Friday, January 14, 2011

'Missing Ingredient': A Review of "Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor" by Bushman

The feeling is to just be happy when we, as Reggae fans, get something which actually materializes, regardless of the results, when that specific something has long been in discussion and yet just as long been delayed. Far too many times it seems as if scheduled projects are talked about and talked about ad nauseam and they either never ever happen or they do so at a state when the immediate level of anticipation has been so greatly diminished that the results change so greatly because . . . The artist/s in question has changed so much also. The prime example of this these days, as it has been for half a decade or so, is the very strange case of Bounty Killer who had, reportedly, not only struck a deal for his very own album a few years back, but for an album involving his camp, ‘The Alliance’ with VP Records. I’d still (very welcomingly, I might add) take an album from the Killer and, presumably, we’ll get another one, someday. HOWEVER, “The Alliance” meant something very different when that piece of news broke than it would shortly thereafter and it means something different today and even if such a project should actually develop (and it won’t), it’ll mean something different at that time as well with the group’s ever changing and ever obscuring ‘official’ member list. Now if you really think about that, it’s not something rare to entertainment or to business, but the problem lies with the built up anticipation of such an occurrence and when it fails to show or, again, does so incredibly slowly, you can’t blame us for losing interest, but I am going to give credit where its due. While Bounty Killer may very well reach the age of fifty years before he reaches with a next studio album and The Alliance may very well have had fifty-thousand different members before they have a single LP, CAPLETON HAD AN ALBUM LAST YEAR! After six years he finally delivered the album and, yeah, if you hadn’t been paying attention, you noticed that Capleton wasn’t so insistent on bringing the flames as he had been from before. Lady Saw also made well on her ‘walking out’ promise and brought forth an album on her very own label - So we should just be happy and not complain - RIGHT? WRONG! Everybody complained about Capleton’s album not being very forceful (someone called it the ‘Fire Extinguisher’) (which is absolutely brilliant by the way) and Lady Saw’s album, in retrospect, was just a little better than average. But certainly that couldn’t be the case with an album the foundation of which was spawned nearly seven years ago and STILL manages to see the light of day. . .


”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor”
. Back in 2004 (biggup ”Reign of Fire”) seriously one of the best Reggae singers in all of the world gave everyone a big example of his most impressive VOCAL TALENTS when Bushman dropped the BIG shot that was the ”Signs” album. That album was brilliant, it was nearly a modern classic and it was probably his second best release to date. It also happened to contain a tune, ‘Lighthouse’, which got a significant rise out of the masses because everyone who heard it and didn’t know that album existed was pretty sure that it was, in fact, a previously unheard tune of the legendary Peter Tosh. That tune not only began a potential round of public interest in Bushman’s work being similar to Tosh’s, it also (according to an interview by United Reggae) (biggup Angus) began a personal interest of the artist’s into the subject as well and thus began the notion that Bushman someday bring forth an entire album full of Peter Tosh’s work and based on ’Light House’ how could you possibly argue with that. Want more? In 2008, the Bushman’s most recent studio album, ”Get It In Your Mind”, featured a tune in ’Buk-In-Hamm Palace’ which was an actual cover tune of Peter Tosh’s song of the same name. It would have, realistically, been somewhere around the time that album was released that we began to hear that Bushman would be working on a complete album full of the work of the ‘Bush Doctor’ and I got REALLY excited. Off the top of my head (which all but guarantees that what I am about to say is COMPLETELY incorrect), I don’t think that we’ve had a situation like this where such an established current artist has devoted such a period of time to directly covering such a vast amount of an elder artist’s work (the Marley’s notwithstanding) and doing so at basically the highest level of the genre. Surprisingly, not only has ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor” come to fruition, but it’s done so with VP Records on board (which is their first time working with the Bushman since ”Signs”) AND (if that weren’t enough) (it was), also here is Donovan Germain and the most venerable Penthouse Records. That label doesn’t even have a great history of voicing Bushman (although they did, a long time ago, do one of my favourite tunes from him, ‘Extortioners’, which still isn’t on any album that I know of), but seemingly EVERYTHING lined up perfectly for this release. I mean at least that’s what it seems like right? Then why does it seem like something is missing. When I really put my mind around this concept, what I envisioned (enlistened???) was an album where Bushman, utilizing one of the greatest voices in the business, could potentially ‘oversing’ the music and I mean that in a really good way. He could literally push some incredible vibes into some of the greatest songs that the genre has ever heard and, I would imagine, do some serious damage with them amongst the younger crowd even. That’s not what happens here. Credit ”Bushman Sings the Bush Doctor” for being the early favourite for album title of the year and do so not only because the title is absolutely fantastic in every way, but also because it FULLY captures what happens on the project which carries its name: Bushman sings the songs of Peter Tosh.

Of course because Peter Tosh had some truly amazing songs and Bushman’s voice, as I said, is fantastic, I’m not going to call ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor” a BAD album because it isn’t, but it’s certainly missing, en masse, a most critical element which would make it a good one (more on that later) or better. First up, however, is a tune which doesn’t actually require much of this mystical element and is fitting opener, ‘Creation’. This tune was never really one of my favourites from Peter Tosh, but it sounds very good here and really it is the type of ‘decorative’ tune I was looking for. As I alluded to, because of the nature of the song, it’s not one which is going to require or even allow a lot of ‘decorations’, but for whatever its worth, Bushman does an excellent job with the tune. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about either of the next two tunes on the album, ‘Bush Doctor’ or ‘Legalize It’. These songs, like much of the subsequent album, are just kind of THERE. They don’t have much to them and they’re just Bushman singing Peter Tosh’s song without adding much of himself to the vibes. And again, I’d like to reiterate (and I’ll probably be doing this once or twice more in the balance of this review) that neither song is bad and I’m not really going to try to exaggerate them to that degree, but they’re nothing that we haven’t heard before and when you’re dealing with someone who is EASILY one of the most popular artists the genre has ever seen, you’re going to have to do something nice to attract attention to songs that some of us have heard hundreds of times before and honestly like them in the version we know them - Even though only slightly different from yours - Different still.

"Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor" - literally

Besides ‘Legalize It’, I was definitely looking forward to hearing Bushman’s renditions of some of my own personal favourite Peter Tosh songs and, at least in that respect - song selection - ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor” doesn’t disappoint. ‘Stepping Razor’ is surely one of my most adored of Tosh’s entire catalog and thankfully it is on board.

“I’m like a stepping razor
Don’t you watch my size
I’m dangerous”

Bushman’s version? Probably one of the best songs on the album, but I just spent a little bit of time telling you how partial I am, so keep that in mind. ‘Equal Rights’ is another tune which you’re likely to find on almost anyone’s list of favourites from Tosh, mine included and, again (unsurprisingly), it’s also one of the tunes I like from this album, although CLEARLY my bias is at play here because this song definitely qualifies as a song which is lacking in that aspect I’m still suppose to be telling you about shortly. I will not, however, extend the same positive prejudice to ‘Igziabeher’, which may be my absolute favourite Peter Tosh song ever - I turned this version off and spun the original to get the ‘fix’ instead. The digital version of ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor” (which is the one I’m reviewing) also includes a couple of my personal likes as well, ‘Oh Bumbo Klatt’, which the Bushman does very well I should say - As well as ‘Downpressor Man’, which is at least decent here. VP’s aim as of late has definitely gone more to the digital side as it’s pretty to imagine how the twelve tracked CD version wouldn’t get at least ONE of the tunes exclusively available on the digital side.

The most interesting aspect of the balance of the album is definitely the two combinations which feature reigning Reggae royalty, Tarrus Riley and Buju Banton. Looking back, this was a pretty good idea and it wouldn’t have been a bad thing had the album had more of them (. . . Like maybe 13 more of them). Riley’s appears on the Bushman’s cut of ‘Don’t Look Back’ which is the better of the two and is SOAKING in what most of the album is missing (and at this point I’m starting to think that the ‘problem’ is actually Bushman). Buju chimes in on ‘Mamma Africa’ which is a tune he actually has done himself ("Friends For Life" album) and he certainly adds more than enough spice to the tune and it’s a shame he couldn’t stick around or come back on another song or two. ‘Johnny B. Goode’, for instance, could have used the help. I’ve never really like this song, regardless of who’s singing it and Bushman doesn’t do anything with it to make me reconsider my indifference to it, but at least its electric vibes are a bit of a change in pace (although it is sandwiched between the two combinations which, in full, marks the most upful stretch of the album). I’ve also never been completely fond of ‘Mawga Dog’ although I do now favour Tosh’s version over this one although Bushman doesn’t fail at all with (any song here - I digress - More on that later) (I know I said that before, but I’m almost done, so I mean it this time) it. ‘Buk-In-Hamm Palace’ is the clear winner on the album, but I’ll remind you that the song was also on the previously mentioned “Get It In Your Mind“, so it isn’t much of a new experience. But I will give credit where its due because THIS is the effort I was hoping for as, on all tangible levels, this is a better song than the original and it’s better than everything else on ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor”. And also well done is ‘Brand New Second Hand Gal’ (which may be the album’s first single, explained by the fact that I wrote a news story for its release on United Reggae last year) which sounds very good although not the best Bushman could do. The album (the digital version of it, at least) comes to a crawling end with the Bushman’s take on ‘Mystic Man’. This song is very very interesting because it’s one which thrives on the kind of RAW and dusty approach of Peter Tosh on the original and even just thinking about it, I wouldn’t have thought that it would have been a good selection for Bushman to do on this album and the results aren’t surprising at all.

'Buk-In-Hamm Palace' by Peter Tosh

NOW! What is the prevailingly absent ingredient which, in my opinion, makes ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor” disappointing? It doesn’t have very much ‘heart‘, ‘spirit’, ‘soul’, ‘force’, ‘stomach’, ‘bottle’ . . . whatever you want to call it - It’s short on it. As I said, the title of the album, besides just being cool, is so very fitting to the results because it is simply an album with Bushman singing the music of Peter Tosh. Furthermore, it seems like he insists on singing like Peter Tosh sang the originals. If you’ve never REALLY been a fan of Bushman’s, I’d definitely say to check out albums such as ”Signs” or the EPIC ”Higher Ground” (or a whole heap of his EXCELLENT singles from over the years) and you’ll notice that the incredible rich baritone he uses on them is one of the best in Reggae - EVER. It’s a beautiful thing and I can’t remember one time on this album where he truly maxes that voice out so it seems intentional - Him singing the songs near the original. Because of that, what we largely get are twelve or fifteen songs pretty much so near the way you already know them and with Peter Tosh, again, he was so popular, pretty much everything here is so well known that it’s still very much enjoying the first life they received at the mouth of Tosh, so we don’t need them sang like that again, even if the singer is more vocally talented.

'Buk-In-Hamm Palace' by Bushman

Overall, as I said, I can’t call the album a BAD one, judging it strictly on its own merits because it isn’t. In that respect actually it’s pretty good. But it isn’t presented as that, there’s no surprise what’s going on and in fact, the situation of the scene is what is most attracting (although ‘new Bushman album’ would have been enough for me) and when taking all of that into account as well as all the time we‘ve heard about it and looked forward to it, I’m very disappointed. I did like the combinations and you can REALLY hear the change when someone like Tarrus Riley comes on the track and, for me, his presence is one of the most significant moments on the album because he sounds so HAPPY to be singing the song as opposed to Bushman who (as much as it hurts me to say) at that point sounds rather stale. And even Buju, although pretty much always inspired (although I suppose I could say the same of Riley), in a very similar position to Bushman at the time (remaking a Peter Tosh song), doesn’t let up for a second. Bushman himself shines as well such as on ‘Buk-In-Hamm-Palace’ so I just think that perhaps the constant work of doing it is what ended up wearing him thin. That - Or maybe he just decided to sing the songs as the title would suggest - ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor”. I, however, was expecting ”Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor Great”.

Rated: 3/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Burning Bushes Music
Bushman @ Myspace

Releases on January 25

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