Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Vault Reviews: "Signs of The Time" by Mark Wonder

I have to say that, besides listening to and then writing for this wonderful, wonderful music, that some of the greatest joys and . . . just FUN that I get from writing this blog is ‘simply’ doing the research. I’ll be a student, of some sorts, for my entire life, hopefully, and when dealing with something as obscurely detailed as Reggae music, where the difference between learning what is wrong and learning what is right is often very slim, the quests for knowledge are so healthy and brimming with very fascinating twists and turns. There’re albums which were released and done so in a very limited manner and are, therefore, essentially completely gone. There’re actual artists who aren’t around anymore, but strangely have tunes which are released well beyond the days of their careers. Producers who have taken older riddims (of their own and of other producers) and re-released them and re-re-released them and done so with different names and different musicians in different studios for different labels and . . . Researching Reggae can be damn tedious work! But, generally speaking, it’s worth it - There is a reward (biggup Joe Higgs). Be it merely finding the actuality of what you’re searching for (or as close to it as you or anyone else will ever get) or establishing some other base of functioning knowledge going forth, it is helpful work. Oh! And there’s also the matter of the actual music itself, of course, which may not get any better or worse once you know the story behind it, but when something COMES BACK and gives you an opportunity to hear it for the first time, perhaps, and dive straight into it, it has to be one of the greatest musical experiences for me, personally.

"Break The Ice" - 2005

And here is such an opportunity. If you haven’t noticed very much, I’ve been one of quite a few people (which is wonderful) who has recently been singing the praises of a singer who has gone woefully overlooked for entirely too long in the grand scope of Reggae music, the amazing Mark Wonder. Much like artist such as Yami Bolo, Batch, Mikey General and others, Wonder has become someone who although he may not be regarded as one of the most popular top flight Reggae performers of his day, will ALWAYS have a place on players, regardless of how old or new his output is. What is perhaps most remarkable besides the music (which I’m getting into shortly), is the fact that nearly every time I hear one of his songs (many of which I’ve heard dozens and dozens of times and written about thoroughly) I gain a greater and greater appreciation for it, which is a quality that he probably only shares with the aforementioned Ras Batch and Sara Lugo these days. Also, I should add that, as I alluded to, I’m not the only one who seems to be waking up. I write about him, in the most informal of manners, and we get comments on the page and a great deal of emails as well and, that’s just beautiful and HOPEFULLY we can get it to a point where he gets the credit he deserves: As simply one of the greatest Roots Reggae singers the genre has today and has likely EVER had.

So! When you give me an opportunity to do research about Mark Wonder and definitely if you give me music which is new to my ears as well, I’m not only going to be interested, but as you can see, I’m going to be vocal as well. When doing research in Reggae, one of the most fertile of focal areas is surely the debut album. Particularly for an artist who has quite a few years in the business (and, reportedly, Wonder is nearing a quarter of a century in Reggae music), going back that far is very GOOD work. That brings us, most fortunately to ”Signs of The Time” which, I’m almost certain, is officially the debut album of the Kingston born singer. Okay - The album was likely done for the year 1996 (when I was fifteen) (yes, I will, so unfortunately, be thirty in a very short moment), by an old Dutch label called Zola & Zola, which was ran by a Peter Jonker. It was produced by veteran KC White, whose work I am familiar with, who reportedly was introduced to Mark Wonder by one of the greatest Dancehall DJ’s of all time, the legendary General Trees. The album may or may not have actually been released (EVER!) and I take this from the liner notes of the later (beautiful) ”Break The Ice” album (which says that it wasn’t). So, if we could somehow, someway get the tunes from that album, at least as far as some of them, it may be the first time that almost anyone has heard them. Well we can. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a billion times, the digital medium for music, and especially a music such as Reggae which is so ‘fractured’ in terms of how many people do it and where they do it, is extremely powerful. So powerful is it, in fact, that it can raise the dead! White, now with his label, Carmor Productions, slapped a cover on it (which is positively awful, but who cares?), linked up with the leaders of digital Reggae, the conquering Zojak Worldwide, and has manifested, likely for the first time ever, ”Signs of The Time” by Mark Wonder! [He’s also released projects for Trees, Anthony B and others, all of which were all apparently done for Zola & Zola] If it didn’t happen like this, it’s likely that this album would NEVER have been resurrected and that would’ve really been a lost to fans of the singer such as you and I. Now, it’s readily available and when I first saw this album (biggup Bredz), I’m sure I flashed a smile from ear to ear. Not only is the voyage back in time to discover the story behind this album a very entertaining experience - It’s still a MARK WONDER ALBUM, which means that it’s top notch. It is a very well done and UPFUL project from someone who has likely not flopped on A SINGLE TUNE at any point in the last decade and a half - at least! Let’s have a look back.

Mark Wonder

The first thing that I’ll say about the album is that, despite its rather mysterious background, apparently everything surrounding the actual recording of the project was legit. It sounds very very good throughout and that’s an excellent trait to have because whenever you’re in the business of displaying one of the greatest voices in Reggae music, we want to be able to hear it at its finest. Also, there’s been no radical shift in regards to what the singer does with his vibes and you can well expect the same predominately straight forward and DURABLE Roots Reggae on which he’s made his name (although I might say that this album has a slight more laid back colour to it than some of his later work). Obviously the work has had enough time to last at least fifteen years and when looking at material such as the opener for Mark Wonder’s 1996 debut album, ”Signs of The Time”, the heavy ‘Behold Africa’, it’s no real ‘wonder’ why. The tune is one of a few on the album which I will actually describe as being a GREAT song - It is damaging! Wonder gets biblical on what is a very intelligent repatriation anthem and it is blended so mightily on this track which champions the nature and virtues of the Motherland and does so in a MAMMOTH way to start things off. Speaking of virtues, next we’re treated to ‘Black Woman’ which does the same thing the opener did to Afrika, to the most amazing creature on the planet.

“Give thanks and praises to Black Woman
She’s all Mother Nature and she’s alright
Give thanks and praises to Black Woman
She’s all Mother Nature, yes she’s alright

Virtuous one, so gorgeous and fair
To you, no other can compare
Pearl of the garden
Source of the divine
You fill the emptiness of mankind”

The song utilizes the classic Vanity Riddim, which definitely gives it more of a ‘light’ feel and you recognize this kind of fun backing to this very important tune and that only adds to the entire set of the vibes to my opinion. Next we have a pair of tunes in ‘Break The Ice’ and ‘Cry Aloud’ which are (kind of) very familiar to me and hopefully to you as well. Both tunes would appear on Wonder’s later work, including his aforementioned superb album from 2005 which shares a title with the former. What’s most interesting in the case of both of these songs is the fact that they were re-recorded for the other album and what we have here are two different versions of them both. I do prefer the later version of ‘Break The Ice’, but this cut of ‘Cry Aloud’, which still does feature singer Skatta, tops the later version to my ears. In either case, this goes back to exactly what I spoke of earlier - Rewards! You come this way and for your work, you receive two new versions of two already certifiably big big tunes. Large opening.

'Just Lead The Way

The class of ”Signs of The Time” would be THE class of just about any album from around its time as Mark Wonder vividly demonstrates that, when he is at his very best, his equals exist ONLY amongst the very best that the entire genre has EVER produced. Along with the anthem-like opener, there’s also the lovely ‘Hail Israel’, which is part praising tune and part, tangible POWERHOUSE of a track. I particularly love the way this one is written (especially earlier on), because it does what I’m always wanting the spiritual tunes to do - Combine the spiritual with real world situations and HIGHLY USEFUL information and circumstances. Next to step in, in a massive way is ‘Revolution’. Again, this one is a predominately spiritual set, but its beauty is just . . . Something else. It may not grab everyone in a similar manner, but I will DEFINITELY speak to the power of this ROYALLY vibed tune. It’s more laid back (more on that in a second), which is why I say that it may not strike everyone in the same fashion, but it got me almost immediately and definitely focus on what is being said on this one (“I can hear the trumpets blowing”). And I wasn’t going to include this one here, but going through it several times for the sake of this review, I now have a grand appreciation for the tune, ‘Just Lead The Way’. This song comes over the old Choice of Colour Riddim and it so nicely speaks on how to find comfort and DIRECTION in the virtue of His Imperial Majesty. I really like how Mark Wonder personalizes this one, but not too much, so by its end, it literally sounds like he’s speaking of himself being lost in some way - And me and you and everyone else also. The single best tune on ”Signs of The Time”, unsurprisingly, is the song which it is named after. It is a simple but STUNNING piece of music.

“See the signs of the time
Natty keep the faith high

See the signs of the time
Glorify Selassie I

We are HIS true witness

Holding firm through any test
Through all the trials and tribulations

We upset the pagan’s plan

Chant a psalm Rastaman
Tear down di walls of babylon
Chant a psalm
Your song!

Tear down di walls of wicked man!”

I could take this one in several directions (and you know I could), but what mainly hits me on this tune is a sense of unity that Wonder is trying to convey. If you really tune it in you notice that he rarely says ‘I’ and ‘Me’, it’ s always "let’s" and he speaks in more community type of terms, regardless of the action and that’s something which stands out in a HUGE tune.

As I said, ”Signs of The Time” has a slight but certain lighter feel to it. Not every song is heavy or ‘urgent’ in the vibes and even when they are, at times it isn’t in a prevailing way -- even some of those songs have kind of musically agile moments. The love songs on the album, ‘Love You Baby’, ‘Right Here’ and ‘To My Love’ are three very good examples of this. These tunes aren’t amongst my favourites on the album (although ‘To My Love’ is damn close), but what they do, ostensibly, is to change up the vibes on the album and in a nice way. They’re not the Reggae-normative type of love song either, for the most part, they’re largely at least somewhat R&B-ish and not a bad track exists amongst them. Also adding to the lighter side of these “times” is the album’s closer and definitely one of my favourites, the very unique ‘Twisting & Turning’. I was very interested in hearing this one based on the title alone and seeing in what direction it went and it took me awhile (sonically speaking, this just may be the most impressive tune on the entire project), but ultimately we see that what Wonder is speaking about is the UNCOMFORTABLE nature of those who shy away from His Majesty and from righteousness, in general. They can never be placated; they’re eternally “twisting and turning”. WELL DONE!

And finally is a pair of outstanding tracks which could definitely fit somewhere in the earlier group of big tunes that I mentioned and likely do for more than a few listeners. First is ‘Let’s Not Be Ashamed’, a tune which I’m almost certain that I’ve heard from somewhere before. This is another big spiritual anthem (slightly more laid back than one or two of the others) which speaks, indirectly, on confidence and security in His Imperial Majesty.

“Let me not be ashamed -
To call upon Your name
Let me not be ashamed -
I’ll never, ever complain

Yes, I am willing and I’m ready to make that sacrifice
Oh Jah you know, I speak truly
My poor heart won’t lie
Your love so precious, forever sure
I just want it more and more”

And then is ‘Positive, Nothing Negative’ which is fairly similar as far as its subjectry, to ‘Let’s Not Be Ashamed’ and is just yet another all-around nice addition to an album which really doesn’t need the help, but we’re most thankful that it got it anyway.

"Jeremiah" - 1998???

Overall, technically it didn’t - But Mark Wonder’s catalog (which should probably be larger than it is), just TANGIBLY got bigger now that this album is available and we can get our hands on it. If we’re going to hold him to the same level that we do some of the more well regarded Reggae singers in the world (and WE ARE), then that’s a really fucking big deal. Can you imagine if some random Luciano album from 1996 just appeared one day and it was top class work? There’d likely be a great deal of discussion around it and it wouldn’t go unnoticed. For me, that’s the level of work we’re dealing with here. ”Signs of The Time” is a big release and, it should also be reiterated that it was a DEBUT. Fifteen years later, Mark Wonder is only picking up steam and, no matter how long it took us, the look back was well worth it . . . Now if someone could just do the same for ”Jeremiah” and that assuredly WICKED live album with Prince Theo - I’d like to go back again. Very well done.

Rated: 4.25/5
Zola & Zola/Carmor Productions/Zojak Worldwide

Mark Wonder @ Myspace


  1. http://www.reverbnation.com/markwonder

  2. Hi, I have a 7" of mark wonder "lets not be ashamed" (label : zola&zola - 90's press), i try to find information about the record's price on the different web-market places but nothing !!

    Maybe someone can give me some informations !??

    Thanks !


  3. thanks

    Peter Jonker