Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I'm Listening To Vol. 1

Okay so, when I started the feature which I have running now and is quite popular, ‘Check It, I actually had something very different in mind for it, but what it has become - somewhat of a running ‘just in case you missed it’ style feature. The material featured there is largely comprised of pieces which were recently released and that I’ve had the privilege of already hearing to some degree. What I actually had in mind, however, was what I give to you now - A simple and straight forward listing of what I’m currently listening to at any given time. This material almost ALWAYS won’t be brand new and I’ll have quite a bit of experience with it as well. It’s going to be just ultimately random pieces (of at least two years of age) which find themselves on my players at any given time (and in the future, past this first installment, I’m going to try to keep it at a maximum of five items). Therefore, I submit for your approval the first of the monthly/bi-monthly feature, ‘What I’m Listening To’.

Raw: The Best of Lady Saw [VP Records, 1998]

Off the top of my head, I’m driven to mention things and phases such as Sizzla’s earlier more melodically gifted material and Vybz Kartel’s early work which was just FUN as comparable examples to the work which fills Lady Saw’s definitive ’best of’ release, Raw. There was a period of time during the mid to late 1990’s where Lady Saw’s output, in my opinion, was downright DEVASTATING! If you listen to a tune from Saw from that period, be it a hit or not, you REALLY get the feeling that this was the absolute prime of her career and ultimately the work for which she will be remembered. This album essentially catalogued the bonafide HITS from that era in one beautifully convenient place and I pretty much haven’t put it down since I got my hands on it. ‘Sycamore Tree’, ‘Hardcore’, ‘If Him Lef’, ‘Strange Feeling’, ‘Eh-Ehmm’, ‘No Long Talking’, ‘Hice It Up’, ‘Serious Allegation’, ‘Stab Out The Meat’, ‘Darnest Things’, ‘Woman Wi Name’ and of course ‘Life Without D*%K’, ON ONE FUCKING ALBUM! Seriously? The album highlights one of the most DOMINANT stretches of any one artist in the entire history of Dancehall, when Saw dug her claws into and obliterated any riddim laid before her. Need I say more.

Riddim Driven: Dreaming by Various Artists [VP Records, 2007]

Since the Dreaming Riddim dropped (and arguably, even before it did) the Daseca boys have blown themselves up and right off the charts. In doing so they’ve established themselves as one of the most successful and popular producing units to be found in the game today. Still, with all of their successes and all that they’ve gone on to attain, I’m ‘driven’ back to this very SLEEK and just damn COOL piece as standing as their finest creation to date. The Dreaming certainly had its fair share of hits (with a cast of characters like it had, you almost can’t help but to score a hit or two), but my attraction to it is largely due to the nature of the riddim itself. With this BEAUTIFUL and sprawling Dancehall-ish one-drop sound (and a bass line which is just better than either you or me), the riddim certainly was better for me than I think it was for most. But of course, stirring contributions from the likes of Alaine [‘Lover’s Prayer’], Busy Signal [‘Man A Thug’], Vybz Kartel [‘When Last Unnu Pray’] and Assassin [‘Gunshot Ah Beat’] haven’t hurt things either and those are tunes which I may actually NEVER stop listening to, one way or another.

Ten Strings by Tuff Lion [I Grade Records, 2008]

Speaking of beautiful and ‘dreamy’ compositions. The first of three potential ‘modern classics’ on this post, Tuff Lion’s FLAWLESS Ten Strings kind of began a slight new interest of mine. I’ve never quite been the Dub head or a big fan of instrumentals in any way, but this album definitely made me rethink such things didn’t it. Certainly there’s a difference between ‘Random Producer A’ and a definitive musical genius like the Lion. The album still exists as a literal (and linguistic) reference point for me personally when I listen to such albums (especially straight instrumentals) and I’ve yet to find one which tops it. Of course it is boosted by the fact that it is largely comprised of some of my favourite compositions from Tippy and company at I Grade Records over the years and Tuff Lion has his way with several of them on standout moments such as ‘Yad Along’, ‘Majestic Honour’, ‘Love Is All’ and the album topping ‘Ivahlasting’. And on an album stuffed full of standouts, that’s saying a great deal.

To The Root by Batch [Sound V.I.Zion, 2007]

Staying in the Virgin Islands for a moment, we’re going to look at yet another very POWERFUL and significant Roots Reggae producer in Batch. Batch’s heinously overlooked career is one which I grow more and more fond of each and every opportunity I take a listen to his music. These days, of his output I’ve recently found myself reaching for, more often than not, the outstanding To The Root. This album is just so full of information and positive upliftment and reinforcement that I find myself growing more and more ANGRY at times that he and his music aren’t more and more appreciated because one listen through the album and it unwraps itself so LOVELY around the senses of the listener. The fact also remains that To The Root just so happens to contain one of my favourite tunes of recent years, the MAMMOTH ‘Hail The King’. That tune can bring tears to my eyes with its wonderfully (and seemingly inherently) understated nature. You almost find yourself ‘chasing’ for the vibe, but it isn’t actually moving away from you, metaphorically speaking, but right on top of you, much like The King, Himself.

Coming Home by Ras Shiloh [VP Records, 2007]

“Under a cool meditation while the whole earth shook!” Speaking of an underrated artist and a HUGE tune, there’s this utter gem of an album from Ras Shiloh which I haven’t stopped listening to from it was released, Coming Home. Shiloh himself is, of course, one of the most unfortunately oft-forgotten figures in the annals of modern Reggae music and it’s simply to the misfortune of the genre AS A WHOLE that it is the case because if this man’s music was getting more publicity and more RESPECT, pieces like this one (and the other one which dropped that same year) might not be so rare and he’s proven time and time again that he’s capable of turning in stellar material. ‘Exhibit A’ on the Bobby Digital produced Coming Home was a tune in ‘Volume of The Book’ which was so beautiful that I began putting it into a play list which I routinely played for my Wife’s plants! The song is absolutely gorgeous and it certainly wasn’t the only thing this five-star album had going in its favour - Credit people like Bascom X, the Morgans and most notably Natural Black (who guested on the sublime ‘It Will Be Over’) as to keeping the levels high throughout the duration of an ultimately magical release from Ras Shiloh and one which I still haven’t “shook” away.

Elixir by Malika Madremana [Greensphere Records, 2007]

The divine Ms. Malika Madremana certainly ensured that this album, her first (Healing) and anything else she may do in the future while I’m still on the planet, would eternally have a spot in my players when she so charmingly and candidly granted me an interview for this blog. She only helped matters slightly, however, in the case of Elixir as it may have earned such a spot on its very own strength (and she’s ‘in charge’ of it, therefore ‘it’ kind of did, if you really think about it) and the way it so much ‘opens up’ to the listener. I could write about this album for DAYS! I mean, each and every time I dig into it, I find myself grabbing and grasping more and more concepts (especially from the title track), which lead into more and more areas and you get to the point here where the actual title of the album becomes supported by the fact that simply listening to it makes you smile!

Break The Ice by Mark Wonder [Sound Proof Productions/Redbridge Muzik, 2005]

In the past two years or so, Mark Wonder has quietly but surely become one of my absolute favourite artists (period) going today. I’m not going to try and move things out of proportion by saying that his output has been SO MUCH better than it was previously, but what I’m experiencing in his case is what seems to be the results of the fact that I’m just paying attention these days. A large part of my attention is still (THANKFULLY) paid to the Break The Ice album which, such as is the case with the aforementioned Elixir, I find myself taking more and more away from each and every time I spend through it which is quite often these days. Between tunes like ‘Slave’ the title track, ‘Kingston City’, ‘Don’t Cry (alongside Anthony B)’ and so many others, I’m having a rebirth of LOVE for an album which never should have fallen out of my players and should certainly be spinning in yours as well.

Fly by Tiwony [High Top, 2007]

Tiwony’s second solo effort Viv La Vi is definitely the stronger of his two albums. It was PACKED full of top notch material and it had some very nice featuring artists with whom the Gwada ace combined to make some even stronger material. It also, generally speaking, just seemed like it ‘tried’ harder to gain attention and it was definitely successful in doing just that, HOWEVER, strange as it may seem (and it very well may), I STILL find myself, between the two, reaching for Fly at an ever so slightly greater frequency and I know why too - Because I love this fucking album. If ever Tiwony grabs the world and becomes a great big international star, I’ll take a small amount of credit, because I have been telling anyone who’d listen to me for the better part of almost three years now just how INSANELY WICKED he is. What convinced me, for the most part, is to be found within the eleven brief tunes which make up Fly. There’re some tunes here which will be, for me, bonafide CLASSICS within a few years - tunes like the FLOORING ‘Priyé Jah’, ‘Longtime’ and ‘Oupatebizwentousa’. The album itself isn’t in that range (maybe three songs more and it certainly would have been), but it’ll have a mighty hard time falling out of favour with me anytime soon.

Rastafari Teach I Everything by Sizzla [Greensleeves Records, 2001]

See, people start taking offense and getting emotional and shit when the conversation turns to Sizzla (I should know, I’m one of them), so I make no big and bold statements in regards to the all but forgotten Rastafari Teach I Everything or its perceived quality. . . But I LOVE THIS THING. My fascination with it has gone, over the years, from being decent, to being strong, to being back to decent and then steadily growing in my eyes (and ears) to the point where I felt compelled to call it his tenth finest creation of all time (even though now, I’d probably have to bump it out to make room for Ghetto Youth-Ology). So what the hell is at the root of my fascination with this ostensibly AVERAGE album? The fact that if you LISTEN, I mean REALLY listen to it, the album has this kind of crazy CONFORMITY to it. It literally sounds like this thing was written in a lab somewhere and allowed to grow and included with a ‘time delayed’ efficacy date. So, in a decade or so when you’re going through your collections and finding shit to throw out because you’re running out of room and you’re old as hell and can barely hear anyway and you stumble across this album and ‘Beautiful’ (one of his greatest tunes EVER), remember who told you that it was absolute genius. The same guy who’s been listening to it for nearly twenty years at that point.

In Transit by Ziggi [Rock N' Vibes, 2008]

Finally. Don’t be surprised at all if you roll around here one day and see Ziggi’s sophomore album In Transit having been declared a modern classic by yours truly, it is DEFINITELY a fine example of a borderline piece indeed (a good sign would be the fact that I recently ‘bumped up’ a borderline modern classic) because it had EVERYTHING you would want in an album. It was also such a wonderful step up from the Statian’s first album So Much Reasons and that was significant in this case because on that debut album Ziggi showed so much promise and potential which was more than realized on the followup. Since then, Ziggi has become one of my favourite artists, period, and certainly my favourite European based artist altogether (which is saying a great deal and makes Sunday, March 7th a truly big ass deal). In Transit was STRONG as hell and MODERN Roots Reggae music and it came with every bit of ‘crossover’ potential as anything you’ll hear in that category these days. Guest spots from the likes of Anthony B, Admiral T, Gentleman and the keeper of everything in the entire world, Ce’Cile also helped and I’m thinking that Ziggi can do even better. Should he do so, he’ll be embarking on a career with quite likely TWO classic albums to his credit.

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