Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'Everyone's Choice': A Review of "People's Choice" by Ray Darwin

Even on the most basic and clichéd train of thought, music is very much a 'journey' or a progression in many different ways. On the 'ground floor' of that situation would be the simple act of taking thought or emotion and managing to convert and advance it from the mind into sound and then into, at least presumably, some type of melody. All of this is wildly fascinating to someone like me and hopefully you as well, but in more specific cases, things light up even more. On one hand, the incredible expansion of our music and the 'shrinking' of the Reggae community has very much made the literal travels of our artistes more and more varied and, thus, more and more detailed as we begin to pay more of an attention and carry more of an interest in their movements. Thinking more in the abstract - People have definitely stepped up! I'd surely face much disagreement by much of the hardcore community in saying this, but as I look across the proverbial 'board', the current era, as a whole, features MORE - quantity - skilled makers of Reggae music than any other (actually I don’t even think you could argue against that). And what they're coming up with is, at times, stunning. Not too long ago we dealt with the case of the most globetrotting Hi-Kee, for his debut album "Self Reliance". Hi-Kee is someone who has . . . Pretty much gone EVERYWHERE in pursuit of making this music and his "journey" is definitely one of the (if not THE) most extreme, but the methodology isn't his alone. Besides the elders who venture around the world, seemingly more (most unfortunately) out of necessity - to find an active audience - There're performers seemingly in the midst of their productive and commercially viable primes, respectively, who have taken similar routes. One of these such individuals is the downright mysterious Ray Darwin whose ventures have finally (!) brought him to the major attention of Reggae fans across the world, on the strength of a brand new album which shows that he has been moving and progressing in more ways than just physically.

Like most people, I'm sure, the first time I can seriously recall any type of consistent presence of Ray Darwin in Reggae music was from just a few years back when he reached with what has gone onto become the signature tune of his career (and a bit of a nickname as well), 'People's Choice'. I knew the 'singer' (more on that shortly) had a far greater and more significant background than just kind of appearing with a single hit song, but I was very surprised to see in his bio that his musical history dated back to my life history, in the 1980's! The Jamaican born Darwin had moved to New York in his adolescence to live with his Father and would subsequently begin, of all things, what was apparently a quite successful career in Rock music (!) of all things. And while all of that, besides "Jamaican born", certainly doesn’t portend one finding triumphs in Reggae music, Darwin, clearly would manage to make things work for himself and would do so in the increasingly potent Reggae hotbed that is Germany.

Album Back Cover

Names like Daddy Rings, Jack Radics and others come to mind, but Ray Darwin even seemed to exist in a spectrum outside of those big names who have found audiences in Germany (those two, particularly, have done so with the biggest German Reggae star . . . Of all time - Gentleman), where he seems very much a loner of sorts, but it hasn’t stopped him. It may've slowed him down a bit, however, as he now delivers what I’m almost certain is his debut album (maybe he had a Rock album?), the fittingly titled "People’s Choice". Adding to the literal journey of Ray Darwin is the fact that this album curiously comes via the very dependable and respectable Joe Fraser Records (and - Watch this - it is backed by THE two most active labels in Reggae music, VP Records and the digital wizards at Zojak Worldwide - which may make it the very first of its kind as the product of two labels who hopefully can find a way to work together, DIRECTLY, in the future) (and if that weren't enough, and it was the album is distributed in Europe by Irie Vibrations and Groove Attack, which should let you know just how respected Ray Darwin is) which is somewhat unexpected, but as you get into the music, you see just how well the two sides coexist together. It simply has to be said that an album with this title from Ray Darwin is overdue. Its namesake initially reached back in 2007 and I can remember so many rumours of the day about an album from Darwin that didn't materialize. If I recall correctly, it was thought that he'd signed with the once mighty Greensleeves, but that project either proved to be untrue or unproductive, because over the last four years, Darwin has pretty much maintained a ‘business as usual’ approach in recording with various predominately European based imprints, but as the album develops for the listener, you quickly go from 'overdue', to a thought of '[much] better late than never'. Ray Darwin is impressive on so many levels, not the smallest of which is a lyrical one and what he shows here is not only that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but also that his "hit" was no coincidence or an overachievement. He does this by offering up a project which, as I said, shows itself the product of an artist who has been on a mental journey and a spiritual journey and has progressed to a very fine degree by album’s end. Oh and . . . Ray Darwin sure does keep interesting company! Let’s take a listen!

The Wonderfully Inescapable, Sara Lugo

I referred to Darwin as a 'singer' previously and I did so because he’s kind of a singing-chanter. He does a bit of both. Listening throughout this album the comparison I most often reached for was to Achis Reggae favourite, Smiley. The future superstar from out of Aruba may have more of a vocal 'presence' in the traditional sense, but they both have similar styles to my ears. When you take that versatile set and add it to the productions of Joe Fraser Records, which is known as being a label which pushes old school Roots and Lover's Rock music (and when you take into account that the artist’s biggest tune was such a song) you really create a powerful link. Evidence of the fortitude of the combination can be found all over Ray Darwin's new album, "People's Choice" which gets up and moving with a tune which has taken me MANY spins through to really get a grasp of, 'Time Flies'. The vibes of the tune are kind of sad, but they're also increasingly intense - And it sounds SO GOOD! It is my opinion that the song works perfectly for my concept of this review with things being so much in motion and in progress because we find Darwin speaking of his travels all over the world and meeting people and his loves, in particular and being detached from them, but still connected. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'm hearing a repatriation message as well, but however you take it, you're likely to come away WELL impressed by this most sublime of moody openers. And then IMMEDIATELY your attentions are grabbed up and toyed with on the next track.

'Good For You' is a very COOL vibes and I remember being so much in anticipation of hearing it because it, the first of two official combinations on the album, just so happens to feature the outstanding and the incomparable Sara Lugo! WHAT!

“It’s a universal language
Coulda never do no damage
Cause everything it do do
Reflecting inna you”

When she comes in, the song seamlessly transitions (like riddim and vocalist hit each other in stride) (and speaking of the riddim - I'm almost sure that it’s taken from an older one, but I IMMEDIATELY recognized it as a version of the same which backs Queen Omega's underrated tune, 'Jah Jah Jah'). You could call this one romantic or something similar, I suppose, but it’s just a big and upful vibes and you must know that I’m partial (AS HELL), but outside of the BOOM, it’s the best song I hear on the album named after said "boom" (and we'll be discussing Ms. Lugo tomorrow!) (oh and she may sing backup on other tunes on this album) (probably not, but I thought that I‘d mention it anyway so as to appear genius-like if it is true).

From a future legend to a living legend - The other combination track on "People's Choice", 'In This Time', comes in a couple of tunes on and when it reaches we see that it has brought with it the great Fred Locks. BIG BIG tune! It is, essentially, a social commentary, but the vibes of the song are SO powerful and DYNAMIC that it really reaches on levels of excellence and to a nearly overwhelming degree. Sandwiched between the two combinations is a tune which I have actually heard before as Darwin and Joe Fraser go mining the vaults and return with the Ten To One Riddim for 'False Alarm' (which may be the album’s official first single). The song, another BIG vibed social commentary is one which has very much interested me the from the very first time I paid it attention. Darwin's concept is one which is somewhat complicated because he’s not using it in a very straight forward manner - What he is saying is that the "false alarm" is when the masses are fooled into thinking that the powers that be are the necessary and protecting powers when many of them are devious. It is a song for the mature listener who will DEFINITELY be able to appreciate it as one of the album's finest moments.

'Long Way'

To go back and stress my point of the album and Ray Darwin being a part of a moving journey - There're two songs, in particular, through the balance of the album which REALLY solidify this for me and drive the point across even further. The first is the beautiful 'Long Way', Darwin's cut of the Cruising Altitude Riddim, on which he kind of outlines the direct involvement of Reggae music in his life and in Jamaican life, in general. He goes on to bring in other items of the culture and by its end we have one nearly stunning tune.

“So much potential for the size
[Our little island]
Independence was a big lie
[Look where we are]
If it wasn’t for the Reggae music and the ganja -
Dem have us swimming upstream and left us to die”

Again, the tune is also very dynamic (which you know, if you know the riddim), but one definitely need to take into account what is being said, because it is outstanding. Next we have the, perhaps, even stronger and surely one of the most fascinating efforts on the album in the autobiographical 'Rasta'. Here, we find Darwin musically reconnecting (or attempting to) with his tangible and intangible origins and really outlining how they've come to help him be the person who he is today.

“Rasta was no youthful indiscretion for me
I soon realized colour divided everything
Make them feel being Black is the worst, couldn’t work on me
Empresses and Kings”

It is, also, the constant usage of "Out of Many, One People", which he uses which gives the song a more encompassing and relatable type of message - It then becomes autobiographical for Darwin - And biographical for millions as he casts this great lyrical blanket in so many directions! Very nice.

Along with the tunes that I've mentioned thus far on "People's Choice", there are some really fantastic moments in the way of the basically prevailing audio experience to be had on this album. In terms of artist-with/over-riddim styled albums, this one surely has to be considered one of the finest such projects, sonically speaking, of the entire year as artist's vocals and messages blend so seamlessly and effortlessly with the riddims on nearly every track. A track such as 'Dutty John Crow' almost perfectly exemplifies this. The backing is a kind of . . . Almost uptempo Zouk like arrangement - pretty complex material - And Darwin rides it with an equally 'high-tech' social commentary about the powers that be (you have to hear this one from a lyrical point of view). From a FAR different vibes, but on a similar note there's the very strong 'More Love' which is a love song, but again, not necessarily a straight forward one. The song goes from the dance floor at its beginning, to examining the potentiality of an entire lifetime spent with someone. And it's kind of a Reggae and R&B mix which works so well with the vibes and the 'nature' of the tune. That same type of tune is delivered in a far more terrestrial manner (but only when compared to its predecessor), on the very next track, the head knocking and somewhat FUNKY 'It Can’t Done'. This one has a bit of BITE to it, which I think really highlights the track and the riddim is just so 'open-minded' (you could probably do any type of song on that thing) and it ultimately fits Darwin's vibes snugly. You'll also check the classically set 'Tonite' which is a nice tune on a lover's vibes. The chorus - You will literally have to punch and kick to get out of your head (my Wife, currently, is having no luck with that at all). The tune is probably the most straight forward of its kind, yet it is easily one of the best also. That tune brilliantly sets the stage for the tune which follows it, one of the best songs on the album, 'My 45'.

“Take a likkle trip to selector shop
Cousin play di Reggae music non stop
I was looking for a Studio One 45
I’ve gotta search of di archive
Mi find nuff vinyl, carry dem home fi play
Mi walk through di door, mi girl was lookin sexy
She seh fi ‘show mi yah twelve inch’
But she would soon realize nothing touch di 45”

BIG! The song sounds like something you’d hear from Ziggi Recado in so many ways, but Darwin makes it his on (because it is) and pushes the levels on his album even higher because of it.

'New York Minute'

As the album winds down, we find another pair of tracks with which I am somewhat familiar. The first is 'New York Minute' which finds Darwin going all Wailing Souls on the people on the classic riddim. This tune is of a 'tug and pull' relationship - taking the good with the bad and the kind of suddenness or fragility in which they can exist ("life would be nice if I got you in it, but I'll get rid of you in a New York minute") given various amounts stress and . . . Chaos in this case.

“She’s not expecting life to roll by, without its fair share of problems
But when a man don’t have him basics together, problems indefinitely happen
Zero tolerance for the player’s list
The last one get vex and try fi hit and miss
Them him start spreading rumours she’s a lesbian -
Cause she tell him fi go home and use him hand”

Of course, later we do get the boom of all boom's with the album's title track and nearly half a decade on and it’s not lost a shade of the shine it had when it first dropped. And rounding out the album is the only track which I didn't necessarily enjoy, 'Standby', which is decent, but is probably best appreciated from a purely sonic point of view and after awhile that didn’t catch me in the way it did, initially (even though the chorus is still pretty nice even now). "People's Choice" reaches its end with the obligatory acoustic track, 'Another Day'. This one??? I like. It's all folk-ish and pretty much everything you'd imagine, but it's a praising tune and a subtly colourful one because of the way in which it is presented. Very CLEAN and crisp vocals in, again, solid union with the skeletal backing make for a decent and FITTING end for an album which deserved absolutely nothing less than that.

'People's Choice'

Overall, while am, obviously, going to recommend this album, I do have to give it a pretty rigid conditional recommendation. I'd sooner recommend you reach for an old Sizzla or Anthony B album rather than "People's Choice" as your very first venture into Reggae music and many of those older pieces were, by no means, what I would call accessible so you know what you're dealing with here. This album is best, and maybe even exclusively, for the more seasoned of listeners who will not only be able to recognize and appreciate the small changes throughout, but Ray Darwin has a very interesting method of writing which just may not be the best for newer fans of the genre. For you and I, however, it's near gold. Darwin's journey in the music, and in life in general, has been something that would probably make for an entertaining book or even film and while he continues to be in motion to this day, the "People’s Choice" album is an excellent stop along his way.

Rated: 4/5
Joe Fraser Records/Zojak Worldwide/Irie Vibrations/Groove Attack/VP Records
CD + Digital

Ray Darwin @ Myspace

Review #326


  1. this album and joggos are amazing. achis your reviews are invaluable and revealing!

  2. Give big big thanks Cassa and definitely, they both are excellent albums yeah!