Tuesday, June 8, 2010

". . . And Still Champion???": A Review of Soca Gold 2010 by Various Artists

Consistency is a quality in music which, in general, proves to be so rewarding and wonderful for both artists and fans alike in so many ways. For artists, it goes without saying that the longer that they can make a living doing music (and not have to go out and get a ‘real job‘), definitely it is to the betterment of them and their families. And for fans, we get to enjoy these artists at various stages of their careers and do so, in some cases, for decades upon decades and thus, quietly and perhaps ‘unknowingly’ at the time; basically monitor their entire lives in some instances. In a genre like Soca music, which is still relatively young in the current stage, the terms of consistency largely have yet to been defined, even so much as they have in something like Dancehall, which is also fairly young for a musical style. Therefore, we’re somewhat ‘forced’ to look at artists such as Machel Montano, Destra, Bunji Garlin etc. who haven’t even reached the age of forty yet and we haven’t been put in the situation to see if they’re still going to ‘jump and wave’ (like crazy) well into their sixties and seventies. Again, as opposed to Dancehall or even Hip-Hop where we may not have artists reaching those ages (YET), but we’ve seen and heard tons and tons of them well into their fifties who adjust to the times in some way, be lyrically or just taking a less than active role in the music. So speaking of consistency and establishing consistency in Soca music (without getting into the realm of the Calypsos), is a pretty difficult thing to do in my still ‘fresh’ knowledge of the music. Therefore, I hold very little reservation in saying that definitely one of the most CULTURED and ESTABLISHED and CONSISTENT pillars in Soca music has become the dominant international face of the music, the Soca Gold series from Caribbean music leading label, VP Records. FOURTEEN editions deep into the annual series and it’s still enjoying that same crowned status which it basically received from the initial release date of the very first album which, if you REALLY think about it, is absolutely remarkable in such an under-known and underexposed genre. And going further than that, I can’t actually say that the series has been challenged to any degree. There’re probably three other very well known internationally released Soca series (two of which, D’Soca Zone and Soca 101 are also VP compilations) (the third is Best of The Best) and none of them have or presumably ever will reach the heights of the Mothership, Soca Gold.

So, with that type of a lofty standing there is an even loftier list of expectations. Soca Gold unlike its ‘sister’ Reggae Gold has a VERY interest list of demands from its fans. In the case of Reggae Gold, someone like You and I pretty much can have very little complaints in how that album is built (especially this year because it’s pretty good), because it is almost exclusively done for the newer fans so if there’re tunes there that you’ve heard over and over . . . Well that’s the point of the entire thing - To use those songs to suck in new fans. For Soca Gold, however, as I’ve learned over the years, you get into the situation where the songs aren’t very easy to find on form, you’re not going to be able to find them on many other discs, so SG becomes that much more valuable. Also, there’s a pretty good chance that, despite having the big tunes, the actual artists themselves are going to have albums for themselves, so again, the tunes being on this compilation are a pretty big deal and because of that, more hardcore fans, comparatively, do pay attention to it than RG. So, that makes the way that the tunes on the album are compiled (and which tunes are used, more specifically) quite a bit more important as it is now appealing to (or at least attempting to) two different groups of fans. The way you would typically do something like this, at least ostensibly, is to attempt to bring together as many of the biggest tunes from the season that you possibly can. Along with that is the TIME the album is released as well - Typically in late May, it comes well after the Trinidad Carnival season has ended (was it that long ago), but before the vast majority of the respected others (Vincy, Lucia, Crop Over, Grenada etc.) have begun, so what it has is all of that year’s tunes from out of Trinidad (which is the most serious batch of songs generally), but all of the previous year’s tunes from the other regions and USUALLY it works but to the most hardcore of fans, but even then you have situations (like on SG2009, with ‘Head Bad’) where those songs have yet to appear on official form in some cases, so it can even work then. So when this years edition, Soca Gold 2010 rolled through, we were expecting the same thing and with a very HEALTHY year of songs now in the rearview mirror and the prospective ‘choosing pool’ for VP Records, it seemed to be potentially a pretty good year as, now in retrospect, was 2009, musically speaking, but when the tracklist for the album was released, it was crystal clear that the approach of piecing together the biggest tunes wasn’t what VP had in mind for 2010. Instead, it seemed as if, to some extent, the label had actually went out of its way to display some of the lesser appreciated tunes or tunes which were only known amongst the hardest of hardcore Soca heads and in doing so . . . As strange as it may sound, they may’ve just made an album which was more accessible to the more experienced fans. Although such ears are far more likely to focus on what’s missing from SG2010, when (or if) they do get down to actually looking at what’s here, in some cases (whether they LOVE it or not), I think most will be happy that such tunes appeared on a big showcase like SG. So while the story of Soca Gold 2010 is certain to be about what isn’t here, what is here isn’t bad in reality.

I would say that the prevailing vibes on this release are a bit more laid back and lyrical and because of that, I’m going to take things a step further and assume that the way the album was designed was definitely by design (as opposed to lack of being able to score the bigger tunes). Also, it’s worth saying that there’s more than one tune on the album which I’ve suddenly gained more of an appreciation for after really focusing on them on the album. Such a tune wouldn’t be Rikki Jai’s ‘Barman’, which starts things off on the new Soca Gold 2010 album, because I’ve already had a nice affection for the very cool Chutney tune, particularly after watching Jai doing it strong at Monarch. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Chutney or Jai’s (unless you tack both alongside Machel and call it ’Mor Tor’) (PROBLEMS!), but this tune I really enjoy and have from the very first time I heard it and for what it is, the very clever track is one of the best on the album and a very interesting and colourful beginning. And then there’s Donae’o . . . Now I’m not going to bash Donae’o at all. His tune, the infectious ‘Party Hard’, in the ‘mainstream’ sense, probably has the most potential on the entire album with its UK House type of vibes. But it isn’t Soca music. I would think that someone at VP REALLY fell in love with tune and licensed it and then had to figure out what to do with it and here it is. The song certainly isn’t a bad song and it may have Caribbean overtones to it, but I think it might’ve looked better on Reggae Gold 2010 (not that it’s Reggae either, but it’s closer in my opinion). And then there is the unquestionably Socafied ‘Gimme De Juk Juk' [bka ’Wine To Deh Back’] [aka [’Lock It’] from superstar Alison Hinds. I just recently dealt with this tune as it was amongst the highlights of Hinds’ new album Caribbean Queen and it plays the same role on SG2010 definitely. And just Alison Hinds, generally speaking, definitely livens things up and brightens things up - Her presence on almost ANYTHING is always welcomed. The start, in full, is pretty nice and even more interesting in my opinion.

I was actually surprised to varying degrees to see the ENTIRE second half of Soca Gold 2010 be what it was. That half of the album is full of tunes which were lesser known hits and tunes which for the most part, upon further reflection; I actually liked more than I thought I did. The exception to that, DEFINITELY, is the first of the eight, Jamesy P’s WICKED and HILARIOUS horning song, ‘Ants In Yuh Sugar Pan’. BIG BIG song and one of Jamesy P’s finest - An artist who I’m coming to have a far greater appreciation for after the ’Nookie Days’. Next is a prime example of a song I’ve suddenly found to be quite enjoyable upon further review, ’Staggerah’ from Fadda Fox. The Monstapiece produced vibe isn’t AMAZING to my ears, but for a tune that played damn consistently and I didn’t pay a damn worth of attention to, it’s a lot better than I thought. I STILL haven’t ’advanced’ to the point of being able to enjoy ’Tattoo Farm’ from veteran Peter Ram (which rides the same Staggerah Riddim as the tune which precedes it), but I haven’t REALLY enjoyed much from Ram since there was a woman by his side three years ago. Vincy superstar brothers Problem Child and Skinny Fabulous (more on him later) roll in on successive tunes Chutnified alcohol driven tunes, ’Ah Drinka’ (alongside Ravi B, who originates the tune) and ’Puncheon’, with Hunter. I like both of the tunes actually and if you FORCED me to, SHOCKINGLY I’d probably favour the latter, but the former was a bigger hit to my opinion so definitely check out both (and both, not so surprisingly, are much more lyrical than your average rum loving tune). And speaking of lyrical, Lyrikal comes in later with the big tune ‘All Over De Gyal’ (a remix of which you can find on the aforementioned Caribbean Queen from Alison Hinds. This tune did a pretty sizable amount of damage for the Trini artist and I REALLY like it . . . But for some reason I just didn’t pay it much attention and having now tuned in on it, it’s definitely one of the highlights on SG2010 and you won’t find it much of anywhere else on official form. And the same could be said for both ‘Looking To Wine’ from Farmer Nappy and General Grant and ‘Deputy Woman’ from big producer turned artist, Da Mastamind, which ends things on the album. Both are decent, although CERTAINLY ‘Deputy Woman’ is going to require a bit of patience, because that is one strange ass song (strong still as Mastamind goes to ‘the bench‘ for a reserve player).

Now, all of that being said, it is the first half of the album where you’ll find not only the absolute class of Soca Gold 2010, but also the most interesting. First there’s the matter of ‘Wooeeii Gal Wooeeii’ from Busy Signal and the incomparable Machel Montano and the ‘Hold You' remix from Gyptian. The first song (which you can also find on Montano’s 2010 album, Album 34 and Busy’s upcoming DOB album) has grown on me a bit and I wasn’t at all to see the Shane Brown production here (although it’s probably not actually Soca either). As for ‘Hold Me’, I like the original, the ‘Soca Refix’ - I don’t like so much. Both tunes, of course, feature VP artists who’ll have BIG albums coming later in 2010, so no harm - no foul, even if you like neither. And also, I could very well throw in ‘Carnival On My Mind’, from VP Soca poster boy Edwin Yearwood (who, I THINK, has appeared on EVERY SINGLE EDITION of this series in one way or another (except for one)). This tune from the 2009 Bajan Road March champion (I think he won in 2008 as well) is SPARKLING, it’s a very cool groovy type of song and I love the thing.

Saving the top two for last, the best two songs I hear on Soca Gold 2010 come from the most familiar of sources. There’s the ridiculous ‘Huntin’ from Blaxx, definitely one of my favourites of the season, as Blaxx has, himself, become over the past few years. This marks his fourth consecutive appearance in the series and if he isn’t on SG2011, ‘twill be a damn shame. And now that I’m thinking of it, for the type of PHYSICALLY DRAINING Soca that I tend to love most, ‘Huntin’ is probably the only example of on the entire album. And there’s the absolute best tune on the album, for my opinion, ‘Work It’, from the angelic Patrice Roberts. The BIG tune was also THE highlight of a solid compilation, Fully Loaded, last year from the same Homebase Entertainment (Shawn Mitchell) who produces the Bubble Up Riddim which it utilizes (as does ‘Looking To Wine’). The tune is spectacular and one of my favourite from Roberts and the best thing I found on Soca Gold 2010 altogether.

And briefly, I do have to mention tunes like ‘Palance’, ‘True Lies’, ‘Brave’, ‘Leggo Di Beast’, ‘Fireworks’, ‘No Behaviour’, ‘Anything’, ‘Pavement’, ‘Zombie’, ‘Police’, ‘Higher Mass’, ‘Start Whinin’, ‘Call Meh’, ‘Wicked Jab’, ‘Iron & Steel’ and ‘Dangerous’ (just tried to name sixteen), which aren’t on the album. Again, what’s important is to judge the album on what it is, but when you ARE the dominant name of the genre, you do expect more of the big tunes.

Also, these days Soca Gold comes with a bit of flare and besides the obvious, there’s the issue of an accompanying DVD.

On the video version of SG2010, you can find what has come to be the very expected (but VERY welcomed) norms of the project. There’re videos for half of the songs on the album (the best is probably ‘Party Hard’ and I‘m always pretty upset that they don’t make more videos for Soca videos). There are a few live performances, definitely with Alison Hinds being the highlight and she later calls up Lyrikal for a rendition of ‘All Over De Gyal’. Blaxx is also on board, but as usual he’s doing the wrong damn tune with ‘Zombie’ instead of ‘Huntin’ and he’s outshone by fellow member of the Roy Cape camp, the adorable Rita Jones. There’s a nineteen and a half minute long photo shoot featuring your LOVELY cover model the, very familiar Gwen (and all that ass), who VICIOUSLY (and unfortunately) fights off what would have been a most delicious ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and it should be said that although the cover is somewhat DARK compared to previous editions, SG2010 certainly is very high on the list in terms of eye candy for the series.

Still THE figurative highlight of the DVD is the “Behind The Scenes” feature (the literal highlight is, of course, all that ass), which features various random footage from the road. The star of the first half (of the twenty-four minute + feature) is Peter Ram as we join him behind the scenes of his video shoot for ‘Tattoo Farm; and it’s Skinny Fabulous taking center stage on the second half. We follow Skinny behind the scenes of his 2010 Trinidad Soca Monarch experience and besides showing a bit of footage from his performance at Monarch, even better still is the HILARIOUS interaction between Skinny and Faye-Ann Lyons-Alvarez (two hyphens in one name) who looks cute as hell and later Mr. Faye-Ann, Bunji Garlin also gets in on things. It’s merely a bonus, the DVD, but a wonderful, wonderful bonus and these things should always be included in my opinion.

Overall, yes, course you want more of the big tunes on this release and it pisses you off that they aren’t here, but try to judge this one what it actually is and you’ll see that it’s pretty damn good. The tunes are, like I said, representative of a decisive vibe for the album and it’s one which is probably better appreciated by the tried and faithful Soca heads (although Dancehall heads might like it as well now that I think about it) who’ll almost certainly have soft spots for much of the vibes on the album. Also, it serves as nice promotion for some of these artists in particular such as Fadda Fox and Lyrikal who, at a relatively early stage in their careers still and certainly in their popularity, have just scored BIG deals, being licensed for Soca Gold. And on top of that it’s fucking Soca Gold 2010, it’s a big damn deal, fourteen years running now, a proven name in Soca music and while it may not bring the typical thunder we’ve come to expect, what it does bring is the biggest swing in the game. It’s not quite a homerun this year, but a ground ruled double still brings the runner home.

Rated 3/5
VP Records
CD & Digital

Soca Gold @ Myspace

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