Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Beginner's Course": A Review of Justice by Roger Robin

One of the most satisfyingly consistent types of email that I’ll get are the ones which come from readers which will essentially say something to the effect of, ‘yow Achis, thanks a lot for pushing that artist like you do. I’ve heard of them before, but I never really took the time to listen to them too much until I read your piece’. In specifics, we’re talking about people like Lutan Fyah, Vaughn Benjamin occasionally and, of course from the past year, people like Lion D and Naptali now. And because certainly that’s the purpose of all of this - Exposure - every time I receive a message like that, it’s definitely something which helps to make my almost certainly already wonderful day that much more special. Still, I myself definitely encounter this to some degree and as someone who rather prides himself on the fact that I’m able to religiously follow artists who deliver in languages that I do not even remotely comprehend (biggup Raapaana), so when there just so happens to be an artist kind of ‘doing their thing’ and I’m not paying very much attention AT ALL, it’s kind of embarrassing (having conversations with random fans and trying to pretend like I know what in the hell they’re talking about). The most interesting of this type of case as of late has definitely been Nereus Joseph. I still don’t know much about Joseph and was so delightfully shocked to find out not too long ago that the singer was actually from St. Lucia - A rather critical tidbit of information for what I try to do - which definitely makes him such a case and the very fact that he had a HUGE ALBUM out (“Real Rebels Can’t Die”) made his an imperative one. That’s something I should’ve known. Another, broader, case would have been Gappy Ranks. Gappy was relatively advanced in his ‘Stinkin’ Rich’ phase before I began taking any substantive type of notice into what was going on and by the time I REALLY did, he had already reportedly penned a deal with Greensleeves (and he’s reportedly already penned himself out of it), despite ample opportunity. I would also point to, very unfortunately, currently in respect to Don Corleon, I’ve just not been paying a great deal of attention to the BRILLIANT riddims he’s putting out and almost always catch on these days only after they’re released digitally (and thus, a couple of months old), but I’m getting better. So, should we be in the act of putting everything on the table and REALLY saying what’s going on - I also have a certain group of artists and producers who’re very strong, but I don’t vibe them as much as I should.

So I definitely welcome as many reasons as I possibly can to get (re)acquainted. Such is the case I found myself in when I heard that incredibly solid and durable UK veteran, Roger Robin was going to be releasing a brand new album this year (incidentally, both Nereus Joseph and of course Gappy Ranks are UK based as well, I guess I know what I need to work on now). The album would be his very first in just about four years (no I didn’t know that, I had to look it up), since 2006’s ”Take It Slow” (which I do own and haven’t spun in about in quite some time (at least a year)) which did have the title track which was a pretty sizable hit for the singer. Typically, I’d say that Roger Robin kind of fits just outside of the ‘circle’ of very respected UK singers such as Lloyd Brown, Peter Spence, Peter Hunnigale, Bitty McLean and others like such, in terms of perception, although he does have quite the curious and very loyal international following as do many of those artists. He definitely seems to march to the beat of his own drum and that’s a very interesting quality which is transferable to his music. And when Roger Robin transfers his own music thankfully he does so in the capable hands of Lloyd & Michelle Campbell of Joe Fraser Records who produced ”Take It Slow" and now bring forth the brand new album, ”Justice”. Joe Fraser Records makes a wonderful name for themselves these days by taking some of these wonderful singers and providing them with old school and neo-old school riddims and vibes and really just taking their slice of the Reggae pie and just . . . Making it so bright and vibrant and colourful to the point where, almost regardless of the vocalist in question, Joe Fraser Records’ output are TRULY things to look forward to. Just as the album before it, ”Justice” (as much of Joe Fraser Records’ work) is distributed by the largest Caribbean music label on the planet, VP Records (who is apparently promoting it VERY well). And while I often wonder about albums actually reaching the ears of the masses, giving Roger Robin’s very loyal following and the way in which this release is apparently being handled, one could very well make the case that the album is one of, if not THE, most high profile releases of his career thus far. So how is it? Of course I’m no expert in this case (or on anything else for that matter), but I’m going to go out on a very lush and comfortable recliner-like limb and say that the even remotely stalwart of Roger Robin’s fans are going to absolutely enjoy what they hear on “Justice”. While certainly one could make the argument (as I just did), that Robin himself goes about his business in different ways from the vast majority of his peers, what you’re going to hear on the album is that perfected UK Rootical/Lovers type of vibes and although that is a taste which does require some seasoning on the part of the listener, I, thankfully, have been well tenderized by this point and when done WELL, that kind of easy-playing and easy-going UK Reggae music is some of my absolute favourite vibes. And while I’m not going as far to rank this album as one of my favourites within that subgenre, it is a more than adequate, fulfilling and EDUCATIONAL set by its end from one of the most respected faces on that scene, Mr. Roger Robin.

Of course, with Roger Robin and especially with the Campbells, old school vibes literally saturate the project (and you can also expect a few remakes) (probably more than I know) and, again, that’s definitely something which is a bit of an acquired taste, but with that being said on this album it’s pretty easy so maybe even if you haven’t acquired it yet, this may be a nice place to start. Speaking of a nice place to start, the title track is also a nice place to start on the album named after it as, unsurprisingly, it’s chosen to perform the opening act for Roger Robin’s ”Justice” album. The tune struck me as interesting on a few levels. Besides the obvious - this absolutely lovely old school riddim - The lyrics of the song kind of center (at least in my opinion) around a different concept than justice. It speaks of a good old time and how things used to be and definitely that’s something which one might associate more with PEACE, but it’s ’justice’ that is the chosen word. I probably am missing something with this tune and you can rest assured I’m going to spend quite a lot of time working on it. My over-analysis aside, it’s a very nice song and a pretty fitting opening given the eventual direction of the album. Next up is ‘Good For Me’ which is STILL my choice as the best tune altogether on the album. You already know that this tune is a love song and it most certainly doesn’t deviate very much, if at all, from one would normally think of as being such a tune, but this tune is just SO DAMN SWEET that it rises far above all expectations in terms of quality as well as sets the standards for quality on the whole of ”Justice” in my opinion. HUGE tune. And next is a tune which carries that vibe straight across, ’Fever’. This one is kind of a romantic, but it’s set to the foundation of the appreciation for the music itself. It’s probably kind of ’thrown together’ sounding, but the kind of running story overrides any type of critique you might have in the technical aspect of the song. It’s very well done, as is the entire opening by Roger Robin.

I’m sure there’re more cover/remakes on this album than I even know about, but definitely two stick out as being very very strong for one reason or another. OBVIOUSLY, the first finds Roger Robin going all Bob Marley & Johnny Nash on the people, ’Guava Jelly’ style. This tune is a pretty hard one to fuck up and certainly an artist as ostensibly talented as Robin should have no problem making it sound excellent and he does just that. Later on comes a tune in ’You’re Beautiful’ that I knew I had known from somewhere and I did because it’s also a remake (see how lazy I am? I’m not even going to google because the guy’s name now escapes me) (Jack - something) (I THINK) (or was it James???). This song just has a very easy and relaxed type of vibes set that it isn’t the great stretch to drag into a Reggae cadence which is exactly what you find yourself thinking at times when some of these singers decide to remake ’Random Song X’, no such misfortune here, thankfully.

‘Right Decision’ isn’t a remake (at least not that I know of), but it might as well be because you’ll have to try mighty hard to avoid singing someone’s else song when you hear via the fact that it comes over the same She’s Royal Riddim Tarrus Riley all but damned for future usage when he SMASHED it with the riddim’s title track. This tune I actually have heard prior to grabbing it up on the album and it’s pretty nice. It speaks of making the right decisions in life (in the ULTIMATE sense in some cases), which is a pretty easy message (not an easy task, just an easy message), but good luck not hearing the wrong tune on that one. The very familiar and oft-hilarious ‘So So Mouth Bad Man’ comes in next and does so as one of the stronger tunes on the entire album. It addresses the ‘Donovan’ phenomenon in the way of fake dons (“when you inna yuh crew you a Don. One away you a Donovan”) and it’s very nice and just old fashioned and well done to my ears. I didn’t particularly enjoy ‘Don’t Make It Harder’ which comes in next. The song is another lover’s piece, but it has somewhat of an unusual ‘frill’ to it - The object of Robin’s thoughts is apparently either having second thoughts or is playing a little bit too hard to get - which kind of makes the song convoluted and unnecessarily so, particularly given the fact that that riddim is damn near divine! And I also wasn’t too thrilled with the song ‘Life’ which follows ‘Don’t Make It Harder’. This song is more lyrical than most on the album and it tries to be pretty inspirational and uplifting, but the ‘theatrics’ of the tune don’t quite match that sentiment, at least not as much as it could have. Not only that, but a later song doesn’t go out of its way to be overly done and such, but it kind of does what this tune does and by comparison, ‘Life’ just doesn’t match up too well, but again, definitely pay a close attention to the lyrics of the song to grab up the actual intended sustenance to any degree.

Thankfully, after those two songs however, ”Justice” takes a very welcomed turn to the right again (not that neither of those songs were BAD) and said turn begins with the absolutely delightful ‘See You Go Lonely’. I’m having A LOT of fun with this tune! The song actually seems to be set after a failed relationship of Robin’s and it’s like he saying to the woman that he likes her SO MUCH, that he just wants to see her happy with someone, even if it isn’t him! He clearly still has feelings for her:

“The sun would shine whenever you smile at me Whenever I’m round you I feel so complete You were the rain, the sun, the moon, the stars And I want to be with you, wherever you are”

But even though we’ve had our times, I never want to see you go lonely”. I may even be wrong with my analysis, but that tune is one of the best on the album and very very interesting in my opinion also. ‘Drifting Away’ (see note), which has a riddim I’m sure I remember hearing Lloyd Brown over, keeps the interest level high and for all intent and purposes, it’s probably an even better tune than ‘See You Go Lonely’. This one has a pretty broad subjectry, but at its core what it appears to speak of is unity, or a lack thereof. It was just about hear where I started to make my overall impressions of Roger Robin as a lyricist (more on that later) and even though I may critique it, in most cases, I think it works. I alluded to ‘People Get Ready’ early in reference to the tune ‘Life’ - This is the song which gets it RIGHT. The vibes on this one aren’t very uptempo, it’s a one-drop, but the tune seems to take on almost a gospel nature and that’s definitely a direction you could go in to get that inspiring vibes across and here it’s performed EXCELLENTLY! Wrapping things up - Check ‘My Every Desire’ which isn’t a special tune, but a pretty decent lover’s number. There’s ‘Loving You Forever’, which is easily one of the best tunes you’re going to find on ”Justice“. I’m also pretty sure that it’s another remake, but I don’t care, it’s a very big tune and, as if we needed it, another testament to the overall strength and magic of UK Lover’s Rock and definitely Roger Robin’s in particular. And lastly is another real highlight from the album, ‘Rise Above’. This is another one which is pretty fun to sit and (over)analyze, so definitely take in the tune from a lyrical aspect and the vibes themselves are again excellent, so it’s a pretty fitting ending to the album.

Negatives. Two things stand out for me in terms being prevailing things which you may not like about this album. The first is Roger Robin’s lyrical approach. A few of the songs (including the title track) kind of have unusual sets where it doesn’t seem to be a matter of setting the punch line (or punch word) and building towards it or building support for it, but instead seems to kind of set the seemingly signature line of the song as support for the actual main idea for it. Of course, I don’t mind, I love to go through things like such and break them down and I’d suggest it’s probably nothing new with Roger Robin and it’s something his fans are used to, but newer heads may have difficulty with it. Also, if ever there were a case when . . . Oh I don’t know Aidonia, could have been useful for a verse or two, it would have been here, you get later into the album and some of the vibes (DELIGHTFUL, all of them), begin to stick together and if you aren’t listening intently you may just find yourself, as I did once or twice, listening to 3-4 songs when you thought it was just a one.

Overall, with all of that being said, I still much of a problem recommending Roger Robin’s album ”Justice”, but I do so, definitely, with conditions. First of all, despite the premise of my review, it most certainly will help the listener if he/she is, at the very least, familiar with the UK Reggae/Lover’s Rock style and even more it’ll help if you have somewhat of a familiarity with Robin’s music (even one as woefully basic as mine) because you’re going to get both the traditional and the unusual in this one album throughout its duration. Also, in considering maybe using such an album as your springboard into the entire genre of Reggae music when coming from an R&B/Soul type of background - Forget about it. That being said, Roger Robin’s ”Justice” is a very steady, albeit unspectacular showcase for an artist who I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling the need to pay attention to more. Like I found, maybe you too will consider the album a pretty nice time to join in and find out what he’s been up to.

Rated 3/5
Joe Fraser Records/VP Records

CD & Digital

Roger Robin @ Myspace

{note: On my (digital) version and on every digital version I've checked (although I haven't check iTunes) including Juno and Amazon, the two songs 'Drifting Away' and 'Loving You Forever' are mixed up}


  1. Flames? Where in Babylon did you find flames? Very cool. Would be very effective when writing a Capleton post!

  2. I wrote SO MUCH, that my blog literally caught fire Nico!