Friday, April 1, 2011

'A Journey Indeed': A Review of "Journey To Israel" by Singing U

Apparently there’s some magical and mythical highway which goes directly from the streets of Kingston to nearly every Reggae hotbed and community in Europe. This highway is used for a variety of reasons and I also believe that it is the same road which extends throughout the world and serves as an express way for Reggae music, Reggae musicians and even Reggae culture to some extent. I’m currently actively searching for this highway and when I do discover its actual location (and I will), I hope to build it in further directions - Someday there’ll be a concert on Mars and its hyper and oxygen deprived audience will be instructed fervently say things like “More Fire” and “Bun dem out”. Until I find it, however, I am content to study the ‘evidence’ of its existence which is evident these days when you notice that nearly every Reggae album from a Jamaican artist as of late has at least somewhat of a European presence. Be it the case (which is normally the situation) of someone having voiced with a European label (such as Etana with "Free Expressions”) or even being released or completely produced by one (such as Luciano with ”United States of Africa“ for Frenchie and Maximum Sound and how many others from people like Natty King and Chezidek and others lately). Also we can’t go without mentioning the dozens and maybe even hundreds of European riddims which come with a healthy dosage of Jamaican talent. Europe has begun to not only solidify itself as a LARGE Reggae-heavy stop in the world (it actually did that years ago), but it’s also started to set itself as something which factors in Jamaican Reggae as well. Jamaica, on the other hand, although experiencing SOMEWHAT of a turning back of the proverbial clock over the past few months or so (something which I attribute, largely, to the successes of the returning Penthouse Records), has a dwindling taste for ACTUAL Reggae music and it shows with the handful of producers and with the artists, who certainly are not dwindling, heading for far more fruitful ground in numbers like never before on European shores. Previously, this was something which was done by elder artists who went searching for fans of their prominent old school vibes, but now, unsurprisingly, it’s gotten to younger artists, in or very close to their respective primes who set up shot in places like Germany, France and the UK - artists like Singing U.

Album Promo [pts. 1 & 2]

Singing U belongs to a very interesting group of Jamaican Reggae musicians who have almost completely built their recent followings and made their names in Europe. I look at him in the same way I look at others such as Jah Turban in Denmark recently and especially Yah Meek and Karli Owli and the globetrotting Hi-Kee and maybe even others such as Mark Wonder (to a lesser degree) and Anthony John - These are Jamaican born artists who developed locally, but when they hit the top level of their careers, they did it almost completely internationally. In the specific case of the Portland born Singing U, he’s done his work in Germany (as does Owli, who was also born in Portland I believe) and like most of these artists, to my knowledge, does almost all of his recording in Europe these days (I can’t remember the last riddim from a Jamaican label that he would have done) because that is where he’s known. The traditionalist in me is somewhat sad about that, but listening to his music and I’m not as sad as I would think. While I can’t even really recall when and where I would have initially heard his music, I do remember WHAT I heard. Singing U is a . . . well he’s a singer, but he doesn’t sing like your stereotypical singer. He sings like a chanter and although the two have virtually nothing to do one another, he reminds me of someone like Naptali or NiyoRah or maybe even Warrior King because the way his delivery is more forward thinking and direct. He also has a very SMOOTH and rich voice - Which he can push to very impressive levels. Furthermore, I just heard what I will eventually tell you about in regards to this album, SOLID VIBES. It was probably a year ago when I noticed that U was to have an album forthcoming from Ever Blazzing Productions (which I think manages him) and I was definitely interested and while it took at least a year to arrive, Singing U has dropped his brand new album, the spiritual ”Journey To Israel”. As it turns out, the album is, in fact, his third set to date following previous efforts, his second - ”Destiny” and ”Progressive” which was his debut album, distributed by Jet Star back in 2000. And now, obviously, I feel inclined to track them down after having listened to his brand new album. This album is by no means the best I’ve ever heard and if it doesn’t even make my top twenty bests for 2011, I wouldn’t be totally shocked at all, but this album is just so nice and is one which I think will appeal to a great deal of fans of modern Roots Reggae music, which is probably what YOU are, anyway. I hope that this album goes a great deal of way in pushing his name higher. I do pay quite a bit of attention to the music (DUH!) and Singing U is a name which I unfortunately don’t run into very often, so I’d like to see this album go a ways in simply making him more well known. Him becoming a big big name in the Caribbean seems unlikely, but after being re-impressed by the material here, I certainly wouldn’t mind if Singing U had an activity and a presence on Euro productions on the same level as some of the more popular Jamaican acts (maybe recording with someone like Irie Ites???) because his is a talent which deserves to be heard - Like you and I who are about to take in his brand new album, ”Journey To Israel” (which I keep typing as ‘Journey To Jah) (biggup Gentleman).

Photo Shoot/Interview

A couple of things jumped out at me following a cursory spin through the album. The first was just how straight forward the album is, for the most part. Singing U covers the basic topics of modern Roots Reggae and that’s fine (I happen to like modern Roots Reggae), but it was somewhat surprising that some of the times where he changes things up was when I got most excited here (more on that in a second). The other thing which stood out to me was that there’re seventeen tracks on the album and nearly half of them, eight, are combinations. Such a paired off tune, 'Calling', begins things on ”Journey To Israel” by Singing U (aka ’Bobo Israel’) as he teams up with big German artist, Uwe Banton. While I do generally enjoy Uwe’s work (to a pretty nice degree also), I don’t really like what he adds to this tune. Lyrically he isn’t very sharp - At times it sounds like he’s free-styling - And he’s predictable here which doesn’t add much to an otherwise sterling track. But I do recommend listening to some of Uwe’s other work because he is outstanding, usually. Later, on one of the more ‘different’ types of tracks on the album, ‘Dem A Search’, Singing U links with Lioth and Kallibwoy from out of the Netherlands. This one isn’t too far ‘out of bounds’ because it is an herbalist track and it’s a Dancehall tune as well, but it’s not very ‘normal’ here and I have to say that my favourite portion of the tune comes when Kallibwoy jumps in. HEAVY Dancehall deejaying early on here is very strong.

“Plant di green dung a gully
Yow babylon come and dem waan dun it
Peer farmer man live dung inna di gully
Plant sensi, indica and collie
Now babylon come, dem ah act funny
Tell wi no sale no weed
Wi no fi mek money
Poor people haffi live, wi haffi feed all wi pickney
Waan dem fi know
Yow again
Yow again”

Pat Blondy joins in on another changeup, the intoxicating ‘African Dance’. This is just a fun vibes tune with a kind of a swinging vibes straight from Afrika and not too dissimilar from my favourite song on the album. Veteran chanter Pelican (who I haven’t heard from in . . . a really long time), signs up on ‘Angel’, a tune which is kind of indirectly giving praise to the Afrikan woman and is somewhat of a praising tune, in general. It’s a lovely track, nice and easy and although I think it’s ‘destined’ to be lost in the shuffle of this album, definitely pay special attention to it when going through on your own. And the final track on ”Journey To Israel”, 'Show Me Some Love', is another combination, this one featuring Abiodun from out of Nigeria (I THINK) and Cassandra (Steen???). This one is too Disco-ish for me, so it kind of goes right over my head, but you may be different so have a spin (and look up Cassandra Steen, even if this isn’t here, because she’s gorgeous).

'Yah Love Is Beautiful' featuring Shocking Murray

With all of that being said, however, Singing U’s most constant and consistent collaborator is surely the fire and brimstone voiced Shocking Murray who guests on no less than three tracks on the album, ‘Pain’, ‘Yah Love Is Beautiful’ and ‘We No Hear’ and they also have more combinations that I know of (such as ‘Love How It Feels’ on Pow Pow’s recent Everlasting Riddim). I believe the two have known one another for a very long time (Shocking Murray is also from Portland) and that is apparent because the level of chemistry they have musically is very strong. All three tunes are exceptional, but in my opinion ‘Yah Love Is Beautiful’, atop Pow Pow’s overstuffed Surfer Riddim. But also do check ‘Pain’, a very strong social commentary and ‘We No Hear’, a song which I actually disagree with in some respects, but it’s also BEAUTIFUL, so credit goes where it is deserved and I’m still working on it as well.

One his own on ”Journey To Jah”, Singing U continues to serve up big moments, including the single largest on the whole of the album. Before that, however, we have the very familiar biblical social commentary ‘Chapter A Day’ from Oneness Records’ Soul Riddim of last year. I always did like this song, from when I first heard it and although I haven’t heard it in a minute, it’s still quite strong (although if you can get through it without singing ‘Familiar Stranger’, then you’re more attentive than I am).

“Wicked man fighting their evilous war
They know what they’re fight for
Dem kill up the innocent youth
They know what they’re killing for
All dem promote - Corruption and war
They no want the ghetto youths dem reach for
Gotta keep your head up
Gotta hold your head up”

Next in is the Diaspora recounting ‘So Long’. These type of tunes are almost always some of my favourites, because I love the subject and I love to hear different opinions and point of views on it. Singing U doesn’t say anything revelatory, but the tune, like the album is very well constructed and placed together and one of the most sonically gratifying to be found here. Not too far at all from that line of thinking is ‘Slavery’ which comes in later. The riddim on this tune is one of the most simple and LUSH one-drops that I’ve heard in quite some time and Singing U utilizes it to deliver one extremely large song. ‘Mama’, of course, is the obligatory Mama song for the album and it’s pretty nice, although not a highlight for the album. And I could also say the same of ‘Never Leave My Empress’, which is pretty self-explanatory (at least I hope it is) - It’s a decent track. Moving on, we get three solo tracks which are highlights. The first is the sublime praising track, ‘He Is Great’. The song doesn’t come in very LOUD and it never reaches that point, but it stays poignant throughout and if you REALLY tune it in, you should hear something very special. ‘People Calling’ is a pretty odd sounding tune, but it proves to be very strong and it also features Singing U dusting off the deejay skills as well, for one of the best moments of this journey. And ‘Solution’ definitely DOES coming in very LOUD and although it soon tempers itself, the quality of the tune isn’t halved at all and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this one ended up being very close to the best tune on the album for me someday.

HOWEVER! As it stands right now, the finest moment ”Journey To Israel” has to offer in my opinion is the fascinating Groovy Soca-fied ‘African Woman’. I heard this tune and I figured, almost immediately, that it’d be the type of song that I LOVED, but no one else would even mention and it’s probably going to be the case (because Reggae media sucks and they aren’t likely to write about this album). But I really like the easiness of the tune and that, combined with its ‘natural’ significance made it a real winner for me - The biggest taker on the album.

Overall, I don’t want to paint the picture that this album is one of the greatest that I’ve ever heard, but what it is, is just (as I said), really solid. You may not enjoy it as much as I do, but I’d have a hard time believing that general fans of the genre REALLY dislike this one. Sure, it could’ve been a few songs shorter than it is, but somewhere in here is a really nice 12-13 track set and it’s nothing which comes as a great surprise either. From however long I’ve been listening to Singing U, he’s shown himself to be just a quality Roots singer and ”Journey To Israel” is yet another quality Roots set from out of Europe - nothing more, nothing less.

Rated: 3.25/5
MKZWO Records
CD + Digital
Singing U @ Myspace
Singing U @ Myspace 2
Singing U @ Facebook

1 comment:

  1. Bless Up, give thanks for the review achisreggae, maximum respect for the support.