Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'The Exception': A Review of "Book Of Job" by Richie Spice

If you read my work with just about any consistency, you know how I do these things. What I generally do at this point in the review is to outline some type of trend or situation which I feel is a significant one in the case of this particular album. After that, what I’ll try to do is to draw some tangents and comparisons to other projects or artists, to make the point as least convoluted and complicated as possible, but I can’t do that in this case because after racking my brain for a similar situation to the one in which I’ve found Richie Spice for the past seven years or so, I just can’t come up with anyone or anything very similar. Of course, there are names who, if I really wanted to stretch good and decent common sense, could fit in someway, they really wouldn’t. The name that leapt into my mind initially would have been a very big peer of Spice’s, Turbulence. But his case is clearly different because I just, totally for the most part, don’t enjoy Turbulence’s music anymore and I once used to LOVE it. After that there was Vybz Kartel and Norris Man and a whole heap of others who can do singles and more singles and I won’t enjoy them and when you collect a batch of them (biggup Batch) and stick them together, SHOCKINGLY, I won’t like the resulting albums either. That’s not Richie Spice. Those are artists whose music, like I said, I just don’t like very much anymore and be it in their respective cases that they’ve ‘merely’ changed into someone who I don’t like as much as I used to or they’re not as good (in my opinion), or my tastes have changed, again, that’s not the case here. Richie Spice makes EXCELLENT music and does so consistently. And while it has been argued otherwise, I would still make not only the case that he is still as dependable a hitmaker that we have in modern Roots Reggae music today, he’s also, seemingly, just as GOOD as he’s ever been, prime still intact. Then why don’t I like these things? Richie Spice’s most recent two albums, ”Gideon Boot” of 2008 and ”In The Streets To Africa” from the year before have been real winners to most people and I even really enjoyed the latter (for a little while), but a few years on and neither of them really register at all with me these days and I have no clue as to why that is, particularly when he does have an album, “"Spice In Your Life”, which remains one of my favourites more than half a decade after its first release.

'Street Life' - Original [not on album]

So, I suppose if at first you don’t succeed . . . It’s not like I’m going to give up or anything, but the prospects of spinning through another Richie Spice album was equal parts potentially frustrating as well as exciting for me (the latter of which is evidenced by the fact that I’m reviewing it more than three weeks ahead of its release date). That being said, however, going into his next release, ”Book Of Job” for VP Records, there were a few things which signaled that things may be different (and that’s for better or for worse, because I am very much in the minority of people - Who didn’t actually like those last two very well received albums). The first was actually the fact that you aren’t seeing such a huge push around this album, unlike its two older ’siblings’ which had deafening material around them far ahead of their respective releases. This one comes through very straight forward (and, as it turns out, that was a very good idea). Also, I really liked that there were only twelve tracks on the album. I know that sounds very small and meaningless (and probably kind of nerdy) (no shame!), but in such an instance, I think it’s a pretty good idea for me personally as well as for the whole of the album as it makes it more of a straight to the point type of a project. And later we would all find out that Richie Spice had enlisted the help of some SERIOUS names for production duties on ”Book Of Job”. The biggest of which is Donovan Germain of the once again mighty Penthouse Records who handles a great deal of the production here and he also teams up with some other strong producers as well. So, seemingly the planets have aligned just right for me to actually have a lasting GOOD opinion for a Richie Spice album and the only thing which remains is whether or not the music on the album is any good? Yes it is. I’d noticed in recent times, even before I knew of this album forthcoming, that Spice had seemingly had a slight change in his musical approach. He wasn’t as active all around as he had been before on the various riddims and he’d also seemed to do just a full-on streamlining of his career in general. And I really feel that, quietly, it’s something which has helped to enable him to have one of the finest stretches of quality in his entire career to date. His standout years are and may always be regarded as the years which produced the material which would ultimately lead to the ”Spice In Your Life Album”, but if you’ve really leant an ear to Richie Spice’s output over the course of the past couple of years or so (and even a year or two before that, going back to the days of ‘Di Plane Land’) ("hundred pound of collie weed ah where dem get it from"), you do see, like I said, a slight, but very noticeable shift in his material. When you take something like that and you place it into the experienced hands of Germain, you’re really going to literally have to TRY to make a bad project and not even that might ‘work’ for you and obviously they didn’t do that here. Without all the flare and the frills of previous efforts, Richie Spice manages to put together a most satisfying winner of an album in ”Book Of Job” and while I’m not a psychic (at least I don’t think that I am), I ‘d be DAMN surprised if a year or two from now I didn’t still think so. Let’s have a listen!

With the album title being what it is, perhaps some will go into listening through this project with the anticipation of an ‘overly’ spiritual vibes set, however that isn’t the case. Although certainly you’ll find Jah’s a great presence here (just as you will in just about everything Richie Spice), the results are not these kind of narrow-minded or over-explored type of tracks which are going to appeal to a very small and select group of listeners. Quite the contrary - Instead, Richie Spice’s ”Book Of Job”, at least to my ears, proves to be quite accessible and maybe his most such release since the aforementioned ”Spice In Your Life” (which was so mentally reachable, in my opinion, largely due to the fact that it was absolutely excellent). A nice example of a type of spiritual track which doesn’t figure to alienate ANYONE is the wonderful opener, ‘Better Tomorrow’, which is this kind of BIG anthem sounding tune which you’re likely to hear opening many a Capleton album. Were there not a SERIOUSLY sweet love song tucked away in the middle of this album, this one would likely be my favourite song on the album - It is very strong. You can literally hear what I meant when I spoke of this tune and this album not being limited in anyway in terms of its direction, because of the title, because Spice clearly ‘marks it up’ lyrically by opening channels to the spiritual world as well as the tangible one.

“Oh Jah give me strength for a new day
I’m working towards a new tomorrow
Oh Jah give me strength for a new day
I’m working towards a better tomorrow”

“Jah give mi long life, mek mi see
Mi real friend dem from mi real enemy
No mek mi caught up inna negativity
Cause I know your world is with positivity”

And the song just has a nice ‘moody’ type of riddim underpinning it which helps it to make this kind of two (or three) dimensional statement without moving very far away from the balance of what you’ll hear on the album. Excellent start. Next in is another big track with a bit of a reputation actually. ‘My Life’ is more popularly known as ‘Street Life’ from a few years back and this one is given a new treatment actually also with its new nom de guerre, from the aforementioned Penthouse. Formerly coming through and scoring over Sons of Spoon’s BIG Chemistry Riddim (which you’ll remember for having back D’Angel’s hit tune, ‘Stronger’), the mix here is a more vibrant and colourful one and one which draws out more of an emotional tone in the tune - Thus, shockingly, I do favour this version, though I am still fond of the original. And while I don’t truly recognize the song ‘Confirmation’, my ears immediately locked in on the riddim because it’s the same one which backs Romain Virgo’s sublime (and somewhat hilarious) big tune, ‘No Money’, from his self titled debut album last year (also predominately produced by Penthouse). This tune doesn’t quite reach those levels, but it’s a much different song anyway and for what it is, it is really good. It has a very strange way about it - It almost sounds like something Sizzla might’ve written circa ~2003 with the kind of punchline type of writing - With the word “confirm” representing that negative people who pretend to be otherwise have been discovered: Their true identities therefore confirmed. You definitely have to hear to take it all in and I would imagine this one would generate quite a bit of discussion actually.

'Black Woman'

For me, the greatest spot of tracks on ”Book Of Job” comes right near the middle of it in tracks 4-6 where Richie Spice delivers three consecutive LARGE tunes aimed at the upliftment of the Black Woman. The second of the trio, ‘Black Woman’, is my favourite of the three and is also my absolute favourite song on the album. It is just a DAZZLING tune and, in retrospect, it was a stroke of genius to choose it as the very first official single off the album and not one of the more rootical selections instead (and the subsequent video was lovely and helped me and many more, I‘m sure, appreciate the tune even more) because it’s just such a nice song and one which surpasses TASTE to my ears (what I mean is that this one is a hard tune to dislike). That wonderful piece is sandwiched on both sides by ‘Mother of Creation’ and ‘Serious Woman’. The former, after its 1975 R&B sounding intro, ascends into this simply SWEET track which gives a very straight forward to the wonderful women of the world (and apparently it‘s being prepped as a second single). And the latter should be quite familiar as it checks in over Shane Brown’s Nylon Riddim from a few years back. I believe I like the tune just a bit more now than I did on very first listen and while not as good as the two songs which precede it, it’s still very strong and well crafted.

The second half of ”Book Of Job” has no shortage of big moments on its own and it features material which is guaranteed to be the standouts for many (yours truly included) as people catch on to the album. My personal favourite is the very strange ‘Yap Yap’ from just last year actually. I had no idea that this song was produced by one of my favourite producers of all time, Steven ‘Lenky’ Marsden (which may explain its brilliant strangeness) and now that I do know, it only adds fire and intrigue to a tune which wasn’t short on either. It speaks of people speaking behind your back, speaking without really knowing the situation and just being generally nosey and the way it is presented is somewhat funny (especially the chorus), but no less significant because of it. There’s also previous single and hit ‘Legal’ from his family’s label, Bonner Cornerstone Music, which speaks on the Afrikan Diaspora and situations which are still ongoing and still prominent pieces of news around the globe. I REALLY like this song because it’s the type that both educates and offers Richie Spice’s opinion on a matter and it just SOUNDS GOOD also (edutainment is what we call it). Reportedly it drew on the singer’s experience of having traveled to Afrika and seen the conditions in which slaves were kept in Senegal and Goree Island.


“After mi trod pon a plane go over Afrika fi perform over Senegal
Take a likkle trip pon a boat, go cross Goree Island
So I could see the way my people were treated like hooligans
They take us away and carry us beyond

Now wi legal
Still dem ah gwan lak seh wi illegal
Legal, still ah praise up His Imperial
Rasta legal
Still dem ah gwan lak seh wi illegal
Still ah praise up His Imperial

Now di people break di shackles and they break di bond
Now di people wise up and now they overstand
To overcome those tragedies, forgive dem for all the wrongs you see
Still ah hold wi ancient history”

And that sound you currently hear is me reconsidering my choice as the album’s finest moment (but ultimately being overruled because I don’t feel like going back and re-writing it) (lazy!). ‘Legal’ is HUGE.

While not quite as sizable (at least not until I spin it six times to write about it here) the delightful ‘Soothing Sound’ is another standout for ”Book Of Job” and it features Richie Spice (over the BIG Indiscretion Riddim from Juke Boxx) saying what I’ve been telling you people for years - There’s NOTHING better in the world than Reggae music.

'Soothing Sound'

The very last stretch of tunes take a decidedly more spiritual turn and it continues to serve up big vibes in the process. First up is previous single ‘Find Jah’ over the very funky and MATURE 18 & Ova Riddim. While I did know this song, I don’t know that I’ve ever paid it as much attention as I do with its presence on this album and that’s a good thing, because the song is very nice to my opinion as Spice attempts to outline just how much sweeter and fulfilling life can become when you ‘Find Jah’ (and he does so in a very non-lame or preachy type of way). The next tune, the popular ‘Jah Never Let Us Down’, builds on that same concept (over the mighty Automatic Riddim) from the tune before it and does so on arguably the most sonically pleasing tune on the album (with the possible (and likely) exception of ‘Yap Yap’). And the absolute final song on ”Book Of Job” is one which cost a bit in the way of growing pains on my part, ’Father’. Following the downright frightening notes sang at the beginning of this tune, I’d pretty much given it up on it . . . But it’s very good. What I like here is the very ’concealed’ duplicity (and I mean that in a good way) of the nature of the song. While you can EASILY guess what this song is about and be correct in your deduction, what is surprising is just how simple this one is put together which takes it from being a conversation with THE FATHER (which is what it is) to sounding like a conversation with my Father - It literally sounds like a Father giving life advice to his son and while that is what it is, it has a much greater meaning and significance than two people sitting around talking to one another.

“He seh son ‘when you grow up’
These are the things you gotta learn up
How to flex and how to focus
Or else you’ll be spinning like a circus”

Overall, what can I say (I mean more than the 2700 words that I just gave you)? I like it! I really like it. Like I said, while the case can potentially be different in a year or two, I wouldn’t expect it to be and that’s because of a situation that more of the hardcore fans will dislike perhaps (they usually do) (we usually do) - this album has a number of already well known tunes and it has twelve altogether. For me, it’s kind of a matter of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and while others won’t see it the same way . . . I don’t care! I like it! Richie Spice, somewhat quietly when compared to some of his more controversial and attention-seeking peers, has strung together an exceptional career - One of the greatest we've seen in the modern era - which has seen some very good moments. To my opinion, when it comes to albums, he’s only one more impressive than what is to be found with the ”Book Of Job”.

Rated: 4/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Releases on March 15
Richie Spice

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