Friday, June 11, 2010

"Playing Catch-Up": A Review of The Box Guitar Riddim by Various Artists

With artists, things are so simple. You’re an up and coming artist, you have talent, you have the proper networking in order and are making the proper links and eventually, for one reason or another you end up with your big break. Be it a song for yourself, featuring on someone else’s project or whatever it is, eventually you wind up opening that door to success. And regardless of how long you stay there, even if you’re thrown out, you can almost certainly be assured that someone somewhere will always remember how they came to know of y our work, because all of your work is yours - It sounds like you and it always will. Producers? Things are incredibly more difficult. For example, should you frequent my work, you’re almost certain to be familiar with my great appreciation of one Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor? To my opinion, there’s no one in the world making Reggae music better than that man right now and given the amount of research I’ve done on him, I’d like to think I could identify his work, but if you put three new riddims up and said one was his would I DEFINITELY guess which? Maybe not. On the other hand, were it someone like Sizzla Kalonji, I’d put my chances at 100% all the time. Going back further, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find work from Xterminator, Star Trail, Don Corleon and others amongst my historical favourites and I couldn’t be completely sure that I could recognize the output and that’s just the way it is when it comes to labels and producers. However, the interesting thing is that instead of maybe ‘attaching’ themselves to a particular sound or vibes (which is certainly possible (biggup Lenky), but extremely far from infallible), producers and labels can attach themselves to artists, projects, riddims and so on, the possibilities are almost endless. An example of this would be if I were to ask you, very randomly, if you remembered Sizzla’s albums Black Woman & Child and Da Real Thing. Now if you do and you know anything about them, if I asked you to break them down, how far might you get before you mentioned that both had the same producer? Bobby Digital. Now take that concept and apply it to moving forward and how big of a deal is it when ‘Young Artist A’ begins to work with that same producer? Did it not become much more SIGNIFICANT when you learned that Jamelody was working with Bobby Digital? Didn’t it make you (if you’re a big fan and you most certainly are if you’re about to read this big ass review) even more interested to hear the results? Of course it did. Producers and labels definitely do enjoy that kind of BROAD propulsion in terms of how they move forward - Sometimes their work moves for them.

Such is the case here where we find ourselves looking at Achis Reggae favourite, Sherkhan and company at Tiger Records. The work? Last year the label pushed what was probably their most high profile piece of work to date, the “French Connection“ album from the inimitable Perfect. They had been around prior to that release (more on that in a second), but definitely the album (largely due to the fact that it was the best piece of material Perfect had done in quite some time) placed the label in a greater esteem and standing of popularity amongst many and for probably many more it was an actual introduction. Well, hopefully that piece of work did enough of the legwork and many of those same new eyes stayed ‘in touch’ with Tiger Records and are now set to enjoy their latest work of art, The Box Guitar Riddim. Now, this riddim isn’t the very first of its kind, so again, if you just jumped on board to listening to Tiger Records, you might want to go back and look up big pieces such as the Wharfedale, the Arena and the Ol’ Sitti‘n riddims, respectively (and technically, there was also the Breadfruit). Also, while some of the tunes weren’t the greatest, it definitely should be said that in Tiger’s catalogue exists a PERFECT riddim by the name of The Sufferah which, even before the eventual album, should have definitely sent off warning shots that we were dealing with something pretty strong here. And if you go through those pieces and try to find some type of prevailing vibe and sound . . . Good luck. On one hand was the fairly vibrant Roots piece Ol’ Sitt’n, then there was the heavy Dancehall focused Arena and then (yes, you have three hands now) there was the Sufferah which was downright skeletal (and again, it was certainly the best of the bunch) - So you don’t get to say that ‘Tiger Records make this type of vibes’, they’re pretty much across the board. And now said board is widening in the form of the former Sandfly Riddim, the newly christened Box Guitar Riddim. This release is apparently the beginning of a new ‘official’ series from Tiger Records, ’Riddim Zone’ and the artwork for the cover is very appropriate and very well done as well, so obviously quite a bit of consideration was taken in the presentation here and justly so because the riddim itself is GORGEOUS! It’s not the most vibrant sound, but it also isn’t ’sad’, it’s pretty close to center which is great because it allows the actual artists to take it in almost any direction they like. Seriously, I can’t think of subjectry, within the landscape of what is discussed in modern Roots Reggae, which you just COULDN’T fit in over the vibes of the Box Guitar (which makes the only true detraction I have with the project - The fact that there’re only ten vocal tracks - all the more glaring). On top of that, the riddim also ‘travels’ a little bit and in doing so in picks up the occasional colour and difference (most notably a saxophone which seems to do different things almost every time you hear it), which is an effect I always enjoy and gives the work some individuality amongst itself. And were that not enough (and it should’ve been), the fact that the Box Guitar Riddim contains what just may be the best damn song I’ve heard in 2010 so far will hopefully pique your interests.

There are a few nice and welcomed surprises on the artist selection for the riddim. Tiger Records (like everyone else) certainly has their favourites and you’re certainly going to see some of them here (which is a good thing especially considering who those artists are), but the two or three names who weren’t expected in anyway DEFINITELY bring quite a bit of flare and colour the project as well. The artist who is most certainly Tiger Records’ absolute favourite, Sherkhan himself, actually gets things going on his brand new Box Guitar Riddim album in a very proper way with very improper placement. Apparently within the ‘Riddim Zone’ things are going to occur a bit differently so the unofficial ‘decree’ that all clean riddim versions go at the END of riddim albums goes completely unobserved by Sherkhan and Tiger Records. This mix is subtitled ‘Sandfly Version’ and it’s definitely a more laid back and guitar heavy style and it’s just lovely to listen to, despite its rather odd placement, and for what it is it’s one of the most impressive outings that you’ll find on the compilation.

Sherkhan makes way for the vocal tracks on the album (all of which feature Sherkhan) (DUH) and the first to take a shot at the Box Guitar is a love bitten and smitten Lutan Fyah with ‘Feliesha‘. This one is pretty straight forward with Fyah trying to grab the attention of a very special lady and having varying degrees of success. It is a love song through and through, but something about it definitely gives it a bit of originality and I can’t quite put my finger on what is, but it almost seems like Fyah is singing the song for himself and the listener is just kind of eavesdropping. It’s a lovely song still, even though I feel nosey as hell now. Another title for that tune could definitely be ‘Pre-Boom’ because that is exactly what it is as it precedes what is the finest tune on the Box Guitar Riddim, probably the finest for veteran Junior X to date and one of the finest of the year altogether, ‘Cross Me Heart’. I had my ears on this thing from listening to about seventeen seconds of a thirty second long clip which had me IMMENSELY impressed with the powerhouse of a song. And when I got the full thing (biggup Sherkhan) . . . TEARS!

“Yes, I’m ready to stand up and fight
Yes, I’m ready to stand up and fight for what I know is right
So all Gideon soldiers unite
Been held in the dark, but Rastafari has lead all his children to light”

The song is absolutely beautiful, Junior X is an artist who has definitely made his presence known in the game, but I don’t think he’s ever done anything like this. ‘Cross Me Heart’ could help a lot of people, myself definitely included (by having me absolutely bawling around my room this morning). HUGE tune!

X turns the Box Guitar Riddim over to another familiar voice at Tiger Records, the ‘Tigress’ herself, Diana Rutherford, who steps through with the contemplative ‘Still A Lady’. This tune is another lovely selection on the riddim and it kind of struck me as ‘Feliesha’ did, where it seems like the artist is sort of having a conversation within themselves and the listener is merely a ‘fly on the wall’. Rutherford sounds very good and apparently and not surprisingly (AT ALL), she has a forthcoming album on Tiger Records, which I’m looking forward to. And to continue with the fairly familiar faces whose presences here - Norris Man, for all intent and purposes, has the second best tune on the riddim as he absolutely MELDS his inimitable wailing vocals on ’We Are The People’ to the Box Guitar. Besides that, the tune is very clever and very uplifting as well and it’s one of the better tunes from Norris Man that I’ve heard as of late (and he’s been on a pretty good swing as of late which is a great thing following what was, in my opinion, a couple of years of less than stellar material). Veteran Little Devon’s certainly isn’t a household name to many, but this isn’t his first take on a Tiger Records riddim (he had an excellent tune, ’Burning Hot’, on the Sufferah Riddim) and it definitely doesn’t sound like it is because his ’Pain’ is another highlight on the riddim. Despite the title, the sentiment of the tune is lovely and very inspirational and Devon has this way (almost like a Jah Cure) about the way he sings which kind of inherently maximizes whatever he says - It makes it so much more of a big deal and that is on full display here. The next familiar voice comes in with Zamunda (speaking of Jah Cure) who puts another big tune on the Box Guitar with ‘No Place In Babylon’. This one may be the most definitively spiritual effort on the riddim and it’s also a big tune (saying that a lot, aren’t I) as he seems to sing of both a literal (physical) repatriation as well as a mental going home and it’s a very powerful vibes. Definitely keep an eye and an ear on the singer (from the most magical place on earth) in the future as he certainly has a big future ahead of him. And speaking of St. Ann, lastly, of course, is Perfect who brings a second tune on the Box Guitar (following ‘Come On Woman’ from French Connection), in the form of the fittingly titled ‘Once Again’. This HAS to be at least the fortieth tune that Perfect has made about dealing with police officers and ganja. Seriously, should Perfect ever offer you a ride, if you’re in a hurry turn him down, because you are almost certainly going to be detained! The tune isn’t one of my favourites here. . . But something about that chorus I just cannot AT ALL seem to get out of my head.

As far as the artists who I wasn’t expecting to hear on the Box Guitar, the most surprising is definitely Bazil, who I’d never heard of prior to seeing him here. Bazil is a French born artist (who delivers in English) who has reportedly signed up with Sherkhan and Tiger Records and is working on a forthcoming project and his tune here, ‘Critical Situation’, is his debut set with the label. It is a nice way to get started. The first time I spun through the tune I heard Bazil’s voice (which is a little ‘different’) and kind of tuned out and in the course of listening with a diverted attention I noticed a stream of lyrics and of course I had to go back and take a listen and what I heard was a pretty nice social commentary. I’d have to hear more, of course, to make a bigger thought, but so far I’m definitely interested in Bazil. Then there’s Mikey General. I shouldn’t at all be surprised with seeing the General on anything and maybe I’m not so much as I’m just HAPPY AS HELL. Mikey General has quietly been one of the most solid, consistent and respectable Reggae artists in the world for quite some time now and his work is almost always an utter joy to take in and his piece on the Box Guitar, ‘Time Soon Come’, is definitely no exception to that. The tune finds the General calling for the destruction of corruption wherever it may exist and in whatever form. It’s pretty standard for Mikey General - Like I “an utter joy to take in”. And finally is another surprising, but very welcomed veteran, Terry Ganzie, who offers the lover’s number ‘The First Time We Met’. This one didn’t reach me to any grand extent, save for a choice moment or two, but I just love to see Ganzie doing things in the studio and hopefully we’ll see him on more of Tiger Records’ projects in the future. The tune offers a decent lead-in to the clean versi. . . Oh, that was at the beginning wasn’t it?

Overall, go ahead and call this one a ‘sleeper’ and a ‘dark horse;’ as what will certainly be one of the strongest (but perhaps underappreciated) riddims of 2010. Like I said, the only thing I can actually and tangibly point to as being less than how I would’ve liked is the number of tracks, but if I reach a point where I say the only thing I don’t like about this project is that I want more of it than I got - That certainly can be looked upon as a good thing. The Box Guitar Riddim is top notch throughout and I just enjoy the overall feel around this one. It’s not overwhelming to any degree (unless Junior X is on the mic), it’s just very well put together and SOLID. It’s also another strong testament to the quality of Tiger Records, so if you haven’t been paying attention and need to play a bit of catch-up on what they’ve been doing up until now, the Box Guitar Riddim is about as good of a place to start as any. Well done.

Rated 4.5/5
Tiger Records

Tiger Records @ Myspace

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