Saturday, April 30, 2011

Modern Classics Vol. XXIX: "Flame On" by Machel Montano HD

"Flame On" by Machel MontanoHD [Ruf Rex Productions - 2008]

I’m thankful that, in many respects, I’m a very open minded person. I don’t judge a next person negatively for doing things which don’t effect me and, in that regard, I’m pretty much indifferent to most things. It also, in my opinion, goes into my musical tastes. I can reach the absolute height of musical JOY listening to a variety of different (sub)genres. Roots Reggae music, when the riddim is perfect, when the vocalist is giving a message that I fully support (and even if I don’t, if he/she is able to completely drive their point across) and everything is in tune - It offers an experience which just taps into such a vast area of emotions and it also becomes educational and thought-provoking as well. Dancehall? You get a lyricist who just has such an impressive command with words and I’m hooked! If you have that and a genuine riddim which is just KNOCKING my senses through then the experience in that instance can be shock and awe. I literally have to pause (thankfully (not really) that doesn’t happen much these days, otherwise I couldn’t get anything done). Even Zouk music serves a purpose and, although I’ve experienced this less so than in any other of these case in my life, when you get Zouk music which is just so well done, the music becomes very ‘visual’ it all begins to form a scenario in your head and a perfect situation for it.

With all of that being said, however, Soca music, at least for me, serves a purpose unlike any other art form that you’re likely to find on my players. It is musical detachment. It is indifference (Pas mele! Pas mele! Pas mele!). It is an escape - And no matter how many times I write one of these things and try to analyze every SYLLABLE of every word and make points which probably either don’t make very much sense to anyone but me or aren’t nearly as important to the rest of you - Soca music will always help bring me back to the proverbial center as it provides a EXCUSE (a BEAUTIFUL one) for me to lose my fucking mind.

Machel Montano

Earlier this week I gave you a lyrical example of one such provider of insanity for me in Fay-Ann Lyons and today we look into the work of arguably the genre’s most famous name to date, Machel Montano who, while he didn’t have his greatest of seasons in 2008, he made a large impression me when he put it all together in a nice and neat package. Here’s a look at one of the most MADDENING of Soca albums (and one of the best as well) that I’ve ever heard. “Flame On”

The Music

1. ‘Unconditional Love’ [Prelude]

The opener to ”Flame On” is simply a calm before the fiery storm which is to follow as we join Machel in a church-ish style (complete with organs and all) on a rendition of the monster of a tune which comes next. I’ve always thought that this intro was just so cool and you start to think not only which other songs on this album might sound good in a similar style, but which other Soca songs in general as well.

2. ‘Unconditional’

If the first track doesn’t let you know exactly how much ‘Unconditional’ Machel has for us all, then certainly the full tune will do the trick. MADNESS! I’m probably going to use that word a lot (and a lot more considering that I still have to go back and write the opening) here and this is the fullest first sign on ”Flame On” of some material was actually bled over and gone onto the proverbial next level. HD sets the bar incredibly high for the album’s first tune . . . Which makes it all the more remarkable that the two next songs top it!

3. ‘Blazin D Trail’

DE HEAT! Although not my choice as the album’s biggest moment, in 2008 Machel’s big song for the road was deemed ‘Blazin D Trail’ and although it didn’t take top honours that year (because Fay-Ann Lyons absolutely lost her mind that year with ‘Get On’) it, again, reached levels where very few artists dwell. The song was just SO intense that it almost became overbearing at times and coming from someone who wish EVERY song was like this, that’s definitely saying something. MAD!

4. ‘Rollin’ featuring Patrice Roberts

My favourite tune on ”Flame On” should be to the shock of no one who reads my work to any point of even semi-consistency. Anytime you get Machel Montano and Patrice Roberts the results are going to be something which is potentially very special and while their biggest moment to date also netted the duo a Road March crown in 2006, ‘Band of De Year’, ‘Rollin’ isn’t very far behind it at all. TEARS! This song has been bringing tears to incredibly old and jaded eyes for more than three years now and if it ever ceases to do that - I’ll probably take my ball and go home!

5. ‘Wining Season’

Unfortunately insanity can’t reign ALL the time and we do have to tone things back just a beat or two and in doing so in 2008, Machel served up a tune which many people who’re hell of a lot smarter than I am still regard as his biggest tune of that year as he instituted the ‘Wining Season’. The slightly more enthused than usual mid-tempo set was just a beautiful and bouncy song which IMMEDIATELY dug its claws into the collective brains of millions of people and a few years on, for many of them, it’s yet to let them go.

Best Lyric: “This season is [my time]. Is a full cup and is [hard wine]. If they tell we stop, we go [decline]. Every man, women and child”

6. ‘Make Love’

COOL! When done at its best, there’s nothing like a Groovy Soca song. The most Rub-A-Dub-best Reggae tune definitely comes close, but its more of a darker and more personal type of feel. ‘Make Love’ is literally a Dance floor ORGY (a cool one) (no mess)! While this song has probably been forgotten to some degree these days, I’d say that it’s one of Montano’s best Groovy tunes in recent years and maybe even through his entire decorated catalog. Yeah, it was that good.

7. ‘Oil & Music’ featuring David Rudder

Next in we’re doing a bit of mixing with the first of two consecutive legends to join Machel on ”Flame On”, David Rudder. The well respected veteran joins Machel in telling us about ‘Oil & Music’ which is a dual-acting tune which serves not only to praise the land of oil and music (Trinidad) (duh!), but also the music and the culture of the music as well. The song is so interested for several reasons and one of them, definitely, is the fact that it’s a Soca song with such a powerful meaning and at the same time it is a ‘jump & wave’ type of a tune (albeit a less frenzied one than the other such songs on this album). It also, for some reason (to my ears), has a kind of an old school mentality as well which just spruce up the vibes (particularly later on).

Best Lyric: “This is the land of - The land of oil and music. When they hear the riddim! I tell yuh you can’t refuse it!”

8. ‘Congo Man’ featuring Mighty Sparrow

You want me talk the truth??? Machel also invited the incomparable Mighty Sparrow to do a remake of the Calypso King’s . . . brilliant/scandalous/ridiculous classic tune, ‘Congo Man’. The effect of this tune has lessened over the years and at this point we can really just appreciate it for its HUGE sonic appeal and it was a significant track as well (and this was the same year that Bunji Garlin scored a Soca Monarch title with a remake of the Maestro’s tune ‘Fiery’). It wasn’t a straight cover, it was more of a Soca remix actually and the added colours did well for this unforgettable piece.

9. ‘Jamishness’

My pressure bad bad bad. Soca history will forever remember the Leggo Me Riddim as the piece which backed Ricky T’s DESTRUCTIVE hit ‘Pressure Boom’ and justly so. That song was just FUCKED UP. The best of the rest, however (unless I’m REALLY overlooking something), came from Machel Montano when he reached with ‘Jamishness’. He kind of tuned back the intensity on this one and it was a good idea in my opinion (that riddim is just way overactive as it is) because what resulted was a tune which didn’t become labourious at all and at the same time was an IMPOSSIBLE ride not to get up and move on.

10. ‘We Will Live’

My Reggae heads (who aren’t reading this) will likely hear the opening to the big 'We Will Live' and immediately began to sing ‘Just One of Those Days’ by Sizzla because it has a very similar intro to the immortal Queen Majesty Riddim. What develops behind it is another track on which Machel goes a bit more with the powerful messages in the midst of the madness. This one is a bit more ‘terrestrial’ and familiar because it simply says for all to come together and thrive and live in piece and love - Which works PERFECTLY in Soca music.

Best Lyric: “Sometimes you hungry to kill, but please think twice. Please think twice. Please think twice. Leave home yah automatic and your sharp device. Sharp device. Sharp device. Sharp device. In the end it’s the children who pay de price. Pay de price. Pay de price. So, from now you better give dem good advice. Lift your hand to de sky. We will live”

11. ‘Wining Season [Remix] featuring Shaggy

Superstar meets superstar on this slightly amped up remix to ‘Wining Season' which brings in Shaggy. The legendary wining season of 2008 got up and spread throughout the Caribbean finally landing in Jamaica (or New York, or wherever Shaggy would have been at the time).

12. ‘Make Love’ featuring Buju Banton

To be completely honest, I wasn’t very high on the remix to ‘Make Love’ which involved another big big artist joining Machel, this time Buju Banton, because it was so much of a drastic leap from the original (which is excellent, of course). But having gone a year or two without REALLY digging into it, it sounds better than ever these days.

13. ‘Defense [The Anthem] featuring Pitbull & Lil’ Jon

. . . And the same could be said for ‘Defense’ as well, although I’ve come around more and more to it in the last year or so. This song was a remix of an original tune from Hip-Hop/Reggaeton artist, Pitbull, from out of Miami which featured fellow exuberant Hip-Hopper/producer, Lil Jon (which, itself, was a remake of ‘Calabria’ to some degree). Machel’s presence not only made this one interesting to you and I, but it also made it a significantly better song and it wouldn’t be the last time the trio would link up either.


Surely you noticed that I didn’t, as I usually do on these features, go the route of including the ‘best lyrics’ on every single tune and while I certainly could have, aside from pointing out a GEMS, that wasn’t the point here. Instead, I really wanted to reiterate the point which I opened with, which was the PURPOSE that this type of music so wonderfully serves. Soca music, in this form - With the most SPECTACULARLY of demonstrative vibes - Is the greatest musical ESCAPE that I know of. It is a burst and a release of energy which may not translate completely well to album form, but in the case of ”Flame On”, Machel Montano definitely gave it his proverbial ‘best shot’ and also gave it one of the BEST SHOTS that I know of in the genre. The album takes on the characteristics less of an album and more of a musical experience and while nothing can compare to seeing Montano take his act live, this album is a powerful ‘take home version’ of that “experience’.

And it’s more than just having a great year (which he clearly did in 2008 despite not taking home any Carnival hardware that season). In Soca, where albums are often quite random, a ‘good year’ does not always translate into a ‘good album’ (largely because it only takes ONE song in order to fuel a particular artist to a good year and it takes . . . More than one to do that with an album ), sometimes it takes something a bit more in the way of consistency to provide a good project and, perhaps, even dictating the pace of a given season with a mind to eventually deliver an album for it and that’s less of an issue for Machel than most because he does an album every year. In this case, he likely topped his previous 31 efforts in TRULY capturing and providing a musical PAGEANTRY on an album which is just odd! And it captures this from every angle - Be it the nearly overwhelming vibes of ‘Unconditional’, ‘Blazin D Trail’ and ‘Rollin’, or the midtempo natures of ‘We Will Live’ and the infectious ‘Wining Season’ or the far more slowed down and just COOL, ‘Make Love’. The album literally leaves nothing to be desired.

'Make Love'

It’s because of that (and the fact that it’s bailed me out of many a spell of writer’s block) that I’m declaring ”Flame On” by Machel Montano the first bon fide Modern Soca Classic!

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