Tuesday, July 27, 2010

'Making Room': A Review of "20ten" by Bryan Art

One could very well make the case that there doesn’t exist a single room within the mansion of Reggae music in which change isn’t occurring. Be it a specific vibes or the actual occupants of said “rooms”, we are most likely witnessing what amounts to a transitional phase in Reggae music and, as a fan, it is extremely exciting. For the sake of this review, I’m definitely going to focus on the actual sound and the cast of characters as well as with this particular case, unlike in most of the other examples I thought of, you’re going to see a single artist who is seemingly destined to a very big deal (one way or another) (more on that later) and do so with a somewhat different combination of vibes. The only other remotely prominent example I could think of which was somewhat similar was I-Octane who, in my opinion, is probably in the midst of changing the landscape of modern Roots Reggae. You could also throw Teflon into that discussion, although I don’t see Teflon (although most certainly WICKED) leaving the type of lasting and influential imprint on the game once his days have passed because of the kind of ‘colourful’ variation he seems to offer (tilting between fiery Dancehall artist and kind of ‘compacted’ Roots head). Besides them, we can look other artists such as Etana and Tarrus Riley, both of whom seem incredibly likely to be regarded as legends (and in the not too distant future), who’ve emerged relatively recently and done so with this type of SPARKLING style which seems certain to be influential well beyond their years. For both of them - They’re not doing much blending of any styles or changing things up very much, their simply adding their own styles to what has been a well established foundation in the genre. The same would go for someone like a Stevie Face (very fitting here) or Ginjah who have just kind of ‘spruced up’ their rooms in the mansion and changed things enough to fit themselves within the lexicons of Reggae fans worldwide and will certainly continue to do so. In this particular case, however, we can look at Bryan Art and see an artist who has obviously blended quite a few different styles in making his vibes (and has done so without stretching the ultimate landscape of the genre of Reggae) (in which he still fits directly and not just in the lame ass way of - He is Jamaican, therefore he must make Reggae music) and to my ears at least, Art has established himself as one of the more promising ‘underknown’ names in the game. I’ve been quite high on him for awhile and have certainly been on the look out for new output from the singer - So I’m sure you can imagine that I was downright elated when ”20ten” beautifully floated across my radars.

Bryan Art (from St. Ann!) was originally known as ‘Brahyan Art’ and I remember the first time I had heard the name thinking that it was a pretty nice new and original name for a group (and I think that would have been in the same timeframe that 2 Isis (Duane Stephenson) was jumping up as well), but it turned out to be one SWEET singing artist who has made quite the name for himself locally and advancing as well. So much so has he that we now find ourselves looking at ”20ten”, his excellent debut album from Jah Chin and Art’s own imprint, Junction File (and of course, distributed digitally via the wonderful Homo sapiens at Zojak Worldwide). The very fact that this album even exists somewhat reminds me of ”Genuine”, the debut album from veteran well respected chanter Bescenta (also distributed digitally by Zojak Worldwide, incidentally), in that it’s yet another fairly underknown Jamaican artist who is certainly ‘qualified’ and just ‘due’ for an album release, but it’s not something which you would think would be a priority for many people to get onto. Still, just as in that case (and apparently Bescenta‘s album is doing quite well, it was promoted (and continues to be) VERY well), I think this album’s very existence is a pretty big deal for Reggae fans and going forth as well and hopefully it can have a similar (seemingly) impact as well. Of course it doesn’t hurt that, at least to my ears, ”20ten” is a bit of a better album than ”Genuine” was (although that one is still growing on me a bit more each time I spin it) and definitely Art’s talents are more interesting, transferable and maybe even polished than Bescenta’s. I’ll speak more on this later, but when you listen to quite a bit of the music on the album (and Bryan Art’s music in general), it almost EASILY could make an impact more in the ‘mainstream’ markets of R&B or maybe even a mature Jazz type of setting even and although he’ll most certainly never be afforded the opportunity, Bryan Art and co. maybe should consider looking into in the future as far as pushing his career further. That also returns to the foundation of this review because it never really leaves the boundaries of Reggae music and that’s evident by the fact that ”20ten” is essentially a piece compiled with many of Art’s singles from various producers and some new tunes as well. And given how he’s progressed, in terms of popularity, I think there’s a VERY strong possibility that the vast majority of even the most interested Reggae heads haven’t heard most the material on this album. I’d even go further to say that unless you ARE Bryan Art, that you probably are going to get quite a bit in the way of new songs on this album. Of course, with all of that being said, the most important question remains - Is ”20ten” any good? I had such a great feeling about this album going into it and I most certainly wasn’t disappointed by album’s end and I wasn’t blown away either - And that’s a good thing (because it means that I’m not overrating it, a trait which I think I exhibit somewhat consistently). The album proves to be a very SOLID introduction to the artist who I feel is doing wonders in a couple of different areas and ultimately seems poised to add quite a bit of colour to the house of Reggae.

This album, predominately, is a very refreshing take on Lover’s Rock Reggae and what the singer does within that frame is very nice. It does take its occasional twists as well, but for the most part it’s pretty apparent what the intent here was and certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with, ‘Taxi’, the opening selection of the smooth singing Bryan Art’s debut album, ”20ten”. The tune is the first of ten consecutive love oriented numbers to start the album and it’s also, arguably, one of the finest. To my ear, this one focuses on commitment and preservation of a relationship and simply doing what needs to be done in order to ensure things continue to work nicely (even if you have to catch a damn taxi to get home to your woman!). Speaking of “commitment”, it certainly is the starring concept on the second tune and one of the album’s biggest altogether to my opinion, the outstanding and dynamic ‘Best of My Love’. Having listened to more than my fair share (and your fair share and your next door neighbour’s fair share) of very rigid and just downright BORING Lover’s Rock tunes, I always appreciate it when an artist can change that (and that is predominately what Bryan Art brings to the genre in my opinion) and this is a fine example of it. You can dance to this song, you can just sit and enjoy it, you can meditate on it, it’s that strong and ‘fulfilling’. It’s also one of the better voiced tunes on the album as well, which definitely helps its qualities as well. The third tune on the album, ’Sweeter Love’, is another dynamic track and it’s also one with which I’m quite familiar as it previously appeared on Dejavu’s High Horse Riddim (on which it is called ‘Undecided’) and it is a definitive highlight for ”20ten”, without a doubt. I absolutely love the chorus on this tune and the vibes themselves have just this very FULL sound to them as well (the riddim is GORGEOUS and that certainly helps) as does, for the most part, the entire opening for the album.

As I said, we get quite deep into ”20ten” before we deviate from the Lover’s Rock road. Thankfully, most of those type of songs are very good. Check the very nice ‘Your Love’. This tune took a minute to grab me because I thought (and still kind of think) that it was somewhat sappy and corny, but it’s just a lovely song and one which I quickly found myself singing the chorus of, even when I wasn’t too impressed by it. There’s the immaculate ‘Ready or Not’, which was a previous hit across the Lover’s Rock installment of Livup’s outstanding Stronger Riddim. You’re going to have a hard time convincing me that you couldn’t present this tune to an R&B or Jazz crowd and not have them really appreciate it on some level because it definitely rings in on those channels as well, despite not at all skipping out on the genre of Reggae. It’s one of the best tunes I hear on the whole of the album and you definitely don’t want to run past this one (and check the riddim as well which is also available digitally). ‘Only You’ was a tune with which I wasn’t at all very familiar and I’m not too thrilled by it either, but it’s pretty solid. Again, despite the certain Reggae sound (and old school at that), I think it could do damage in the arena of R&B and/or Jazz if given the opportunity. Maybe I could also say the same about Art’s cut of Jamplified’s BIG Movements Riddim, ‘Somewhere’ from a few years back (you know the riddim from having back Queen Ifrica’s (more on here in a minute) large tune ‘Far Away’). This one just may be the best written tune on the entire album. It’s romantic as hell, its gorgeous - It’s all of that stuff and you’ll absolutely love it and should you want to call it the single best piece here, I’m not going to put up too much of a fight. We might come to blows should you decide to bestow the same honours to the rather odd and skeletal ‘If It Is All Over’, which definitely is my LEAST favourite tune on the album (although after having heard the tune now over a dozen times, I’m STILL somewhat expecting to just miraculously start liking it for some reason). And lastly in this stretch is the bump and grind inducing ode to love within the music, ‘Rock & Come In’. Blowing in through the classic Still In Love riddim, this tune is one of the more interesting selections you’ll find here (which is saying a lot) and Bryan Art handles it without so much as even a wrinkle to his sound and in fact you may even be able to say that he sounds BETTER on such a vibes.

He also doesn’t lose a step when the vibes on ”20ten” turn to a more conscious/social matter of subjectry. In fact, there are three tunes here which, even on paper, are certain to attract a great deal of attention. The first is definitely ‘Get It’, which is arguably Art’s biggest commercial hit to date. This tune Is just absolutely SUCCULENT (the very first time I’ve used that adjective to describe a song) (and most certainly not the last)! It’s a very big and inspirational vibes and should most certainly get you up and active if you’ve been finding yourself procrastinating (I.e. I’ve suddenly been inspired to finish this review, after using portions of three days to do it). Next is the first of two combinations, ‘Murder Dem A Play’, which features the divine aforementioned Queen Ifrica. I knew this tune previously as a solo piece from Art and while it was pretty good I that form, Ifrica definitely doesn’t do anything but add to the vibes and it’s just an interesting combination, bringing the two together now (and things just get BETTER when Ifrica bellows in with her wicked verse). And the second combination, ‘Second Class’, just so happens to feature one of my least favourite artists of all time, veteran Dancehall DJ, Hawkeye. The tune, which is rather timely as it speaks of uplifting and rebuilding the nation and the people as well, features Hawkeye in a decent form, I’m still not too happy about his output and I’m not going to act like I am, but chances are you’re going to appreciate him and maybe even this tune, by extension, more than I am.

That being said, the next tune up within this same stretch, ‘Jump Fence’ almost blows away the three more popular which precede it. This song is BIG! It is a social commentary and it is SMOOTH AS HELL! The very colourful piece will have your head knocking from the first drop and keep it going so throughout the tune and hopefully release you enough to hear a lyric or two! BIG BIG song and the finest I found on the album altogether. There’s also ‘No Malice’ which is still working on my tastes. It’s kind of odd and I don’t even really know how to categorize the vibes (maybe Disco-ish), so you can imagine what that might sound like (hell, maybe you can’t). The tune has both social and lover’s themes in it which helps steer the album back in the direction of the love song as that is how it ends. ‘Anyway’, is a song I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere before - It’s another acoustic set with Art singing to his special lady about times gone by and just the general state of affairs between them, and it’s pretty good as well, thankfully. Then there’s the delightful, albeit it a bit predictable ‘Beautiful’ - And lastly is ‘Show Your Love’ which is another love song, but perhaps of a different type as it wonderfully speaks about using love as an uplifting force and just a catalyst to do good things. The riddim here isn’t the finest and in my opinion it definitely hurts the song to some degree on the whole, but focus more on what’s being said and you should certainly be able to take something form it.

Overall, I do want to say a couple of things about this album and about Bryan Art, in general. First of all, as relevant to the basis of this review - I don’t actually think that Bryan Art is ‘well on his way to being a superstar ‘ or anything like that, I just don’t. I don’t think he’s ultimately going to catch on in the mainstream arena or in terms of becoming a household name with Reggae heads either and despite the fact that he clearly has the vibes and the talents to do so ostensibly, I’m not at all surprised that I’ve come to that conclusion. His style is one which is so transitional and so CLEVERLY transcending of the genre (to the point where it is clearly noticeable and appreciable, but not frustrating in the slightest) that I’m almost sure in about a decade we’re going to be seeing an influx of young artists stepping up saying something along the lines of, ‘Yeah, I grew up listening to a lot of Bryan Art’. I could definitely see him being a very big deal well after his prime years in the game have passed. The second point here is that ”20ten”, again, isn’t ‘amazing’ or ‘earth shattering’ at all and I wasn’t very surprised by even the finest material it had to offer, HOWEVER, what it is, is nearly COMPLETELY SOLID. There’re very few ‘mistakes’ here and with as close as I listen and analyze, I’m going to venture to say that the average listener and even those who listen more in depth aren’t going to find any, which brings matters down to whether you just like the particular song or not (as it should be). I like most of them and I think you will too so definitely check it out and Bryan Art is certainly in no danger of being kicked out of the house of Reggae (I should know, I work security there).

Rated 4/5
Jah Chin/Junction File/Zojak Worldwide
CD & Digital

Bryan Art Bryan Art @ Myspace

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