call THE best tune here, I wouldn’t put up too much of an argument).

On paper, there’re three tunes which are most certainly going to stand out on this album and for a couple of different reasons. The firsts are, of course, the combination tunes because they feature some interesting guesting artists to say the least. Check ‘How Could You’ which features the spicy, big voiced veteran Empress Ayeola. This tune is pretty much what you might expect in terms of dealing with relationships, but the two make a nearly wonderful duo on the tune which is not to be missed (and you DEFINITELY should look more into Ayeola if you haven’t already. The original Fire Mamma). And continuing his apparent quest to appear on every album EVERYWHERE, Lutan Fyah stops by on the MAGNIFICENT ‘Dance & Sing’. This tune, much like ‘Roots John’, comes across as just an ode to the music itself and how grateful they both are to be doing the musical work and on the musical journey. The tune is just SWEET and it’s not the first time the two have vibed together, they also linked on a tune by the name of ‘Roots Woman’, which I believe was a tune for Jah Warrior. Speaking of Steve Mosco and the fine people at Jah Warrior, they’re on board for the other tune here which is certain to stand out on paper because it’s the title track. It’s also certain to stand out literally because it is the best tune on the album named after it. ‘Creation’, the song, is one which I’ve spent quite awhile examining because ostensibly it doesn’t seem to go in the direction I expected AT ALL. Instead, John deals with the lineage of “creation” and how it breaks down when he BRILLIANTLY addresses the family in general. It’s just something you have to hear and see if you can pick up on the nearly HIGH-TECH connections the man makes on the piece. HUGE tune (and a stepping tune also, big riddim). Also on his own, Anthony John crafts some of the finest moments on Creation altogether. Take a listen to the stirring ‘Meditate No War’ (“meditate no war. Love is lovely and war is ugly”). You can take ‘meditate’ in the mental sense or in the spiritual sense, in my opinion. I’m going to look at it in the mental sense (because it’s funny when you do it). In that respect, Anthony John is saying, of course, ‘I don’t want you fighting one another’ and then he goes a BIG step further by saying ‘I don’t even want you THINKING about it!’ However the tune appeals to you (and it will, hopefully) it’s a very powerful vibes (and that riddim is just ANGRY). The somewhat perplexing ‘Solitaire’ is a tune which I’m still working with. It seems to describe the activities of a very lonely (and somewhat strange) woman, but she is a woman that seems to captivates John on some level as well. The tune is one of the best sang on the entire album and it flows on a RIDICULOUS relick of the ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ riddim (yes that’s what I said), so skip it at your own peril. Like Solitaire herself, there’s something oddly attractive about this tune. Things are less muddled on the (literally) divine ‘Haile Selassie’. This tune is just a winner from the first tone and remains at that level throughout. It actually focuses less on His Majesty HIMSELF and instead focuses on His influence and the way some try to disparage His name. The tune is just BIG and it also has a very nice old school sounding Dancehall riddim to go along with it. ‘Panic’ is perhaps my least favourite on the album, but that’s strictly because of how it is vibed (straight forward acoustic in the middle of the album) (Anthony John breaking the Reggae-norm of putting such a tune at the end). Lyrically speaking, it’s a powerful recap of the London 7/7 bombing from a few years back, which apparently John witnessed personally. There’s also ‘Working For Better’ which I REALLY enjoy, if for no other reason than, as is his developing norm, John breaks the lyrical norm on a tune like this and doesn’t say some lame cliché like ‘Jah ahgo provide’ or ‘my people rise up’ or something like that and instead he insists on the WORKING part, which is so so true. Lastly is the undeniable changeup on Creation, ‘Musical Fire’. When it first starts I thought that John had also linked Vegas (because he sounds EXACTLY like him at he start of this tune), but it’s all him apparently and despite its crazy poppish sound (I SUPPOSE you might even be able to call it Soca with the horns in there), it eventually started to grow on me.

I’ll also mention the intro, ‘Come Together’ and the outro ‘Book Of Life’ (and apparently I spoke too soon before, because I forgot, BOTH are acoustic sets). The two are just COOL pieces of work. Normally things like this don’t really go too far in helping the album, but these nice additions really do in this case.

Overall, you won’t have to go too far to realize that I’m well in favour of you picking up this one, but it certainly does have a bit of a condition on it. Despite the fact that Anthony John’s style is very different, I still think that it is one which never deviates too far from Reggae and given the lyrical changes that I mentioned, I think Creation is ultimately an album which is most likely to be featured by HEAVY Reggae heads. Newer fans may not be able to appreciate the subtle shifts he makes at times. Also, although it has old school inclinations, this album is very much a modern piece, to my opinion. So! If you’re a big fan of new school (neo) Roots Reggae then you . . . Probably are going to . . . Like this one quite a lot. Of course “big fan of new school Roots Reggae” describes me to the letter so I don’t have many complaints and neither will you for an album which brings forth on the highest scale of the game, one of our ‘missing’ champions. And it’s a damn shame he had to go all the way to Europe to show it, but I’m kind of thankful now that he did.

Rated 4.10/5
Flyroots Productions

1 comment:

  1. Give thanks for the work and the promotion i soon send you the two other album of Anthony John .
    Nuff respect
    Flyroots Productions