Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"The Midas Touch": A Review of Closure by Maurice

Regardless of how misguided I may or may not ultimately be in doing so, I’d like to think that I’ve gotten to the point, doing what I do, where enough people know of me and place some type of trust in me to do something a little different. If you’re really confident in your material and you want someone to give you an honest and generally unbiased critique, you get it to Achis and if it is really good, I will talk glowingly about it, unlike anyone else in the world (and even if it isn’t that great, I will tactfully dance around it with the grace of the Nicholas Brothers) (actually not that gracefully, but I’ll try) (and fail), in my opinion. And it is similar to that rather strange level that I am trusted, that I also find myself placing musical TRUST in certain entities within this wonderful art form to do things for me as well. For example, the most glaring example (especially considering what I’ve been listening to most recently) is Soca music. I ‘trust’ people like Destra and Faye-Ann Lyons to cheer me up and to get me through that last kilometer or so on the treadmill, despite the fact that my legs lost their juice several minutes back. I trust people like Sizzla Kalonji, Vaughn Benjamin and definitely Lutan Fyah to offer food to my brain on nearly every new release they have and I put trust in artists like Queen Ifrica, Luciano and the legendary Garnet Silk to provide similar nourishment for my spirits as well. The same can be said for the powers that be which exist behind the scenes also. Looking up and down at what VP Records has in store for 2010 and what they’ve already done (releases from Sanchez, Sizzla, Capleton, Junior Kelly, Beres Hammond, Luciano, Busy Signal, Etana and Gyptian), I have no problem at all accepting and assuming the fact that they will probably be releasing big projects for many of the biggest names in our genre (which includes signing up many of the newer artists) into perpetuity. And we can even break that down further - My absolute favourite current producer (and probably, by the end of my life, my favourite of all time) (biggup Fattis at this point), Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor - Whatever his next riddim is, following the forthcoming Classic Riddim, I’m almost SURE that I’m going to like it and it’s not due to any type of partiality, it’s due to the fact that the man makes EXCELLENT music. And actually, as I think about it, there’re quite a few producers, perhaps even more than artists, that I place a great deal of reliance in on a very consistent basis.

Such as the case here. When I think of people who I know of in the business who’re exceptional at finding new talents and developing them, of course the first name which comes to mind is the architect that is Dean ‘Cannon’ Fraser. Having served that direct purpose for artists like Luciano, Tarrus Riley and MANY others (and indirectly for most of Xterminator’s artists, which of course includes Sizzla), Fraser has proven himself a genius at establishing new voices. Certainly far less known, but increasingly crucial is the talent Dean Pond displays in doing the exact same thing. If you are a fan of Reggae music from out of the Virgin Islands, then artists like Ras Army and definitely Pressure Busspipe (and who knows who else) surely play a large role in your musical appetite and it is partially to the credit of the one Dean Pond for establishing said appetite by providing some of the EXCELLENT music for these artists to make their name on and having a hand in their development as well. Not only that, but even more recently he ‘gave’ us (along with Eno Stafford), Revalation, a potentially HUGE artist also from out of the Virgin Islands. So, given his history with his various labels and endeavours, it’s pretty safe to say that the next time Dean Pond deems an artist worth enough of his time to produce an entire album, even if it’s a Hip-Hop or a Heavy Metal Rock album, I’m probably going to pay it SOME attention, based on his involvement alone (and of course it helps when I’ve already heard the first single and I like it). Well, that just so happens to be the case with Maurice’s debut album (I THINK) Closure, which comes via Dean Pond’s new label, Rymshot Productions and is pushed the lovely people at Zojak Worldwide. You can definitely call Maurice the latest 'discovery of Pond, but he just as definitely doesn’t have the same lineage as many of Pond's previous finds. First of all, he’s Jamaican. I’d imagine that the two linked in Florida in the States (as both live there now) (I think), but Maurice’s history is EXTREMELY interesting, particularly given the fact that he is somewhat Reggae (Dancehall) ROYALTY as the brother of the late Dirtsman and of course, the legendary and arguably greatest Dancehall DJ of all time (in terms of skill), Papa San. And with a bloodline like such, one might imagine that Maurice is yet another either extremely harsh, but talented DJ (like Dirtsman) or an almost overwhelmingly brilliant master of the spoken word (like San) - And in doing so, “one” would be wrong. NO! Maurice is, instead, a very impressive kind of soulful Lover’s Rock type of a singer. There’re also many international types of flashes in his style. Lover’s Rock is a subgenre in Reggae music which hasn’t had a glaring ‘face lift’ of sorts in terms of the actual style itself unlike pretty much every other form of Reggae music within the past decade or so, so what you’re going to hear in Maurice’s style, ostensibly, is what you might hear from many of his contemporaries, although thankfully he does have a bit to his ways which does offer his music a sense of originality. Maurice (or maybe Pond) (although I’m pretty sure it’s Maurice) is obviously a fan of modern American R&B and that’s something which also comes through and maybe it’s something that you could look at and call a ‘nuance’ or something like such (a ‘wrinkle’), but it’s SO close to his style that it is a part of his style (the album cover even looks like R&B). Whatever your preference for describing Maurice, by its end, his debut album is one which is almost certain to delight fans of Lover’s Rock (particularly new ones), in one way or another.

This album comes as a further showcasing of Dean Pond’s Rymshot Production. Following an extended stay with Studio 340 (biggup Eno Stafford) and also DSP, Pond recently returned with the new label with a HUGE release for VI Reggae superstar Pressure Busspipe Coming Back For You and, as you might’ve expected, the two releases share a bit in common musically speaking (including the starring artists, more on that in a second). What is original to this album however is that it is Maurice himself running the show and he gets things started on his new album Closure with in a very familiar fashion with the STERLING ‘Can’t Wait’. The tune utilizes the same hypnotic riddim which backs Pressure’s tune ‘Pure Life’ (which coincidentally began his album also) and the tune itself is VERY strong. Here, you get a very nice taste of Maurice’s vocals which, as I alluded to, definitely have more than slight overtones of what you might find in the arena of R&B, but with fantastic compositions like this, it never REALLY becomes an issue on the song. Strong beginning. ‘Moonlight’, the next tune in is also quite familiar, however, in this case, for a very interesting reason. The tune uses the New Chapter riddim of all things, which is a creation of superstar producer Stephen McGregor (and was thought to have been smashed and left for dead by Etana and her MASSIVE ‘Who Gave You The Right‘) and it was a pretty nice deviation for him. For Maurice, however, it’s another similar powerful statement. This one struck me as being quite the clever tune for various reasons and it definitely is a standout here and maybe one of the stronger tunes on the entire album. Not nearly as strong, however, as the following tune which was definitely the one here which I was most looking forward to, the first of two EXTREMELY high profile combinations, ‘African Girl’ alongside the previously well mentioned Pressure Busspipe. This tune is just COOL! I can’t even put it into more context than that, but I will say that it is an even stronger tune than ‘Baby Girl’ the rather funky combination between the same two artists back on Coming Back For You and I’m assuming there will be and looking forward to more tunes from this very EFFECTIVE link.

I believe that before Closure much of the discussion surrounding the forthcoming album in circles where Maurice is popular (which apparently extends all the way to Canada where he seems to have quite a large following), was largely for two tunes. The first, chronologically speaking (I THINK), was the other combination on the album, ‘All Of A Sudden’ which just so happens to feature Reggae superstar Wayne Wonder (as UNDERRATED DJ alter-ego, Supriz). Apparently Wonder and Maurice are pretty good friends and have performed a bit together and while the tune isn’t my absolute favourite on the album, the two clearly have a nice rapport which definitely helps the tune’s ultimate quality. The other tune is the previous official single (which was also released not too long ago by Zojak), the OUTSTANDING ‘In My Dreams’, my choice (and my Wife’s as well) as the finest tune to be found on Closure altogether. This one has such a nice and ‘airy’ and COMFORTABLE vibes to it that it strikes chords and nerves unlike any other tune to be found here. It’s not groundbreaking or really profound in a significant way, but what it is just a GORGEOUS tune and the head of the class of quality for the album, without a doubt.

Incidentally, if the bestowment of the honour of the album’s second best tune doesn’t go to ‘African Child’ then the tune that it does belong to follows ‘In My Dreams’ (after a cool interlude) - ‘Forgiven’. The tune kind of symbolically (at least I think it’s symbolically) places Maurice in the all too familiar role of having to apologize for what he’s done and as it’s a skill that I’ve become AMAZING at over my years, I can definitely relate and the tune itself is another beautiful effort as well. So good, in fact, is ‘Forgiven’ that it makes up for the very curious selection, ‘Good Enough’. The phrase kind of, to my opinion, presupposes that there is BETTER when you tell you someone that they are “good enough for me”, but the lyrics of the tune don’t exactly carry that out. Still, I can’t help but wonder (PAINFULLY) what might become of me were I to tell my wife that she’s “good enough” as opposed to ‘THE BEST‘. The balance of Closure finds Maurice instinctively walking the border between R&B and Lover’s Rock and doing so, for the most part, very impressively. Although not the most impressive in the first instance, to my tastes, the most obvious ‘odes’ to R&B comes in the form of two tunes. This first is ‘Pretty Brown Eyes’ which is, of course, a remake of the song of the same name by US vocal group, Mint Condition. The song is SLIGHTLY Reggae’d up, but it’s likely to get quite the reaction, despite not being one of my favourites on the album. The other R&B tune here that I recognized was a tune that I used to LOVE by a group named Ruff Endz, ‘Someone To Love You’. This tune, I think, was pretty obscure, but somewhat of a hit nonetheless and apparently it hit Maurice with the same intensity that it did for me and he takes it and ever so slightly gives it a Reggae treatment, although from what I can tell, it’s pretty close to the original, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Another nice piece to pay attention is the much stronger (in my opinion), ‘Just A Little’. This one had a very American vibes all over it until it REALLY got going and although that didn’t dissipate completely, I hear a pounding almost Dancehall vibes in there as well which definitely grabbed my attentions. The same I’ll definitely say in regards to ‘Because Your Mine’ which rides the same EPIC riddim as the title track of Pressure’s Coming Back For You. This tune (not to tell you entirely too much of my business) definitely has a bit of ME in it and it dazzlingly captures more than a few sentiments which I share with Maurice apparently. VERY WELL DONE (“just look, just look, it‘s not everyday your woman should come home and have to cook“). ‘Ready For Love’ re-Reggaefies the mood of the album following ‘Pretty Brown Eyes’, despite being a remake of its own (which I didn’t recognize AT ALL and I suddenly feel compelled to go back and run the rest of these tunes by wife (who did recognize the tune) to see what else she might hear that sounds familiar) of an India Arie tune. This tune I really liked a lot and despite the fact that I didn’t know it was one of hers, it is to no surprise at all that it is something that Arie sang, because she is wonderful. And lastly there’s the spiritual selection ‘Father’ which is pretty obviously the changeup for the album. This one has a ‘bigger’ type of vibes to it (not to the point of what is traditional gospel, but not too far from it either) and is, as expected, on an inspirational vibes. The tune is probably one of the strongest on the album and I love the deviation in any case. There’s also a bonus tune which I don’t know if I’m supposed to mention, so you’ll just have to pick up the album and spin the (very familiar) tune for yourself.

Overall, definitely take Maurice’s name and add it to the VERY impressive roster of artists with which Dean Pond has been involved. While he certainly is a far cry from Pressure, Army and Revalation, Maurice is an artist who, respectively, belongs in that class but for far differing and ORIGINAL reasoning. Closure is an album which, because of its ‘intense’ and inherent type of appeal has a nice chance of ‘crossing over’. I can imagine that it’s getting a nice response, particularly in Florida, on more of the mainstream radio stations where many of the tunes on the album are likely to fit in quite nicely. But will they fit in nicely in the collections of heavy Reggae fans (which is what YOU are)? I think so, but there’s a catch - If you have the same disdain or complete neutrality to American R&B that I have towards Hip-Hop, then you probably won’t like this one. Similarly, if you’re looking for Lover’s Rock in the most traditional range of the genre, then you also might not like what is to be heard here. HOWEVER, if you do have the ear for R&B and definitely for Lover’s Rock in the more modern sense, then you’ll LOVE Closure. I even would have liked to see them do other things with it also (a Revalation combination?) and I also just have the sneaking suspicion that in terms of ultimate talent, Maurice has even more than he’s revealing here. That’s saying a great deal, because for me, Closure is VERY GOOD by its end and I’m looking forward to the next album. Well done.

Rated 4/5
Rymshot Productions/Zojak Worldwide

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