Sunday, September 25, 2011

"360 Turn": A Review of "Tell Me How Me Sound" by Warrior King

Years from now, people like you and I - by then intolerably bitter old men and women - Will sit around and talk about our old favourite artists. We'll overrate each and every one of them and we'll likely say a lot of stupid things, but it will be fun. At such time, as opposed to now, obviously we'll have the gift of time having passed, so it will be much easier to form opinions on artists as a whole, but that certainly doesn't mean that we can’t do that now because there’re are some VERY interesting stories playing out in Reggae music presently which figure to get only more and more interesting over time. We can deal with the ostensibly interesting, such as The Marleys, Shaggy and Sean Paul, or we can look at the more 'familiar' and those not reaching bounds where the music typically does not go (and that statement, by itself, will have changed by this future point). We could look at Sizzla and talk about how he (not really) released four thousand albums in about two weeks and all of them were classics. There's Vaughn Benjamin - How it was subsequently proven that there were, in fact, five Vaughn Benjamin's - the only semi-fitting explanation for recording schedule and style. And then there's someone like Warrior King. I know that you're probably thinking that is a strange leap I just made (but I have to get this review started somehow, don't I?), but really it’s a fitting one. By the time he's an old man, Warrior King's career will have probably seen him experiencing just about everything Reggae music, as an occupation, has to offer.

"Virtuous Woman" [2002] & "Hold The Faith" [2005]

From the bottom to the top. I won't dare bother recapping the deep details of the 'Virtuous Woman' years or Warrior King's initial rise to prominence, but let's just say that they existed (and they were very, very fun and productive). It's after those days where his story gets very interesting, because up and coming Reggae artists making a name for themselves isn't exactly rare. WK's second album, "Hold The Faith", arrived in 2005 and that fulfilled/ended (in one way or another) his contractual obligations with VP Records and that was that. That was also, for the most part, the end of not only his run as one of the most successful young lights on the Roots scene, but also his seemingly once a formality journey near the top of Roots Reggae altogether. And stuff just seemed to slow down altogether for him. His spot wasn’t exactly rare, but he hadn't been the most active anyway and while he definitely maintained a touring schedule, I’m having a really difficult time thinking of substantial material Warrior King may've scored between the years of 2006 and 2008 (admittedly, I'm not a very smart person, however, so he may have released several dozen #1's in the period). And a great deal of this happened just . . . Because. The current line of thought is that the arrival of such powerful names as Tarrus Riley, Etana and others, kind of made things limited for others may apply in the case of Warrior King, but I don't think that was it. Also, his not being in the spotlight was just bad for Reggae, in my opinion, because through several HUGE tunes including his aforementioned early hit and 'Power To Chant', 'Breath of Fresh Air' and others, it was clear that he was extremely talented and potentially an even bigger star for the music.

Warrior King quietly returned with an album, his third, in 2009 - the digital-only and somewhat strange, "Love is In The Air" for Roots Warrior Records. That album, although pretty good (more on that later), was just kind of thrown together and it's kind of become 'lost' to an extent (although you can still buy it) (biggup Zojak) and it didn't even have a proper cover (although I did like the cover! Hey Susan!). The fact, however, that the album, and obviously the work that went into it, did exist was a good thing - Warrior King was back, albeit within a much much lower profile than previously established. Fast forward a couple of years (almost to the day, two years ago today I wrote that review) and he's apparently managed to get things back in order and as they should be for an artist of his talents because in the past few months and weeks, his brand new album, "Tell Me How Me Sound", has been one of the most discussed and publicized around. The album comes from Tad's Records who, to give credit where its due, does do a good job in promoting their projects and with the reputation of that company (which is somewhat changing - They have release quite a bit of Vybz Kartel’s recent output) of being one dealing with mainly Roots and Lover's Rock pieces, it's a very good fit to my opinion. An even better fit is the link with the album's producer, seriously esteemed veteran, Colin 'Bulby' York. The King made his named, predominately on Calibud produced sets and with Bulby on the boards, you're getting another intensely experienced and talented maestro and, even knowing that fact, it makes me more excited to dive into this one on a musical level. I should also touch again on the talk surrounding this album because it’s been plenty. There're interviews and performances and a video and big articles surrounding the album and just a lot of hype and, scanning over Reggae right now, there really isn't an album out there with a similar buzz at this exact moment (although I Wayne figures to take a share of that attention in a couple of weeks). So Warrior King is back in full! NOW! What would be most excellent is if he could manage to deliver an album which fulfills on not only the hype at the moment, but the IMMENSE potential he’s shown in his career. Does he? Yeah - no problem.

"Love Is In The Air" [2009]

Even before I got a full look at the completed tracklist for this album I'd noticed one thing which didn’t surprise me very much and while I'm not going to call it a GOOD thing, I will say that it was probably a pretty good idea on the nineteen track album. As I said, Warrior King's previous album, "Love Is In The Air" has become somewhat of a lost album and maybe that’s because his new album, "Tell Me How Me Sound", ate it - or half of it. Five (by my count) of its predecessor's ten tracks appear on the album. There’s 'Love Is In the Air', 'Wanna Give You Love', 'Wanting You', 'I’m Cold' and 'Girl'. To my opinion the final two of that list are the lasting tunes from that album and are amongst the very best here, although haven't COMPLETELY lost taste for any of them just yet ('Wanting You' may be on its last legs with me, however). I think that the album would have been just fine at fourteen tracks, but the fact that they drew on these songs isn't completely surprising (and reportedly, this album has been in the works for years, so including them may have been part of the original plan) and, as I said, probably a pretty good idea.

'Wanna Give You Love'

The new album surrounding those tunes definitely don’t make them seem out of place. Things are primarily Lover's Rock and Roots Reggae, which is what we’ve come to expect from WK over the years. Such a fine accompanying selection is the album's actual opener, 'Empress'. SWEET tune! The artist and even the word 'empress' together bring memories of a classic tune, 'Empress So Divine', and while this track may not be on those nearly unapproachable levels, it well sets the project out on a fine course and remains one of the real highlights here by album's end. 'I'm In Love With You' is a decent tune with the lovely old school vibes, but it definitely wasn't one of my favourites on the album on the first listen. It is growing on me just a bit these days, however. The next new tune, 'Jah Is The Only One' in is the one which has been receiving the big push and it's easy to see why, that song is HUGE!

"Jah Jah is the only one for I!
Jah Jah is the only one so high!"

That is lasting sentiment that I take from the entire album. It is a MIGHTY track and the fact that it's gotten so much attention is a very good thing as it now resides amongst the absolute very best material WK has ever done. The tune immediately following that big song is another one of the album's greatest, 'Mom & Dad'. When I first heard this song I instantly thought that it would have been the type of vibes that I would've imagined Warrior King to be singing at some point. It's not a deviation at all from his prior work and it is exceptionally strong while maintaining the kind of familial approach for his best days.

"My parents never leave I alone
Good and bad times - they were always around

My Mama felt the pain, but she never took abortion all the same
My Papa felt the strain, but he never boarded a runaway train"

'Melody [Tell Me How Me Sound]' is one of the main attractions (for obvious reasons) and it also probably gives a better timeframe for the album. Built over Bulby's cut of the Midnight Hour Riddim, the tune reached three or four years back and would have likely been WK's biggest release from the aforementioned 2006-'08 time period. For it to be the title track of this album, probably gives an indication of just how long this one has been in the works. Nevertheless, regardless of its age or intentions, it is a sterling track and one really giving praises to the music itself, as well as its social and cultural impact - Just how NECESSARY music has become in the world for the masses - and he's clearly right! The album's obligatory herbalist track, 'Oh What A Feeling', is another familiar drop, this one coming over the Ashanti Warrior Riddim from Maximum Sound (gorgeous riddim). This one is pretty straight forward, but a big tune still and one on a riddim which definitely wasn't lacking in big efforts. Next we find WK utilizing the General Penitentiary Riddim for the praising tune, 'Oh Yeah!'. I don't think that I even remember this song at all so this spin may very well have been my first taste of it and I'm impressed. It is a bit HEAVIER (as is everything on that riddim) than WK's usual big pieces, but I would say that this song, in particular, may just be one of the strongest lyrical efforts on the whole of "Tell Me How Me Sound" and it's also a very LARGE sounding tune (again, just like most of the things on that riddim).

"Many are called but the chosen are only few
And you can know them by the works and the things they do
What kinda message a dem ah send?
Nuff a dem a wolf and ah pretend dem ah pretend

I no trust none a dem Emperor Selassie ahgo bun di whole a dem!"

Warrior King moves from 'strength to strength' as, on the very next tune, he once again taps a classic riddim. This time he may very well grab THE definition of "classic" as backing another praising track, 'Blessing' is the Natural Mystic Riddim. The same cut supports Sizzla CLASSIC 'Really & Truly' and this is another fine piece for the riddim (which I don't think that I remember hearing). In the Steely & Clevie produced 'Nah Tell Nuh Lie', WK and co. may very well have a hit on their hands. This is my second favourite tune on the album which I hadn’t previously heard (currently I’m LOVING 'Girl') and I’m thinking that I won't be alone in my appreciation of it AT ALL!

"They're spreading rumours, spreading rumours, spreading rumours, spreading rumours -
Seh 'Jah dead and gone'

But I saw HIM in my vision last night

So I know everything is alright
HE told me that we all should unite
For Jah Jah is still around

Jah conquer death, so don't forget -

Rastafari is bigger than the world wide internet
HE has the world at his feet All have to bow, the devil and the beast"

As "Tell Me How Me Sound" winds down, it saves a few of its headliners for its final stretch. Surely the one which will receive the most attention of them all is 'I Can See It' [aka 'Love The Way'] which features Warrior King alongside Reggae legend, Barrington Levy. The song is well catchy and it will probably, at some point, get its opportunity to shine and I suspect it will do very well with the masses. 'Sweet Empress' is another cool piece of Lover's Rock and a previous single which I do recall. Unlike the tune which precedes it, this one won’t get a great deal of attention, I believe, but that's too bad because, quietly, it may be one of the better songs here of its type. And the remaining three tracks are very interesting because they're all social commentaries and excellent, for the most part. The first of the trio, 'System Is Crazy' is my personal favourite by the slimmest of margins, but that certainly isn’t to say that either 'What A Gwaan' or the album’s actual closer, 'Where Colour is An Issue' are bad tunes because they're all actually similar in terms of quality. Obviously the last of the three, with its title, is probably going to get more attention and what you’ll find there is WK examining the remaining issues of racism and the extensions (direct and indirect) of that problem. What I really like about that tune, especially, is how broad it is. From the title you expect a one thing and you get that, but he also goes on to show how racism relates to poverty and crime and corruption as well, which is a very adroit and sagacious lyrical leap on which to end an album.

Warrior King

Overall, I should say that I now, having dug into the album for the sake of this review, have a slightly greater appreciation for "Tell Me How Me Sound" than I did after spinning through it from before. I wouldn't place it on the level of his first album (which was really just an album full of hits and is a great candidate to be the next 'modern classic' feature we do), but it's fairly comparable to "Hold The Faith" in my opinion. It should be said that a great deal of it comes from the years of 2007 and 2008, so if you didn't know, THIS is what he was up to apparently! Most of these songs didn't receive an opportunity to do well, but they come in a time not too far removed from his best time so, you would expect (and accurately so) them to be of a similar quality and that's what turns out to be the case. Hopefully the album does well and we can See Warrior King return to one of the higher levels of prominence in the music because the talent is still well present, it never left him, and again, having someone so utterly talented is just good for the music. So, while it's taken entirely and disturbingly too long - The King is back where he belongs. Well done.

Rated: 4.15/5
Tad's Records
CD + Digital

Warrior King

Warrior King @ Facebook

Review #331

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