Friday, July 30, 2010

'Come As You Are': A Review of "Black Gold" by Toussaint

In a matter as completely flexible and ever-changing as music, it’s almost shocking at times when you think of how it is categorized. The very fact that we can hear a certain drum pattern and throw around terms like ‘one-drop’ and have that automatically mean - Reggae Music - is quite remarkable because the very elastic boundaries of both the music itself and how it is being made is, at least theoretically, being changed each and every time someone makes new music (because everyone does something different every time, no matter how miniscule). Also, when you take into account how global music is, it would only stand to reason that, if not the music as a whole (and hopefully not), then at least certain portions of the whole would begin to ‘buck the trend’ and become even more as diverse and colourful as its listeners. The result of that would almost certainly be these type of welcomed new subgenres and . . . Who knows, in a couple of centuries or so, it may advance to the point of entering a record shop and just having one large category of MUSIC or literally thousands of smaller ones. Well, right now, we’re going focus on one in particular in this potentially rapidly expanding group, ’Soul Roots’. In regards to other forms of ’urban music’ (yet another very broad genre which, to be frank, generally means anything which is predominately made by people of Afrikan descent) being linked with Reggae, throughout the years we’ve seen most contributions come from the Hip-Hop arena. Most recently, of course, was the ” Distant Relatives” album which featured Hip-Hop superstars and one of the greatest of all time at that, Nas, alongside Reggae light Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley. That album brought together the two genres and did so probably in the grandest light in years, if not of all time. And there’ve also been the likes of Foxy Brown, Wyclef Jean, Heavy D, Sean Kingston and others from the world of Hip-Hop who have made recent regular ‘visits’ to Reggae and continue to do so. What I don’t recall seeing, however, is an artist who comes from a more soulful background make that same voyage. Maybe it’s R&B or traditional Gospel - There really isn’t anything keeping such an artist from making that leap into incorporating Reggae music, but we haven’t seen it for the most part - well at least not until now, as BY FAR the most interesting new artist that I’ve encountered in 2010, Toussaint [The Liberator], gives us Soul Roots with his debut solo album, ”Black Gold”.

Now it would be one thing if we were going to take some sweet singer like Sade or maybe even a Jill Scott and throw them over the crystallized works of perfection coming from Don Corleon (you would imagine the results to be very comfortable and not too much unlike the work done with the super producer and Alaine). And honestly had Toussaint been the latest Don Corleon find, while still very fascinating, I wouldn’t have been as so wonderfully puzzled as I am now. That would have been one thing. Instead, Toussaint has linked, most strangely, with I Grade Records. The singer, to my knowledge, comes from a background of being born in the States (Indiana) and singing Soul music and singing in the church. He’s also sang for the well respected Soulive group, which does a mix of Soul, Jazz and ‘Neo-Soul’ (don’t ask), which is a pretty near perfect background and foundation for a Soul/R&B/Jazz singer, but not one which would normally be associated with someone singing Reggae at all and ESPECIALLY not with the likes of Laurent ’Tippy’ Alfred and I Grade Records, a label best known for defining and redefining the Virgin Islands’ Reggae sound. The sound is the same which has backed the likes of Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite, Dezarie, NiyoRah, Tuff Lion and others (like Army and Danny I and Abja) - I mean REALLY straight forward and HEAVY Reggae artists - Definitely not something I would imagine dropping someone in who comes from Toussaint’s background. On board are the ‘Zion I Kings’, which is a collective of the labels Zion High Productions [Zion], I Grade Records [I] and of course the Lustre Kings [Kings] and again, that’s not something I’d imagine as the basis for a ‘crossover’, but the very fact that it is, ALONE, takes this project from already being ripe with discussable moments and circumstances, to literally being a GOLD MINE of fascination and arguably the single most interesting release I’ve come across thus far in 2010 (also on board with production and instrumentation are the likes of Tuff Lion, Dean Pond and others). What would make it even more interesting is if it actually worked and thankfully it does. ”Black Gold” is BEAUTIFUL. It is a GORGEOUS album and while I’ll most certainly deal with this later, what the album and Toussaint manage to do is strike a very nice path for itself, one which eludes the ‘trap’ of making itself too much of one genre, thus risking the alienation of fans of other styles and doing that bilaterally. That is definitely a plus in an album which is certain to not only grab the attention of Reggae heads, but also keep the attentions of fans that Toussaint has accumulated in his career up to this point (of course, I’m not very familiar with his work prior to this album, so maybe those fans are also Reggae fans to some degree) and perhaps the fact that he is able to do that is the most ‘tangible’ piece of evidence of this new genre, ‘Soul Roots’. Aside from that, I also found it very nice how, while there’re clearly moments on ”Black Gold” which are more colourful, combining different vibes and genres, for the vast majority of the album, it doesn’t step very far at all outside of the confines of Reggae music in terms of the riddims. So what Toussaint is ultimately able to do is take his music and either change it to the point where it works so well in this way or, as I suspect, he’s been doing it all along and has developed it this well. Regardless, what he offers by album’s end is one of the better albums of the year thus far with the confounding ”Black Gold”.

Musically speaking, besides the things that I’ve discussed thus far, what was most interesting to me, prior to listening, was how these songs would be written. And I was so happy to get the liner notes to the digital release and see the writing credited to a ‘P. Barrett’ [Paul] who I’m pretty sure is Toussaint (because he thanks siblings, all of whom are also surnamed Barrett), because with his background being what it is, not only is the sound going to be different, but at least seemingly, he would also come from a very different perspective than most of the artists that I listen to and that is definitely a trend which pops up throughout the album as well. That album, ”Black Gold” the debut album of Toussaint [The Liberator], gets off to a start which is the most powerful moment on the entire album for me, ‘Nobody Knows’. I’ve probably listened to this tune now well over fifty times and I’ve gone back to check and make sure of it and yes - This is my favourite tune on the album.

“Nobody knows what I did today
Only me, me and The Most High
Nobody knows if I prayed today
Only me, me and The Most High”

TEARS! The song immediately goes into what I mean by Toussaint potentially having a different perspective on things in his lyrics as he says things like “spook” and “Jim Crow” which are terms deeply ingrained in the landscape of Afrikan American History, yet still so remote from the 'standard' lexicon of Reggae and are just interesting to here. I think that at the heart of this MASSIVE tune is humility and comfort. It seems as if what Toussaint is saying is not actually “today” but more of ‘what I’ve been though and where I’ve been’, and despite the fact that it definitely hasn’t been an easy road, I can still find comfort in The Most High. And even I’m wrong (might be), again, the song is just . . . WOW! One of the best I’ve heard this year. Charged with keeping those extremely high levels extremely high is the second tune, ‘This Song’ which seems to have its roots in a more traditional Gospel frame, but in terms of sound it definitely isn’t Gospel. In its subjectry and apparent inspiration, the tune is not very far from the opener (“This song came down from Glory. I just can’t take credit for it, no”) and it rolls through sounding SPECTACULAR at the beginning before ascending into this gorgeously calm vibes. So it may not sting as hard as the first selection, but it does very well (the tune sounds like it’s about seven minutes long, when it’s actually less than five) and I LOVE the extended play on the riddim. Then ”Black Gold” reaches what I believe was to originally be its title track, ‘Roots In A Modern Time’. And while I do favour the direction they ultimately went in with the title, NO song on the album, in my opinion, better encapsulates what this album is about and its significance.

“In this modern life of mine
I gotta get back down to the root”

The message here go in a variety of different directions - be it talking about a very broad and general kind of ‘changing of the times’ type of situation or talking about the music itself. But (call me corny if you like) what I came away with was the notion that in a not too distant past (like the day before we got this album), we didn’t have songs like this and it’s damn interesting how that seemed to change overnight to the point where apparently Toussaint is in the process of perfecting it.

Somehow, someway I’ve managed to get through almost seventeen hundred words of this review without mentioning the tune which brought me and I’m sure a very large number of listeners to Toussaint’s music and, by extension, to ”Black Gold”, the album’s first single ‘Be You’. GOLD! I fully anticipated crowning this one the best tune on the album and was wonderfully surprised not too, but this is still a HUGE song and will almost certainly become the signature tune from the album. We take words like ‘uplifting’ or ‘inspirational’ and others and apply it to tunes like this which are just so very vibrant and touching without getting too sentimental or sappy. It’s just BEAUTIFUL music and I’ll leave out the deeper thinking genre connection (at least for now I will) because it goes without saying in this case in my opinion (although I will say that there is a delightful video of Toussaint writing and vibing the tune with Tippy and off-screen there’s a gentleman named Whealan who helps with the chorus and I was really looking to see if he got a writer’s credit for his work and he, ‘W. Massicott’, does and he also helped on two other tunes apparently and takes a producer’s credit as well) (yes, I am a nerd) (no shame) (none), as being simply PLEASING to the senses, clearly ‘Be You’ is MAGICAL material. And sticking with the more visually sexy pieces, of course the title track is going to receive quite a bit of attention and justly so because it is a big big song. I almost feel like I’m spoiling it for you - The metaphor of ‘Black Gold’ (but I’m doing it anyway) - Toussaint’s ‘gold’ is his history and his heritage, good and bad and the way he conveys is near a master class level. It’s a song about being proud and seeking strength in one’s heritage and one’s bloodlines and it is a very powerful MOMENT on the album as it’s presented wrapped up in this kind of bellowing Bluesy type of vibes. And the other on paper standout, is most likely going to be ‘Rise & Fall’ which is the only combination on the album (album #2, I’d expect more links) (someone call Queen Omega). It features a most expected of faces, hotter the flames chanter, Jahdan Blakkamoore (himself hopefully to deliver a Zion I Kings produced album ”Babylon Nightmare” within the final third of 2010), who makes a very strong pairing with Toussaint on the tune which is one of the more Reggae-centric selections on the whole of ”Black Gold”, with that excellent riddim standing behind it and the two definitely deliver an outstanding and fitting effort.

Perhaps not to the extent of the previously mentioned three tunes, but another tune sure to catch a lot of eyes based on its title alone is ‘Conquering Cocaine’. I’m not totally sure, but I would think that, based on how the song is written (very straight forward and matter-of-factly), Toussaint is speaking of experiences that he personally had on the tune, which is another very un-Reggae like subject matter, particularly in recent years. And that one, besides the messages and the ‘effects’ is one which will have your head knocking as soon as it drops in, but hopefully you check the lyrics as well. And speaking of lyrics, you should check what’s said on the whole of ‘Patient’ which might just be my second favourite tune on the album altogether. The chorus here is intoxicating and the very introspective song speaks of perseverance ("Please be patient with me, I am not through with me yet") and basically just holding firm in tough spots. I shouldn’t have to draw lines back to ‘Conquering Cocaine’ as far as the message here goes. So close are they, in my opinion, that one makes the other better and neither would be as powerful in the absence of the other and I can’t honestly say that about any other pair of tunes on the album. I also hear obvious links in the album’s two love songs, ‘Hello My Beautiful’ and ‘Unforgettable’. I think I more enjoy the former with its kind of ‘moody’ vibes - The intensity of the tune builds and drops several times throughout - But that latter, almost a completely R&B vibed tune is impressive as well, with one of the stronger choruses that you’ll hear throughout the album. And it just so happens that the next tune after ‘Unforgettable’, ‘Changing’, is also pretty R&B-ish and Jazzy (‘COOL’ is the word I’m looking for). It is not a 'love song' and is full of lyrical sustenance, as Toussaint blends equals parts Ras Army and Danny I and does so very nicely.

And while the balance of ”Black Gold” does contain the two tracks which I’m not necessarily in love with (tell you about those in a second), it’s still strong. In fact, one of the tunes, ’Look Up’, is a favourite of mine. I almost wanted to mention it in the line of love songs, but it’s so much more than that, it’s more of a relationship type of song and a very complex one at that.

“I say look up little woman
Don’t let your head hang at all
Look up little woman
You’re the Mother of us all”

It is a relationship tune AND it’s a women empowerment tune (but empowering through the relationship and empowering through the kind of FULLNESS of a good relationship). And there is a constantly used line in the tune, “your man is coming home” which, for my obviously over-analytical ears is just so striking because it takes the song out of the relationship (but not really) and places it into the social realm. What it seems that Toussaint is saying is that the man, having screwed up for so many years and in so many different ways (and we have) is coming back to reclaim his position and at least try to fix the wrongs he’s created. So it’s definitely a very very well written tune. I also like ‘Sunshine In Morning’ which is one of the better tunes on the album (find myself saying that a lot) from strictly a sonically pleasing point of view. It just sounds nice and the song surely has a social and spiritual context as well as it speaks of returning the Afrikan to His place in the world and how wonderful and joyous it would be. And lastly, I’ll mention the two songs which didn’t exactly blow me away. The first, ‘Marching’, came really damn close as, with that organ and the horns, it sounds like something from out of Femi Kuti’s catalogue and the riddim is so strong that (especially in the second half of the tune) you kind of wish they would have just stopped and fully dubbed it out (and they basically do with the singing), but the problem is that Toussaint seems to get maybe a bit too ‘loose’ in his vocals and at times it’s kind of hard to comprehend him. But, make no mistake about it - Even listening to it and just trying to figure out what is being said is pretty entertaining, I just wish I could have heard it easier. And lastly is ‘Rain Again’. Now, I read the press on the album which said that Youssoupha Sidibe had also worked on ”Black Gold” and because of that, and the fact that I hadn’t heard anything emblematic of his handiwork in the first fourteen tracks, I KNEW what ‘Rain Again’ was going to be. So when I heard the very skeletal track, I wasn’t exactly surprised at all. Midnite fans will definitely be familiar with Sidibe because he helmed Vaughn Benjamin’s 2008 album, ”For All”. His style is very interesting, very ‘stringy’ and beautiful in many ways, but it’s somewhat difficult to create melody within it at times, however, and while with Benjamin that isn’t a problem at all (because he just doesn’t give a damn) (it also isn’t a problem from someone like Rokia Traore, but she is literally the vocal equivalent of Sidibe’s instrumentation), but Toussaint has moments on the tune where it sounds like there is more than one song playing. Sidibe’s work definitely takes some time to get a hold of and perhaps it should tell you something that although I’m not in love with this song, I wouldn’t mind hearing Toussaint give it another try at some point in the future.

Overall, as for the whole ‘album thing’, however, I think he’s pretty much got it. As I alluded to, Toussaint’s style is such that it’s not going to alienate a great deal of people at all. I can actually see this one appealing to R&B/Soul fans, Jazz heads and maybe even some of the Hip-Hop crowd, because it’s going to be VERY accessible across the board and you can probably tell that I’m more on the Reggae side (hopefully you can) and it’s ENOUGH Reggae to impress me as well. I’m going to credit that, largely, to the wonderful production and the most unexpected way that ”Black Gold” came to be with I Grade Records, however, certainly Toussaint can take credit for it as well as, who knows, he may’ve been doing this for years. I am also guided back to the foundation of this review and the notion of these kind of intermediate or ‘middle-man’ type of genres and if this is what Soul Roots is, then I’m a fan. I’d be interested to see if the album has any type of lasting effect - If any of Toussaint’s peers might also crossover or if any Reggae artist might do so in the opposite direction - but even if this is strictly his corner of the music, then that’s fine as well because the bottomline is that it’s just GOOD MUSIC. Call it whatever the hell you want to, it’s very well done and while I have come across a few better albums in 2010, I haven’t come across many and I most certainly haven’t seen any more FASCINATING than the wonder which is ”Black Gold”. Very well done.

Rated 4.85/5
I Grade Records/Zojak Worldwide
CD & Digital

Toussaint The Liberator


  1. WOW. It seems that you listened to every word of the album Ras. Thank you for your kind words. I hope the people them read this and know that it comes from the heart. I could tell by the writing style and i hafta say that i am grateful for your diligence and your dedication to your craft. more love and light.
    by the way, i have been doing this a long time. Just not with this kind of support. It is refreshing. Bless up King

  2. Yow, I'm glad you liked it yeah. This one took a longer time to write for some reason, but I'm happy with it and the album is outstanding yeah. We really really enjoy so definitely thanks for the vibes my friend.

  3. Album sounds nice, gon have to cop that.

  4. saw Toussaint play in Seattle Aug 15 with NiyoRah. They put on the best show of the year at the Nectar.

  5. Toussaint been doin it his way for YEARS!!

  6. long life achis reggae blogspot...i made sure to reread the review before mentioning that the titile track is omitted from track-by-track. BLACK GOLD riddim originally appeared as "Accident" on Yami Bolo's

  7. I mentioned the title track in the review Fadda, but I didn't make the connection to 'Accident' yeah - That is an EXCELLENT find my friend. Thanks a lot.

  8. I'm a big fan of music from Australia and I must say Toussaint is the greatest artist I have heard in many years. I have a reference class 30K stereo which is said to indicate how much respect I have for music and Toussaint kills it. Keep drawing strength from those other dimensions Toussaint and be one of the great ones, you are already.