Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Vault Reviews: "Unchangeable" by Danny I

“So Achis - What are you listening to?” That is probably the most consistently asked question that I encounter through doing this here musical-like thing and I’m almost sure it’s so for most heavy music fans, regardless of genre. The asker of said question, at least presumably, is doing the same thing I’m indirectly doing each and every Sunday when I ask you wonderful girls and boys for ‘beautiful tune’ submissions - Looking for something to add to his/her/my own musical rotation. So, when I answer this question (and you’ll notice that this word also comes up when I ask it), I try to do so in the most obscure way possible. For example, if you ask me what I’m listening to at this very moment, there’s a Sean Paul tune that I’ve been playing quite often and there’s an old full album from the late and great Hugh Mundell that has also been doing a major damage around these parts as well - So I’m going to respond, most likely by mentioning the Mundell album. Anyway, over the years I’ve well noticed that, in such cases, mentioning certain artists definitely has caused a lot of reaction and some time will go by and the person asking the question will eventually come back to the conversation, having done their research, and want to learn more about these particular names. One such artist has definitely been Ras Attitude. Although I don’t have these moments much anymore (because Attitude has subsequently . . . Exploded), I can remember personally telling so many people about this incredibly talented artist from out of St. Croix who wasn’t registering on the same levels of popularity of people like Midnite and even Pressure and NiyoRah at the time (more on him later), but definitely was one of the big time up and comers. Oddly enough, both Pressure and NiyoRah also had their moments when they elicited such a strong reaction (as did the whole of the Star Lion Family for that matter, especially Ickarus after his album dropped). The point here, if you haven’t noticed, is that when you get into more of the Virgin Islands Reggae scene, it still has somewhat of a captivatingly mysterious feel to it in the sense of trying and really wanting to learn more and more. And even when you detach it from the particulars of listening to an artist or some artists specifically and say, ‘I’ve been listening to a lot of Reggae from the Virgin Islands’; very consistently people will want to learn more.

So, if I’ve managed to explain that to any level of clear and even remotely perceptible rationale (unlikely), then this next part will make very good sense. ‘Behind the scenes’ of this often wonderfully mysterious music exists a level of mystery even within that and there belongs such a powerful, yet criminally underknown artist as St. Croix singer, Danny I. The fact that I know barely a damn thing about Danny I almost makes it even more interesting that I’ve been listening to and thoroughly enjoying his music for years at this point and the next time he brings something (whatever it may be), if I’m still on the planet, I’m still going to be interested. Why? Why would I be so interested in this artist who most people don’t even know? Well besides the fact that it’s just what I do - There’s also the ‘teeny tiny’ detail that Danny I just so happens to be the creator of one of the greatest songs I have EVER heard in my entire life. That tune could be found (good luck with that) on his virtually vanished debut album, ”Jah Fury” from around the turn of the century - ‘Lion As A Ruler’. . . Should you ever require the site of a large grown man crying like a small child, all you need to do is to play this song in my presence and it is a wrap! This song was SO BEAUTIFUL and so MOVING that all of these years later, playing it for the sake of this very review and I still need to take moments hear and there and I’m tearing up and smiling all the while! The balance of that album was also pretty good and Danny I, although largely inactive, did appear on various compilations through the years (perhaps most notably on Bambú Station’s excellent ”Talkin’ Roots Vol. 2”) (and of course he was also on the brilliance that was ”Joyful Noise” but that was later), but for the most part, while Reggae music from out the Virgin Islands was proverbially ‘blowing up’ worldwide Danny I wasn’t reaping the rewards as were so many of his compatriots and brethren. That was, of course, until late in 2007 when, VERY surprisingly, the dominant label of the subgenre, I Grade Records jumped up and released Danny I’s sophomore album, ”Unchangeable”. I can recall being literally SHOCKED to see that this album was actually coming through I Grade and I was still somewhat surprised that the singer was releasing any album for that matter as although, as I said, he was still fairly active, I just wasn’t seeing planets and stars aligning for him to be releasing an album at that time. Thankfully, however, Danny I and Laurent ‘Tippy’ Alfred and co. at the label didn’t let my thoughts damper neither the occasion nor the initial idea. And what they did with the ”Unchangeable” album ended up not only being a strong album (that was almost certain), but one which certainly helped to give Danny I a much much needed boost in terms of not necessarily popularity (although that surely is a part of it and it goes without saying in my opinion), but just being able to give people something uniquely his with which to associate the name. So, while Danny I definitely remains one of the (if not THE) most talented lesser known artists on the Virgin Islands’ Reggae scene, there now exists a READILY AVAILABLE piece of music that can be, at the very least, referred to by people like you and me in conversation. Fortunately the album proved to be more than just a conversation piece by its end and was actually a better complete body of work than ”Jah Fury”.

In terms of his actual sound, the easiest and clearest comparison to make is with [Ras] Army. The very well known Army is, at least in part, well regarded for his very smooth and mellow vocal style, which is very similar to Danny I’s (and the two used to sing in a group together to my knowledge and are good friends). On top of that, as is shown throughout both of his albums, Danny I is an EXCEPTIONAL lyricist, so you are going to well want to pay attention here as he tackles many diverse subjects. You can begin to tune in on the very first tune on Danny I’s album, ”Unchangeable” from I Grade Records, ’In Order To Live Up’. This tune I can remember taking a little while to grow on me because with its very minimalist sound (but LOVELY so), it doesn’t leap out at you sonically. However, it changes into this gorgeous multi-dimensional piece when you take in the message of what Danny I is saying - That in order to truly live up we must do so within the comfort of His Majesty. The tune is definitely one for the keenest of listeners, but such fans will, like me, think it golden. Next in is a similarly described tune, but one which has more of an audio PUNCH to it, ‘Bow Dem Face’. This one is primarily about people who are living wrong and KNOW that they are living wrong and must, literally and figuratively I suppose, bow their heads in shame in the presence of The King. At this point in the album a very unique quality of Danny I’s begins to show itself and it’s one which definitely appears in much of his output. Instead of doing the kind of condemning type of ‘fire bun’ type of Reggae (and you know who my favourite artist is, so obviously I have no problem with that), he tends to kind of ‘report’ on what others are doing, which is so simple that it’s strange to a degree. It’s definitely something which you have to listen for, but in doing so, again, it’s very unique. Lastly of the opening batch (biggup Batch) is the album’s title and finest tune altogether.

“Well it was an elder that once told me that life was unchangeable
And even though it was made up of changes
These changes never change
That’s what the elder said”

“He said, that life was just a state of mind
Within a state of mind
Within an endless space of time
You’ve got to try get yours
Try get mine
We’ve got help each other by
Or you won’t make it in life
Or I won’t make it in life”

This song is and has been for the better part of the last three years since I first heard it, absolutely STERLING! It misses no point, it comes through sounding like a song that spent YEARS in the ‘developmental stages’ and it also comes courtesy of the old Studio 340 boys, Dean Pond and Eno Stafford. HUGE HUGE tune!

Of course I could be wrong, but I think that the two combinations on ”Unchangeable” are likely the first two I ever heard Danny I featured on. I Grade brings in two of the biggest as well with which the singer works, NiyoRah and Vaughn Benjamin from Midnite. The former features on the very slow and somewhat melancholy ‘Old Time Something’ latter guests on the later tune ‘New Jerusalem’ which . . . Sounds like a Vaughn Benjamin tune. Surprisingly, while the first has always been one of my favourites on the album, I’m rather drawn to the very strange ‘New Jerusalem’, which goes in so many different directions in terms of its sound, alone, that it risks exhausting the listener, but my well overactive brain definitely enjoys the most educational and fascinating ride.

I know I harped on the fact that Danny I’s style is one which has much more of a ‘report’ type of style to it and much less of a condemning type of vibes, but for a moment when he does go in the more traditional direction, the results are quite dramatic. Take the high stepping ‘Redda Fyah’ for instance. This tune STILL doesn’t go as far as it could’ve (and as far as we’re used to), but it does mark a bit of a shift in the actual style of Danny I and features him doing more straight deejaying as well, which is impressive on the choruses. The SMOOTH tune which follows it, ‘Gone Away’ also has some of that same type of edge, but it is more of a twisting type of nature. This tune also happens to be one of the best written on the whole of ”Unchangeable”

“You park your *life* in your garage
And you get chased by entourage
Dat deh mek you think seh that you’re large
But you live in a mirage”

It has ALWAYS been the usage of the word “life” in this instance which has gripped my thoughts because it’s such a STRONG and inventive way to say that certain people place too much importance into material items, without actually coming out and saying it simply and it’s just amazing writing to my opinion. Another of my favourites is definitely the jazzy love song, ‘Driving Force’. This one definitely isn’t your ‘standard’ love song as it never really goes into the ‘oh baby baby I love you’ type of vibes but instead, what it does is speak to the Woman being the anchor typing of figure to life, which is a well refreshing take. ‘In This Jungle’ is a tune whose vibes, alone, make me SMILE! Every time I hear this song it just lightens the mood and I definitely would love the opportunity to see if performed live someday, but just on form, it’s well powerful. One could very well make the case that the later tune, ‘Seek Zion’ is the second best tune on the whole of the album because it is that strong to my ears. The tune is, very cleverly, about self-improvement and self-betterment to my idea. Danny I uses these HUGE and EPIC type of connections such as, “seek Zion and they shall stumble at your feet”, but I think that what he means is that - Upon seeking His Majesty your life will go ‘up’, metaphorically speaking. It is a very DEEP and meditative tune and with vibes like this, I’m sure it is serving as the backdrop of much powerful thoughts (such as the very large one you’re currently involved in).

While the first half of ”Unchangeable” showcases much of the top material here, the second half and latter stages of the album is also very very interesting and more than adequate on its own merits. Besides ‘Seek Zion’ and ‘New Jerusalem’, another big big tune is ‘See Dem A Come’. This one is also very interesting because I noticed immediately that it rides the very same riddim as one of my favourite Midnite tunes, ‘Again A Lion’, from the ”Rule The Time” album. And speaking of interesting, of course, later comes in ‘Recuerdo De Ayer’, which is completely in Spanish (and I believe Danny I has Puerto Rican heritage) (biggup Malika Madremana), thus making me dust off and dig out University Spanish. The best two tunes of the final lot are clearly right in the middle of it, ‘Bow To The Scepter’ and ‘Weak At The Foundation’. The first of the two sounds like some sort of tune from a gangster movie and, again, it features very interesting lyricism as Danny I speaks of those who refuse to “bow to the scepter” as those who fight against righteousness and fight against His Imperial Majesty. ‘Weak At The Foundation’ is even stronger and, as far as the message it kind of builds on the previous tune - Speaking to those who don’t necessarily have their affairs in order.

“To the father, who neglects his role as such in this world
To the mother, who neglects her child for the love of a man
To the child, who has all of these burdens to bare
Can we blame them before we blame ourselves?”

This mighty selection rather easily becomes one of the undeniable highlights of the album and does so very quickly. ‘Pay’in Full’ is the only soft spot on the album to my opinion. The tune sounds EXACTLY like something from Vaughn Benjamin’s vault and while I’ve just gotten use to such cryptology from Benjamin (mind you, I said “gotten use to” and not “like”), I haven’t in Danny I’s case and hopefully I never will. And lastly, ”Unchangeable” comes to its end with the very fitting ‘Grateful For Life’, which is a tune for Eddie Beazer, a producer for Danny I, who actually produced this very song who had transitioned. The tune has one of the most remarkable sounds on the entire album, so despite the fact that it isn’t very much of a lyrical piece, it is downright dazzling and sonically speaking, maybe the single greatest moment on the whole of the album.

Overall, Danny I very much remains a very nice mystery to most listeners, a very short three years on from this release and you know what? I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing in his case. Not that I’m sure he wouldn’t be all in favour of an even higher profile (I’m sure it would certainly do wonders for the food on his table), but as a musician and a singer he seems rather content to kind of pop up ‘here and there’ and I can think of a few different VI artists who kind of fit into a similar standing (like Sistah Joyce). In the case of Danny I, however, the most wonderful piece of information which encapsulates what he does is the fact that it is almost guaranteed that, whenever he is called upon, he will DELIVER. That was the case on ”Jah Fury”, wherever that album may now exist in the annals Reggae music history and it is even more so the case on ”Unchangeable” - A very strong album which put a face on one of the VI’s most special hidden talents - Danny I.

Rated: 4.35/5
I Grade Records
CD & Digital

Danny I @ Myspace

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