Monday, June 6, 2011

'Sacred Text': A Review of "The Scriptures" by Sizzla Kalonji

Given his perhaps 'legendary' ability to maintain a nearly supreme level of activity, I don’t know that there has been a period within the past 12-13 years or so where we've had a year and a half without a new, or at least newly produced, album from Reggae giant, Sizzla Kalonji. During a period of time which ended four or five years ago, in fact, you could nary find a period of half of that where he wouldn't deliver at least a pair of legitimate releases and, looking back, for Sizzla fans, it’s now become apparent that, like most good things, we took both he and his most devastating talents for granted. What has been somewhat odd about his absence on release shelves is that Sizzla hasn’t exactly taken a break from the music. He's just as active now as he’s been over the past few years and while Reggae albums, in general, have slowed to some degree to my observation, it would seem as if anyone (not named Vaughn Benjamin), would have difficult getting an album released, or one released for him (and he has had an illegitimate one of those, the name of which I won’t even burden you with reading), it would not be Sizzla Kalonji, even these days. When you take his history and combine it with the fact that the now 35 years old wizard has been enjoying a very nice string of solid output over the past (decade and a half) year or so, it seems even more unusual that I haven't written a review for a new Sizzla album from the beginning of 2010, when there was the old-school centered "Crucial Times". Damn, time flies. As a relief for a terribly uncomfortable spot of withdrawal and just a lack of what has become a musical and perhaps even spiritual 'fix', Sizzla fans across the globe are now going to collectively do what billions of people do in similar times of grief - we turn to "The Scriptures".

As someone who readily says, without offering up too much in the way of specifics, that the music of Sizzla Kalonji has (and possibly even continues to in several ways) changed my life and my way of thinking, I would almost have had it several years back when he released an album with such a title, but now, marking some unusual distinction (his first album in a span of time which isn't particularly significant at all to many people besides him), perhaps it is even more fitting. It presents a two-sided element of ample common sense - On one side there is the obvious spiritual reference, Sizzla does make spiritual music. The other is even more appropriate for my purposes as he makes music which, when at its best, forces the listener to think and compels them to recognize not only the significance of the moment and the song, but the importance of something even greater as well. Taking the word out of its biblical roots, briefly, and placing it into a context of 'simply' being very significant and considerable material which earns its designation - We could probably call the vast majority of Sizzla’s entire career "The Scriptures" and not be exaggerating at all.

"Waterhouse Redemption" - 2006

Focusing on this particular moment of it, once again the chanter is afforded an opportunity to work with yet another maestro as the album is helmed by the son of the king (Jammy), John John (and his cool logo). Fans should recall that it was just back in 2006 when Kalonji also did an album in "Waterhouse Redemption" which was executively produced by King Jammy (wonderfully it has found its way back onto my players once again) and featured at least four tunes produced by John John. Also, if you look at a great deal of John John's riddims over the years, Sizzla's is a name which is often present and the two clearly have developed a great rapport and musical chemistry which dates back to at least a decade ago. So while the most famous resident of August Town will forever be linked to producers such as Philip 'Fatis' Burrell of Xterminator and Bobby Digital and maybe even Don Corleon to a (strange) degree, easily one of his most consistent and fruitful stops along his journey has been with John John who has elicited more than a few big tunes from him and there is no better (or funner) way to cement that on a full blown album which is what we have here. The comparisons in terms of "The Scriptures" album are sure to be laid on "Waterhouse Redemption" which was an album that was largely, and maybe even entirely, composed of tunes on classic riddims which would ultimately create this wonderful sound and one which delivered a few hits as well. That’s an excellent start. While there are riddims on this album which will be very familiar to Reggae fans and for good reason, the dominant trait of this album is probably it’s 'mood'. The sounds are both laid back and somewhat LARGE sounding (if that makes any sense at all) at times and what happens is that you can almost get an audio glimpse of a vintage Sizzla Kalonji. Anything even remotely close to that is good. Even if you just point him in the proper direction and you eschew the version of the chanter who is, at times, unnecessarily aggressive on a track, you're doing well and that more shocking brand of Sizzla Kalonji isn't here. Also what isn't here is anything in the way of Dancehall. When I listened through it, initially, I was kind of seeking just a bit of a BITE to the vibes --something with an edge-- and it subsequently does deliver an appropriate amount, it doesn't do so in the expected manner. And it should be said as a further demonstration of the vibes between artist and producer that when the album goes on a more unexpected terrain, for the most part, it does so carefully and by its end it does well on so many levels. But that's all to be explored as first and foremost you'll join me in the celebration of there being A NEW SIZZLA ALBUM! WHAT! If I overrate it, you'll forgive me anyway (because you will too!), but I won't, "The Scriptures" is very very good.

If you haven't noticed (shame on you), Sizzla Kalonji is my favourite artist ever. I'm generally going to put his music in a different category and different place (literally) than everyone else's. So when he does put out an album, especially now, I'm a happy human being and over the course of his new release, "The Scriptures" from John John Records, he gives a great deal to be happy for. That includes the fine opening selection on the album (despite its title) 'World Cry' (biggup Jah Cure . . . Or maybe not). Like several on the album, this tune sounds very familiar to me for some reason and that’s a good thing in this instance. Sizzla has this coyly unique way of writing these tunes - They're very broad, but they're broad to a point and here, the point is a social commentary during where he, essentially, subs the word 'world' for 'children' and after a few spins, it was at this point where I started to REALLY enjoy this album. Next up is the stirring 'The World Is Watching' which features Peter Jackson who is either the legendary 'Black Prince' of Jamaican blood from St. Croix or the same Canadian Hip-Hopper with which Sizzla pushed 'Miss Right' last year. Chances are pretty good that it is the latter (considering that the former has been deceased for nearly 110 years) and while I didn't like their first tune, this one is BIG. The tune is one which is reminding pretty much everyone from the poor to the world leaders that YOU are under observation (everyone is watching everyone). The riddim on this song is something different, to say the least, and it works just as well behind Jackson that it does supporting Sizzla making this one, besides a powerful message, a tune which is sure to get the heads rocking. Still, the best tune from the opening batch from "The Scriptures" is the DELIGHTFUL 'In Jamaica' which comes through Father Jungle Rock style.

“Things run different in Jamaica
Black people live decent in Jamaica
Ah beer superstar come from Jamaica
Badmind people stand far from Jamaica”

“Respect and honours
Mi rise di banners
For di young
For di old
For di Dad and Mamas
Ghetto youth as long as -
To di elders you have manners
Rastafari make you a strongers”

This song is just hard to stop listening to (!) and besides being so pleasing from a strictly sonic point of view, it is a lovely message and I hope it goes on to get an opportunity to shine because it definitely has hit potential to my opinion.

Nearly every song on "The Scriptures" (with one exception) seems to get better on the second and third times through, respectively. It was such a WONDERFUL situation to have this album literally begin to develop right in front of my ears as suddenly songs I wasn't too sure about became at least GOOD. There existed no greater shift in taste than the consecutive pair of tracks, 'Let It Be' and 'Jah Is My Shield'. The former is a somewhat complicated love song, which is both personal and kind of all-encompassing. The sound is just so laid back and bouncy that, when I first heard it, I wrapped it up as kind of gimmicky, but it's a BEAUTIFUL TUNE (biggup Achis). The latter? It's just strange, but somewhere in the middle of this praising track I think I found myself completely lost in it and lost with a smile from ear to ear. For as odd as it is, it's also one of the real highlights for this album. And, as I said, I was also seeking something with a bit of a bite and an edge on the album and, again, it didn't come in the expected way, but it did arrive. Check the pounding 'Jump For Joy' another song which grabbed me after more than one trip through. It's a song with a big vibes and it's fun at the same on an inspirational body of work. And speaking of FUN, definitely don’t miss the Ska'd out 'Happy Birthday', which has now caught the attentions of my Daughter and her father.


'Cleanse My Soul'

Five of the remaining six tracks on "The Scriptures" are positively HALTING and make up a great deal of the real class of the album in my opinion. The classically vibed 'Cleanse My Soul' is the first such remaining tune and I suppose I could count this as a tune which has grown on me somewhat as I first heard it a month or so ago [Hey Susan!], but it was clearly golden back then. Now it may be even something more impressive, but only the second biggest praising tune on the album. The title track is, as you may've expected, is a similarly themed song. This is a very passionate song for me because in the midst of it, especially when Sizzla says:

“Jah bear my witness
Most High cleanse all sickness
Read it in the scriptures
Go and read your scriptures”

I wanted to reach through the speaker and tell him that I was! The tune a GORGEOUS one and the fact that there is better material to be heard on this album should be a sign of what you’re dealing with. There's the LARGE sounding 'Mama tune', 'God Bless You Mama'. Everything relatively decent like this that Sizzla does will forever draw comparisons to 'Thank U Mamma' and while those ridiculous levels aren't reached here (and probably will never be again), this a more than solid track which my own Mother will be getting a taste of shortly (if she ever checks her damn email). Also, I should mention in regards to this one that so many times you hear a song for the Mothers and it’s kind of weird or skeletal - Seeming as if someone had an opening to fill, but this one isn't like that, it’s very full and dynamic and probably one of the best sonic experiences to be had here.


'Music In My Soul'

The single best tune on "The Scriptures" is somewhere between two MASSIVE tracks. The first to appear is 'What A Whoa'. TEARS! The sound here is off the charts and Kalonji uses it to deliver a social commentary which dwells almost entirely within the spiritual realm and does so effortlessly. The delivery is somewhat overstated (and intentionally so), but it never jumps over the pacing of the song and what we have here is just excellence! The other top ranking track on the album was expected. 'Music In My Soul' was a pretty decent hit for Sizzla across John John's cut of the Zion Gate Riddim and he throws it up as a fitting celebration of this greatest of music. Here's another with a dual feature of education and entertainment and it's a song, again, which may take a moment to really grasp you (although it probably should have already), because of the nature of the vibes (on one side you have Sizzla's some forward delivery, and the riddim, itself, is kind of'’moody' and seemingly could adjust itself to almost any type of chanting), but once it does, there can be no denying that this is one of his very best efforts in quite some time. If you FORCED me to pick a best tune between the two, I’d actually go with 'What A Whoa' by the slimmest of margins, but you can do no wrong on either side.

I didn't mention 'Love You More' - It is my least favourite tune on the album - The song is a bluesy love song and doesn’t go very far to my opinion, but surely you’ll have a listen for yourself.

The prevailing feeling about this one, in retrospect, is that it is a very MATURE sounding album. Obviously I love to write, but even I'm not going to try to rank it amongst Sizzla's . . . 3400 albums or so, but I will say that if you enjoyed pieces such as the aforementioned "Waterhouse Redemption", "Ghetto Youth-Ology" and maybe even "I -Space" (although I hesitate to mention that one because it was absolutely spectacular in every way and can probably be appreciated by seven year old), then "The Scriptures" will be big to you. There's a definitive concentration here made to make a sound which, although cleverly varied in spots and not exactly 'straight-forward', is predominantly one which is going to be mostly appreciated by long(er) time fans of Sizzla's. Also the writing is diverse, despite the fact that this is easily one of his more spiritual based albums and the majority of the strong songs are within that spectrum.

Sizzla Kalonji

Overall, you know I'm happy. It's a new Sizzla album! And it's really good! I'm recommending this latest release MOSTLY to more experienced fans, but I think that, with the big sound on quite a few of the tracks that there is a bit of room for the newer listeners as well. "The Scriptures" is a big album and a big album in a very nicely pointed way from such a top class artist and, if you haven't noticed, when such things happen in Reggae music, it's a very big deal for us and because of that, I'm imagining that this one will have a great deal of attention and scrutiny paid to it and it’s more than prepared to stand up to it all and look good doing. So even if it took seventeen months to get here, it's still a very powerful reason to (re)fall in love with the music of Sizzla Kalonji: The Greatest to Ever Do It.

Rated: 4.45/5
John John Records/Zojak Worldwide
2011
CD + Digital
Sizzla @ Myspace

{Note: The digital version of the album is in stores on June 14. The CD is in stores June 21}

2 comments:

  1. Just released on iTunes today, so of course I had to snap it up. I've listened to it twice now, and what strikes me are the variety and quality of his flows. He's trying out different styles, but every so often he just LOCKS IN! There are times he almost has an R n B vocal, but not new (crap) style...more like classic Motown, where everything is so smooth. When he goes falsetto, it flows with the tune. When he deejays, it fits the tune. When he chants, it fits the tune. I think this one is just gonna get better with repeated listens.
    --Coolruler

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