Monday, October 31, 2011

'Keeping Good Relations': A Review of "Kings Bell" by Midnite

We still, and for the foreseeable future, will likely continue to have a rather large problem when it comes to the media/press in Reggae music. As we've discussed in the past, there just seems to be a great fracture between the coverage and attention given to other genres of music, within their respective communities, and Reggae, even though there is a significant interest and a seemingly never-closing potential interest around the world. WE (and I include myself in that) just don't do a great job. However, with that being said, I occasionally find myself happily surprised when it is shown that the work of a media or a 'promotion vehicle' can, at times, be unnecessary or a 'bonus' to a degree and this stands in a heavy contrast to dozens and maybe hundreds of pieces which appear throughout a year and do not receive anywhere near their deserved attention. Obviously the biggest example of this comes from the oft-promotion neglected Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite of the Virgin Islands. Given their almost incomparable stature and hyper-activity, one would assume that the amount of attention consistently given to the band would likely rival anything in the genre which doesn't associate itself with tag words like 'crossover' or 'mainstream', but that couldn't be further from the truth. Vaug . . . Midnite is one of the very few acts in the music who probably gets more 'legitimate' attention and more 'word of mouth' style of attention given to works which are not only already completed, but long ago completed and that seems to be just about it, for the most part, in the current frame. You'll hear/see bits and pieces and references to their older works and it has gone in a very odd way where THAT will be used to sight up what they're currently up to. This is just strange to me! Even more remarkable is the fact that their proverbial flame continues to burn and surely that has something to do with Midnite's most firm musical relationship. They have some of the most passionate, loyal and fervent fans that you'll find of anyone in any musical genre. So while the media may seem to pass them over in many respects, that is DEFINITELY NOT the case with the fans of Reggae music who will stand up and support them time and time again and often times without question.

Midnite 2011

Which is why I, personally, so look forward to moments like these [insert image of slow hand rubbing and devious smile here]. Rare is the moment when Midnite does something which is going to attract a great deal of wide-ranging attention from the media, but because of their stature they do have that ability and now it is exercised more than ever before as they present what is likely to become the highest profile Midnite album EVER (and we counted these things last week - there're, at least, FORTY TWO of them and it is the FIFTH this year alone), "Kings Bell".

First of all, the album is an I Grade Records release which gives it a bit more in the way of an immediate 'glare' because I Grade actually promotes albums (what an idea!). However, it also isn't an I Grade album because the musical work here was done in collaboration with the flaming Andrew 'Bassie' Campbell and in Jamaica. Just last year, the same link was made on "Feel Your Presence", the wonderful third studio album from NiyoRah and, going back further we, perhaps, see a line leading to the "Gather The Remnants" project, which Campbell helmed and in which, Midnite took part (as did Niyo) a few years back. The union marks the first time that Midnite has recorded an entire album with a Jamaican producer and Bassie would take things a step further. Along with producing the album, he also enlisted the help of some of the best and most seasoned players of instruments in Jamaica and the likes of Earl 'Chinna' Smith, Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace, Uziah 'Sticky' Thompson, Squidley Cole and others play on "Kings Bell" and many of the vocals were also recorded in the legendary Tuff Gong Studio. The potential musical reflection of all of that is, of course, that the music not only should be OUTSTANDING throughout, but it should also be very FULL. In recent times many albums coming attached to the name MIDNITE have been somewhat skeletal at times and certainly that’s not much of a problem with Vaughn Benjamin (he typically doesn't seem to care too much what is going on behind him), as a listener it's not always the most sonically captivating sound and what he's likely to be faced with here, and subsequently is, is something far more traditionally Reggae-centric vibes. Campbell wasn't the only one elevating things in regards to this project - ahead of the album's release there was a complete digital release of an EP for the album's first single (in four different mixes) and even a VIDEO (!) which was the very first official clip in the entire career of Midnite. There was also an interview with Mutabaruka and just a very nice presentation of the album (which includes lyrics for all sixteen tracks). I've gotten press releases from at least two different publicists and different labels and that type of stuff just doesn't happen when it comes to Midnite albums. In 2011, they've already had two albums, "Treasure" and "Anthology" which had, presumably, very appealing angles: The former being the first Midnite album distributed by VP Records (and they would also have a tune on "The Biggest Reggae One-Drop Anthems" album this year, which was another first), while the second was a full Midnite album, produced by Ronnie Benjamin Jr., a fact which is DIAMONDS to a Midnite fan but apparently not very attractive to the media. That WELL isn't the case here as everyone involved has done an excellent job. The major remaining question is whether or not that includes Vaughn Benjamin. Yes, it does. "Kings Bell" is very strong.

As I alluded to, the music to be found on this album is more accessible to more casual fans of Midnite, but it certainly isn't a very far leap from what the more hardcore listeners are accustomed to and looking for. Also remaining constant is Vaughn Benjamin - one of the undeniable geniuses in Reggae music and a living stream of lyrics who has clearly done his homework for "Kings Bell". The album begins on a good note, albeit one which took me more than a couple of spins through to realize just how good it was, 'Exalt The Crown'. This tune (like almost every other one from Benjamin's catalog), goes in a thousand different directions, but what I was left with, when it finally synched up with my brain, was this kind of functioning celebration of righteousness. He goes through several situations including the main one surrounding this album ("natural link up the youth Jamaican from Cruz"), with the common bond being the uplifting of positivity and exalting the crown. Next up is one of the album's highlights to my ears, the dynamic and simply brilliant 'Try That Way'. Besides having a chorus which is an hour and half long, the tune stands out for it’s ULTRA-focused delivery which almost seems to just melt into this big riddim behind it. This was the first time on the album when I got absolutely lost in a tune and I'm pretty sure that was by design in terms of placing it here - As a prelude to the magic which follows it. That "magic", of course, is the album's very first single 'Mongst I & I' which, as far as how we generally register such things, may just prove to be Midnite's most commercially successful tune to date. This song makes you want to hear more and that is "Kings Bell". It is absolutely APPETIZING and not short on substance either. It’s a tune which, at least to my ears, is trying to tell the masses to be aware of our surrounding and CAREFUL about with whom we associate and spend time ("so just keep good relations"). Such a thing isn’t rare for Midnite, but I don’t know that it's ever sounding this good before! It's now taken a decade and a half for a tune to get such a push from Midnite, which is entirely too long, but they did a damn good job in FINALLY choosing one for the task - 'Mongst I &I' is MASSIVE!

'Mongst I & I'

Now if they could do that once, one must wonder if they could do it again, because "Kings Bell" presents a few other opportunities with top tunes as it goes along. Such a song, DEFINITELY, is the title track which may not be as ostensibly lively as the first single, but a little concentration goes a long way in EXPLODING the track.

“Contagion it is, it is a world vibration link -
A living fountain spring inna joyous within
Riddim weh ahgo move yah like a feel seh you want fi sing
Melody in
Mutual it is the singers and the players of instruments
Bassline booming inna high rise social and tenement
It’s an event, whoa, it’s an event
What dem woulda do without any kind of a sound bashment anywhere you went?
Unique vibration of a offering Rasta testament
Living sound inheritance, yeah man fi treasure that wid competence”

Also ranking on that top level on the album for me was the gorgeous 'Jewel Inna Africa Horn'. I can spend DAYS examining this track and despite its 'health', it's also a song which is immediately gratifying. This is brain food for someone like me as Vaughn makes several stops along the way which is really going to CHALLENGE the listener and in a good way and I also just like the way the song is carried out/the idea of it all - You get this in this way from no one, probably in all of music, besides Vaughn Benjamin. 'Pon A Watchlist' (which may also be called 'Heaven No Make No Blunder') is another HUGE shot for "Kings Bell". I had to go back on a second listen to worry about paying attention to what was actually said, because on my first trod through I was STUCK on that riddim! The word I use here is "lush", call it "deep", call it whatever you like, that is a beautiful composition behind 'Pon A Watchlist'. Finally getting into the song, it proves to be one of the better lyrical efforts on the whole of the album as well ("as one feel the in birth concept as an in birth palace"), particularly later on when it REALLY picks up on that devastating riddim. I'd also put 'On The Broadcast' on that level as well as a later tune, the very familiar and stirring 'Jerusalem School Room'. The latter features Benjamin using a style which comes just about as close to straight deejaying as you’re likely to hear and, as if there were any question (and there weren't) he does so most impressively.

“Inna Jerusalem school room, careful up inna di current zone
Decisionous place, where you walk alone
Lonely place wid di whole, big crowd around
Next step you ahgo tek fi secure your own
The currency watch the bills and ah beg and ah groan
Say don’t go give I to dem, keep I for your own
The government demself caan, pay back the loan
And have di people inna terror, repo man around”

With all of that being said, however (and I'm about to say a lot more), there're two other tracks on the "Kings Bell" album which really stood out for me. The DARK 'The Quickening' is one of them. DAMN! The song utilizes the same Drum Melody Riddim from Bassie (which has an album currently available via the wonderful people at Zojak Worldwide) as 'Indigenous World', the closer from the aforementioned "Feel Your Presence" album by NiyoRah (also on the same riddim is the HUGE 'Shake Babylon' from wicked Greenz chanter, Zebi-Lion) and it is positively SUBLIME. You listen to this song and you feel like getting up and being active and READING A BOOK! But it is the song itself which is full of knowledge and to point out that - the obvious - on a Vaughn Benjamin song is well saying something.

And then there's the boom.
an eleven foot, six hundred pound tiger

“Don’t let the poor and the needy be devour
The chastisement of poverty is in imminence ya
Inna di whole world, mi mean look at the big picture
An eleven foot, six hundred pound tiger
Him get fed up, all of a sudden -
What dem ah pet him mouth fah?
Inna an instant, he remember his true nature
Not to mention black mamba and king cobra
Mek any weh ga, thank ya, for well being oh Jah!
Did distillation of the balance tek iniquity law?

Dem did camp pon diamond and gold inna Africa
And have retirement home down inna Ecuada
Dem did ah flood out media ya wid dem propaganda
Then the dangerous situation need mediator
See wah groove to dis ya riddim ya, no bodda wid dat
Mek di whole Dancehall come alive with what
A riddim of comfort, a riddim of hope, a riddim of niceness out ya
The brightness of a one countenance change another demeanour
Inna one bag a desperate decision out ya
In dis time, neighbour ahgo haffi help neighbour
This ideological divide, way deep down ya
Mek dictator come compel dem supporter
Fe draw hardware, dem ah draw, not pon canvas Jah”

MAD! I have listened to this this song, 'Black Mamba', probably nearing fifty times at this point. It is the single best moment, for me, on "Kings Bell" and it's really pushing anything that I've EVER heard from Benjamin and Midnite through the years. It is absolutely spectacular and I love how the urgency comes across in as the tune builds. That is a SPECIAL track and one for the ages from Benjamin.

Going forward, there're still more big tunes to be found on the album. Of particular interest should be the biblical and most erudite, 'Earth is the Lords'. This one is nearly vintage Vaughn Benjamin - completely oblivious to the riddim playing behind him (which is a minimalist styled track, which almost seems to be making space for the vocalist) - with powerful lyrics non-stop throughout the song. The electric 'System Peak Out' was an early favourite of mine (and pretty much still is, I just don't feel like going back and changing this review). It finds a slightly more melody-aware, but the emphasizing point here is how this riddim just helps this song along. I mentioned "urgency" from before, you'll hear it all over this song, especially in the latter stages, one of the best portions of any track on the album. Also check 'Bittersweet', another track which I spent quite a bit of time on and am still spending time listening to. This is a song which, again, really challenges the listener to focus on what is being said - it's easy to get lost in there! The reward for staying on track, however, is another excellent track. There’s also the serene 'Peak Tension Time', a song whose name and message almost clashes with its vibes.

“A supernova inna stardust time
May have to contain yourself to survive
Today the world know what it’s like
To depend on a little in life
A lot of ill-gotten gains up high
At ease while the world a cry
Or so it seems to the poverty crime”

I saw that verse before I heard it and it is just one of a kind. No one makes the connections that Benjamin makes. We can call this song a social commentary, because it is, but from that first line, "a supernova inna stardust time", you know that the joyous road to comprehension here is one which is only populated by the lyrics of Vaughn Benjamin and the music of Midnite. 'What About Sudan' and the moving closer 'Torpedo' are also worth grabbing hold of and, in the case of the latter, I don't think that it's going to take me recommending it because it is one of the most dynamic tracks on the album. 'What About Sudan', meanwhile, is more sagacious spiritual/social connections from Vaughn Benjamin on an album which proves to be well emblematic of just how effective he can be.

Vaughn Benjamin & Andrew 'Bassie' Campbell

Overall . . . I don't even know where to go with this one. What I will say is that "Kings Bell" is considerably better than any Midnite album I've heard in quite some time. The last GOOD album that they did, in my opinion, was "What Makes A King" and it's clearly a stronger, more well rounded and COMPLETE album than that. It's really difficult to recommend Midnite's music to unfamiliar fans because the main category of listeners who will appreciate it probably don't care whether I like it or not - they're going to get it any way. But what I am going to say is that, for a Midnite album, it's about as 'listener friendly' as they come. And I'm not THE biggest Midnite fan either, so definitely take that into consideration, I don't enjoy everything they put out alllllll of the time, but I do really like this album. For those listeners who don’t care what there is to say about this one, you (won't care about this either, will you???) will love this album. The combination of Bassie's somewhat intense riddims with Benjamin's equally fiery approach, makes for an album which serves up more than a few surprises in its duration and, also, it's just a GOOD album. On a personal level, I'm happy that this album is getting so much early attention because it lines up the possibility that someone besides me will have to write a review for it (writing for Midnite is NOT easy work)! "Kings Bell" is an album which more than lives up to the ample and wonderful hype surrounding it and although we may have never heard such talk for a Midnite album and especially not before its release, it is only sure to increase when longtime and maybe even short time fans get a hold of it. Clearly, the people entrusted with the task of promoting it have already given their approval. One of the best albums of 2011.

Rated: 4.45/5
I Grade Records/Andre Bassie Records/Zojak Worldwide
CD + Digital

Midnite Band

Review #336

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Turn Your Lights Back On!: The Ten Best Reggae Love Songs of The Era

Contrary to popular belief, the Reggae love song did not die in 197X - It's just taken on a different tone. Coming from the more traditional and very straight forward "oh baby baby I love you" type, to the more multi-dimensional and multi-faceted, the modern Reggae love song, when at its absolute best, sometimes masquerades as something else which is only revealed to the most keen of listeners. Be it taking the notion of love and applying it to a social concept or speaking of 'love' in the case of loving the entire world or some aspect of it, Reggae love songs just aren't what they used to be . . . and that's a good thing. As proof that the entire genre hasn't fallen out of love with LOVE, here're our choices of the best love songs of the era. Turn Your Lights Back On!

{Note: This list was really difficult}
{Note 2: We specifically avoided using any one artist more than once}
{Note 3: Songs are ranked only via personal preference}
{Note 4: The "era" is loosely the last decade and specifcally (biggup Bredz), everything after 'Virtuous Woman'}
{Note 5: 'Brown Skin' was #11}

#10. 'Handcart Bwoy' by Perfect [2004]

Love & joy. 'Handcart Bwoy' would've been 'ignition', for the most part, when it comes to introducing the majority of the Reggae listening world to the very odd chanter from the most wonderful place on earth, Perfect. The song was (as I hopefully alluded to in the opening) (haven't written it yet) wonderfully modern by showing a more socially aware aspect of two different types of people coming together, but it wasn't in the stale and overused manner. Today, the tune hasn't lost much of its lustre at all and is still as DELIGHTFUL as ever.

#9. 'Below The Waist' by Queen Ifrica [2007]

Another baby. In retrospect, Queen Ifrica's OUTSTANDING 'Below The Waist' has become something of an oddity in her absolutely stunning musical catalog. While she has made love songs over the years, none have been as 'direct' as this one which was pretty straight forward. Still, what has become a staple of her career was the undeniable strength of the tune which captivated (and continues to) audiences from the very first spin. It should also be said that you'll go rather deep into this list (at least to #5) before finding anything even remotely close to the lyrical equal of this track, which is another constant quality in the music of Ifrica.

#8. 'Waiting' by Ce'Cile [2007]

Sweetness! Ce'Cile is the first of 2-3 names on this list who could really have an entire list like this for themselves. I chose 'Waiting' for a couple of reasons (even though I think 'Anything' is her best). The first, OF COURSE, is that I looked at the video for the first time in a long time and she looked very nice. As for the tune, you can certainly take it in a very superficial way, which isn't bad in this case because it's gorgeous, or you can apply the notion of 'waiting' to her WAITING for a variety of things. Some of these things are fun and some not so much, like waiting for the release of her special someone from jail (more on jail later), which was how most took this tune and Ce'Cile took it all the way as it remains one the biggest hits in a career which seems to add a few more every year.

#7. 'Let's Do It Again' by J-Boog [2010]

Nice to know. Time is probably the only thing keeping this future classic from the top half (of the top half of) this list. 'Let's Do It Again' is something to be PROUD of if you enjoy modern Reggae music, because in every way it's just as good as anything as you're likely to find in any other era of the music and unlike many of the other pieces from this list, it isn't very dependent on any type of style. J-Boog could've sang this one to a hit in any era and Don Corleon could have made it work in any as well. TRULY, a timeless a vibe.

#6. 'Love & Affection' by Pressure Busspipe [2006]

The crossover. Don Corleon also helmed #6 on this list (as well as #'s 1 & 2 and #11) which found, somewhat quietly, one of the most remarkable situations in all of modern Reggae as VI ace, Pressure Busspipe, crossed over in a captivating way and started his journey to becoming a household name in our music. 'Love & Affection' was the key to opening that door and it's opened the world to the supremely talented St. Thomas chanter who figures to continue serving up thrills for DECADES to come.

#5. 'Warrior Love' by Etana [2007]

The weight of the earth. A MIGHTY case could be made that, on all 'normal' levels, 'Warrior Love' is THE best song on this list, period. And while it may not have grabbed the attention as some of the others on this list (particularly the two before it and the next one), it's arguably better than all of them and it definitely did its share of damage as well. What I really like here, these days, is the subtle EDGE this tune has. Etana brought the BITE on the love song, which didn't register in the category stereotypically, but instead became this almost overpowering track which just happened to concentrated on a functioning type of love - also known as PASSION!

#4. 'She's Royal' by Tarrus Riley [2006]

So royal. This song definitely took a while to grow on me as we're now a half decade away and I'm pretty sure that it's been just within the past year or so that I've been hearing what everyone else who loved it heard IMMEDIATELY. 'She's Royal' is a nearly PERFECT celebration of WOMANKIND. Tarrus Riley put the song on a level where it became fast-tracked to becoming a classic and when you listen to it, it sounds like it (it even did to me from before). More importantly, it is a very empowering type of a song and not just to women. If you LOVE women and you treat your woman and the women in your life as well as you possibly can - 'She's Royal' was for you as well. It is this all-encompassing 'credential' and just its musical shine which ensures its place on this list and, realistically, any other like it as well.

#3. 'Don't You Know' by Isasha [2005]

One of a kind. The most unlikely entrant on this is also one who got a great deal of consideration for being #1 and I would've had no problem making it so! 'Don't You Know' was just MAD! The song was downright dazzling and while it wasn't the type of certain hit that many of these tunes were and are, for more of the hardcore heads, it went a great distance in introducing not only Isasha (and, really, Million Voice as well), but Trini Reggae as well. It was that amazing of a track which shook up the place with love and continues to do exactly that all of these years later.

#2. 'Longing For' by Jah Cure [2004]

Release the cure. Jah Cure's 'Longing For' now kind of exists in its own little corner as do some of the other songs which are related closely to it (most notably 'True Reflections'), which is kind of strange, but fitting. This song was STUNNING! I write reviews and I overuse positive and negative descriptors - it's just what I do - but this one is specifically molded for this song along with its incomparable backing of the Drop Leaf Riddim. If we go back to 'Waiting', we almost see the opposite side of it here as the Cure awaits the day of his release to be reunited with the love of his life. One of the most unforgettable songs of all time.

#1. 'Rise In Love' by Alaine [2006]

She lead. I chose 'Rise In Love' to represent Alaine's presence on this list and it's deserved. Although my absolute favourite tune from the singer remains 'No Ordinary Love', this song has a more SPECTACULAR feel to it (largely due to the sterling Guardian Angel Riddim behind it) and is a better statement-making song here. HOWEVER, it serves more as a figurehead than a direct choice: Alaine is THE dominant love song singer of this era of Reggae music. I'd have no problem, at all, stringing together ten quality love/romantic/sensual songs of hers alone, all of which could, arguably, have a place here. I don't think Alaine has any children, but years from now thousands will owe their collective existence to her wonderful craft.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Coming Soon Vol. 41

Coming Soon
Fred Locks - "Music Is My Calling" [Irie Sounds International]

Still a bit away from this one, but starting us up this week is the latest from one of the greatest as the legendary Fred Locks returns with a brand new set via Achis Reggae favourite, Irie Sounds International - "Music Is My Calling". The album is Locks' first from . . . his last one and figures to attract quite a bit of attention from his many fans when it reaches later this year. Early listens suggest that they'll have much to enjoy as a few of the tunes here are very strong, particularly the tunes 'Cheer Up', 'Never Give Up' and especially the WICKED 'Oppression' (which may just be one of the simplest and most obvious songs you'll ever hear, which is a good thing in this case because its simplicity rides with its beauty). Definitely happy to see Fred Locks with a new project and we're really looking forward to it as well - You should be as well.

Digital (I THINK)
Releases in Later This Year

The Rock N' Sway Riddim [Xterminator Productions]

'Rock N Sway' by Kayla Bliss

Next we have a former stop in the harbour of the aforementioned Fred Locks as Xterminator continues its comeback this month with the cool Rock N' Sway Riddim and while Locks, himself, isn't on the roster this time around, as usual, the label has managed to string together some very respectable artists. Both Kayla Bliss and Jesse Royal, who have become new staples for Xterminator, are on board and the former steals the show, arguably, with the riddim's old school infectious title track. THE name of Xterminator, Sizzla Kalonji is present as well as are bros. Spanner Banner and Snatcha Spice (on solo tracks), veteran Bunny Brown and DYCR with the somewhat hilarious and very well received, 'Google'.

Releases Soon . . . I think

"Dread & Alive: Kindah, Vol. 1" [Zoolook Records]

The "Dread & Alive" series continues to release compilations at a rate which suggest that may have information that time is running out in some way, but this time it comes with a bit of twist. "Kindah" is a project intended for the youths (as the cover would suggest) and, in keeping with the 'tradition' of the series, D&A have assembled yet another EXTREMELY colourful group of vocalists. Coincidentally, the biggest name here is Freddy Locks but that's because you'll see it and assume that it's FRED LOCKS and it isn't, but also doing big things on this project are Monsoon, Kehv, Achis Reggae favourite Sahra Indio, Kehv, Kenyan combo Meekie Humble & Huthead and Dutchie Leah Rosier.

Releases November 1

The Matchbox Riddim [Nite Lite Productions/Macro Beats]

Riddim Mix

The Matchbox Riddim comes out of Italy (and yet, there is no Lion D. Hmmm . . .) (although it isn't really his style) via Nite Lite Productions & Macro Beats and while I don't know a great deal of what's going on here in terms of the background, I do know a BIG riddima and this more than qualifies. Sounding like something which you might hear coming out of Don Corleon's or Rumble Rock Recordz' studios, this laid back GORGEOUS set should have a big future ahead of it, but I find myself wishing that it would've leant itself to more big names. The only two Reggae 'household names' appearing on the riddim are Gappy Ranks and Million Stylez. After that it's Chevaughn, Asante Amen (big artist), cutie Keera Rootz, Onton and variety of others most listeners (even deep ones) aren't too likely to have heard of and while that certainly isn't a bad thing, rebirthing this one for a 'round 2' of sorts definitely wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Releases on November 4

'Je Te Donne L'Amour' (REMIX) featuring Tiwony by Shalli [Planet Rock]

And finally coming soon this week is a title which I'm sure we've mentioned in the past. Achis Reggae favourites (GORGEOUS) Shalli and (WICKED) Tiwony team up with a big remix of a tune originated by the former (that is one BEAUTIFUL woman!), the Zoukish 'Je Te Donne L'Amour'. Whenever we mentioned it previously it didn't have a release date and now it does. It's a big tune - kind of a Soca-ish/Zouk-ish piece - and anything Tiwony jumps on, you can be sure it is quality. Perhaps the same could be said for Shalli (and all her hips and ass) who is having a very big 2011.

Releases on November 1

In Stores Now
'Set Up Shop' by Damian Marley [Tuff Gong]

It had to happen eventually - SLOOOOOOOOOWLY the time is coming when sans Nas and sans all of those people on that damn album we never talked about, the ultra-talented Damian Marley can get back to work on an album of his very own and HOPEFULLY the first sign of that forthcoming is his latest single which is probably one of the best songs of 2011, the flaming 'Set Up Shop'. In stores now.


Yvad - "The Sojourner [Nubeat Entertainment]

Speaking of the Marleys - Here's an album which I was pretty sure had been released a few years ago (and I'm still thinking that it has been) - It's "Sojourner" from former frontman of the Wailers, Yvad. If this is the first drop of this song, then I can confidently say that here's an album which has been in the works for at least two or three years and, again, if this is the first time, then it's a pretty big deal. While I've never been the biggest fan of Yvad's, he's amassed quite the following during years and years (and years) of touring with the band, who figure to take a great interest in this release.


The Iron Belt Riddim [Di Genius Productions]

'No Talk' by Chino & Bramma

One of the latest pieces from Stephen McGregor, the Iron Belt Riddim, is a bit of a blast from the past as it appears to, at least partially, borrow from the old Top Ten Riddim. And you know what? I don't care! It's authentic Dancehall and I don't care who created at this point (I'll take it anyway I can get it). This time around things are kept to a minimum with only the MAIN names on board. Chino & Bramma teamup for 'No Talk' (which is excellent), Di Genius himself, Laden, Ele and Singing Sweet. That's all you get and that's probably all you need.


The Gorilla Riddim [Warriors Musick Productions]

You should really check these things beforehand: Earlier this year the wonderful Necessary Mayhem from out of the UK dropped the Gorilla Riddim (also currently available, via the wonderful people at Zojak Worldwide) which featured big artists such as Tarrus Riley, Ziggi Recado, Cali P and others. Obviously that was a fact missing at Warriors Musick when they drew the same name for their very own new composition (they could probably keep the name, just do one of those wacky mispellings) and now they bring it through, digitally. When you have those big names on one side and mainly a big tune from Bramma, the SCATHING 'Go Inna Grave', this one is likely to be lost to digital customers, for the most part.


'Bun Babylon' by Capleton & Luciano [Soul Vybz Music]

French label, Soul Vybz, gets maximum credit this week for delivering a HUGE combination featuring Reggae legends, Capleton & Luciano, 'Bun Babylon'. I get greedy with stuff like this, but I'll well keep that to myself (even though you probably know what I'm thinking) this time around and just enjoy this abundance of vibes. Join me and pick it up right-nowish.


Dale Saunders - "Here I Am" [Rocksmash Records/Island Def Jam Digital]

And lastly (and FINALLY, damn!) this week is the brand new album from Groovy Soca head and St. Kitts native, Dale Saunders, "Here I Am". Like Adrian Dutchin and a few others, Saunders has taken advantage of major label, Island Def Jam, dipping in the digital side for his album release, which, in terms of providing a name (and a platform obviously), is a very good thing. I'm not the biggest fan of Saunders, I'll admit, but anyone who the wonderful Jalena works with is definitely worthy of a mention around here and Tola's finest also guests on the album via the familiar Zoukish 'Make Up Sex' and also familiar to my ears is the wild 'Jumping Day & Night' (which I do really like) and a couple of others. Check it out.

CD [I THINK] + Digital

{Thank you Geraldine Connor!}

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'These Strings': A Review of The Stringz Riddim

Certainly it cannot be said that we're struggling to any degree, but I do have to say that it's always very nice when we come across a new label, whether actually new or new to us, that can be depended upon to produce excellent music on a consistent basis. When we look at artists, specifically, the feeling is much different as, although they are ultimately the face of the music, it's much more of a situation of watching something develop and, eventually, arriving at a point where we may try to identify some type of historical reference for them - at the absolute highest level, of course. With good labels, however, the impact can be, and generally is, much more immediate, even if they don't stick around for very long! Good labels bring good music INSTANTLY and with the tendency of today being labels coming from everywhere, it's always good to keep an open, because you never know who may stop by. For example (!) earlier this year we stumbled upon the US based Rumble Rock Recordz which was, initially, probably my favourite find from since Philadub a couple of years back. RRR introduced themselves to us in a most interesting (and fitting for the sake of this review) manner - a BIG riddim. The Step By Step Riddim was a GLORIOUS Roots set which not only identified a certain level of class and ability in the label, but it also gave it (hopefully at that point and obviously now) a certain distinct quality. When you look at the names of artists voicing the Step By Step, the one thing that stood out at the time and still does is just how diverse they were! The mix wasn't just the more 'standard' blend of combining superstars with up and comers and everything in between (and I do so LOVE that standard!), RRR went BEYOND! What stands out for me even now, having well added the Step By Step to memory is that appearing on the riddim was Faïanatur and Oshen. The former is just odd in general (and I mean that in a good way) and the latter is someone who definitely has established a name for himself and I bring him up because of his most distant origins as a native of Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, it was just a matter of doing this for a gimmick or something - obviously - the riddim itself was big and it produced what should still be regarded as one of the finest riddim albums of 2011. So, with a name established, Rumble Rock Recordz - Can you keep us interested?

Riddims, they can do. Picking a logo, however . . .

Yes you can. First of all we backtracked a bit in the way of "The Truth Shall Be Told" which was the nice 2010 debut set from RRR favourite, Zacheous Jackson. That album, again, reiterated what was obvious, that the label was one to pay attention to. It also was very straight forward and when you combine that with the first riddim, it was assumed that Rumble Rock was a pure Roots Reggae label and there wasn't a damn thing wrong with that. HOWEVER, buried on Jackson's album was a song which was pretty much a changeup for that album by the name of 'Better Dayz'. It wasn't too much of a leap, but the tune featured a very colourful and R&B tinged backing track which was amongst the many standouts on that project. Fast forward a few months and, in the process of 'stringing' together a nice opening for themselves, Rumble Rock Recordz now brings forth their second riddim album (I THINK) for that very same riddim, now known as the Stringz Riddim. Quietly, I was waiting on this one for a nice amount of time. The SBS reached back in April and it's now six months from then and it is a nearly perfect time to comeback with a followup (although May wouldn't have been bad, or June, July . . . ) and, much like its predecessor, the Stringz has generated a nice amount of buzz online, even before we got into it, so with that and the fact that I'm already in the mind to look forward to RRR's next project, whatever it would've been, I was not only very interested in having a listen to the results, but I was also anticipating something pretty impressive as well (with big results comes big expectations).

The Step by Step Riddim & 'Right Ting' [single] by The Lambsbread

My initial impressions of the project were also pretty good. Again, the promotion has been strong (biggup Josh) and the early reaction has been good from what we've seen (although none of our peers have committed 2800 words worth of a review to it thus far - No worries, I'll do it). And I should also add that the COVER is very attention-grabbing and I think that such things tend to go overlooked and underrated, particularly in the digital medium/market. RRR also took a big step (by step) in the matter by releasing what amounts to a single for the riddim in August - 'Right Ting' by The Lambsbread - which was just a good idea on one hand and an excellent show of their dedication and BELIEF in the nature of the project and its importance, full on. And, when considering all of that, it's good that things have manifested the way that they have here, because they've again done something to be proud of here! While we can surely pick favourites between the two riddims (I think you know where I'm leaning at this point), the Stringz Riddim does manage to surprise just a bit on its full album by serving as the perfect backdrop to a variety of differently vibed big tunes, none of which, thankfully, sound completely out of place. By the end of this one the feeling quickly went from 'okay now do it again' to 'okay you've done it again'. Rumble Rock Recordz manages to cement their place on my radar and I'm sure I won't be the only one after the Stringz Riddim. Let's take a listen!

Stringz Riddim Mix Pt. 1

Despite its title (and its cover) I don't think that the main sound that you'll hear on this composition is a string, at least not initially. Although, with that being said, I was so happy to read that Achis Reggae favourite, Tuff Lion, does play on the set. That, alone, is a quality which says a great deal about the quality levels one can expect to hear, as the Lion doesn't push sub-par material. Ever. What he does in this case once again finds itself in a BEAUTIFUL variety of different hands as the label continues their methods of voicing such a colourful group. A good example of that would definitely be Ms. Sophia Squire who gets things going on the Stringz Riddim album from Rumble Rock Recordz with 'I Live, I Learn'. I think that when you listen to the riddim, ostensibly, you'd take it to be more of a romantic set and while we do get that later on, Squire, for her part, puts the composition to the proverbial test with one of this lovely inspirational track. She gets nearly Gospel-ish at times, which isn't a bad thing, and she just reaches with a message of perseverance and self-determination and motivation. She does this while eschewing the stereotypical, lame and clichéd route as well and also does so to one of the best songs I've ever heard her do on this stellar opener. Next we have the first of two combinations, 'Good Vibes', which features veteran Fire Star alongside young Mountain (who, despite the fact that I do know who he is, really needs to think about getting a new, more Google-friendly, name). This was another standout for me on the riddim and one which I think could really do damage if afforded the opportunity. The message here is of a fairly general injection of more righteousness and positivity into society. I suppose you could call it a 'social commentary', but it doesn't reach me in the more usual way that such a tune does. Also, you really get a SPECTACULAR vibes here - although I do favour the opener, this tune is definitely more of a LARGE sonic achievement to my opinion. Back again from the SBS is the somewhat strange, but well talented, Jus Goodie who is the first to take the Stringz Riddim in the direction of a love song with 'Crazy Love'. Speaking of sonic appeal, that's clearly the star in this instance, although the entire track is nothing less than decent, it's more of the kind of easy-listening type of song, which has its place and I'm still impressed by and will continue to look out for more from the singer.

The Step By Step Riddim featured one really heavy, heavy-hitter in Anthony B and it's a move which Rumble Rock repeats on the Stringz and they even go up a notch this time around. 'You Get What You Want' which features Black Prophet with none other than Capleton. BOOM!

“You never cook, then how you still ah eat?
You never sew, then how you still ah read?
You say you honest but you still ah thief
And then you send di wolf dem fi come destroy di sheep!”

It's just like an energy boost when Shango starts rhyming and it really just the kind of subtle diversity in the track itself. You can take a song like this and precede it with Jus Goodie's more serene vibes and both make a great deal of musical sense in their own ways. I should mention that the vocals on the tune seem somewhat strange to my ears, but maybe that's just me. That being said, however, it is the second largest name on the riddim who takes top honours as Chezidek BLAZES the similarly vibed 'Still Want More'. This one surely is a social commentary and more 'common' one for the riddim and it is BIG! Along with offering the entire riddim its dominant lyric ("Dem no really overstand what it means to be poor. GREED IS A DISEASE WEH NEEDS TO BE CURED"), Chezidek's tune is spotless and it serves as yet another reminder of his current streak of quality. For the past two years there's been anyone hardly making better music CONSISTENTLY in all of Reggae than the singer and here’s another sterling example of that.

Another pretty big name on the Stringz is another favourite of ours, of course, Messenjah Selah, who shines brightly with his own love song, 'Wanna Get Away'. Selah's is a sound which I've yet to tire of in the years since I've been listening to him and when I hear this song, I hear such a FULL vibes. It is so well done! I call it a 'love song' and that is an accurate description, but it's a multi-faceted love song, it is one which touches the social realm, within the romantic realm and it isn't a complicated listen at all. That man just makes GOOD music and you won't find an exception on the Stringz. I was equal parts very happy and very surprised to see Buggy Nhakente present on the Stringz Riddim, but perhaps I shouldn't have been given the fact that RRR will seemingly go anywhere for real talent. This time they went to Barbados for the Reggae/Soca hybrid and the results show that it was well worth it. 'Love Remains The Same' is a love song, but it's a song which brings "love" up for the sake of "love". It's not a romantic type of song (well, it kind of is), but it's more on an inspirational type of vibes which essentially espouses on the power of LOVE in any situation.

“Oh what do you answer, when you ask yourself the question -
What keeps us together, more than any war or competition?
Unconditional love!
The same one that Mama say came from above
The same one that brings life kisses and hugs
What the world needs now, we don’t have enough!

Cause people change and seasons change
But love remains the same
Seasons come and people go
But love remains the same
Time goes on and we move on
But love remains the same!”

BIG BIG tune!

Of the remaining tracks, of course the previously mentioned pieces from both The Lambsbread and Zacheous Jackson are highlights and they're joined by a typically interesting lot assembled by Rumble Rock for the Stringz Riddim. Such a fascinating individual is Ras Arcane, who I only heard of for the first time on the SBS Riddim - Arcane is back for the Stringz with an arguably even stronger tune in the biblical 'Hymn Book & Bible'. Arcane is someone to deal with for several reasons, not the least of which is his delivery which is so straight forward that it's strange. He just talks and kind of adjusts himself to the riddim, at times, but clearly command of melody isn’t his strongest attribute. That being said, however, he's just obviously talented and his tune here is another demonstration of that. Also back from the previous release is O-Shen who this time wants you to know that he's 'Sorry' for what he's done. I do really like this one (especially the chorus) although it goes a bit too rappy for me later on, when it does, O-Shen still manages to impress. Rastar is also back (and is also rappy) for the Stringz with 'Love U Jah'. This song definitely isn't one of my favourites here, but I am still reserving what I think about the artist because I have heard talent there.

Sarai Knowledge

Jhaytea who has been having an excellent few months or so (highlighted by 'All The Love', a big combination with Glen Washington) is also here with the lover’s piece, 'Like Heaven' which is another strong piece from the Roatan native. Jhaytea has serious star potential in my opinion and I can well envision a 'J-Boog like' run from him on the horizon. His song on the Stringz would also figure to have mainstream legs if given the opportunity, but something tells me that he's headed there whether it does or not. Excellent track and one of the riddim's finest. The HEAVY Ras Professor also scores min a mighty way with 'Meditation Time'. Here's a song which kind of put my mind to something I'll speak about more in closing, but here I'll just say that this is such a STERLING track. It's kind of rough at the same time, anything the Professor does and has ever done will always be kind of rough around the edges, but there is an almost extreme beauty here and on so many levels in my opinion (am I could really go for an album from Ras Professor now???). The divine-voiced Fabian Williams wraps up and delivers 'I'll Try' to the Stringz Riddim. I don't know a great deal of Williams, but he makes a nice impression with his tune and hopefully RR has him back (I'm sure they will). Finally is the only name on the Stringz Riddim which is COMPLETELY new to me - Sarai Knowledge (cool name). Knowledge (who sounds a bit like Ce'Cile to my ears) comes with 'Jah Light' and from what we've read, she typically focuses more on the Hip-Hop side (which may explain why I don’t know who she is), but she sounds pretty nice, while infusing Hip-Hop vibes while the song progresses.

Stringz Riddim Mix Pt. 2

Rumble Rock does include a clean version of the riddim (always a good idea) where the strings do become more apparent to my ears. This riddim, as I alluded to a second ago, really began to strike me as being incredibly accessible and VERSATILE. You hear it initially and you automatically go to thinking just how nice it would be as a modern Lover's Rock riddim and it does serve that purpose, but it can also do modern Roots (see Ras Professor) and a variety of other things, such as Hip-Hop and even Gospel.

Overall, I will be back for a third time. Again, I'm going to try not to directly compare the Stringz Riddim with the Step By Step, but even if I did, it's definitely on a similar level in terms of quality, which makes it obvious that Jimmy Cui and co. at Rumble Rock are exercising quite a bit in the way of quality control. Chances are, I think, that we've probably already heard their next riddim to be featured and whatever it is, I'm well looking forward to it. When you are fortunate enough to find a label who can consistently provide top material, even in Reggae where, as I said, we aren't experiencing a dearth of such entities, it's important to stick to them and support them because the benefits to you, as a fan, are potentially HUGE. It'll take more than two big riddims and an album ultimately to keep my attention, but if Rumble Rock Recordz continues their winnings ways, you won't even have to ask me what I think. Nice.

Rated: 4/5
Rumble Rock Recordz

Review #335

Monday, October 24, 2011

Approaching Midnite

Let's count . . .
Who cares if they're out of order

#1. "Unpolished" [Rastafaria]

#2. "Ras Mek Peace" [Wild Child]

#3. "Nemozian Rasta" [I Grade Records]

#4. "Jubilees of Zion" [Afrikan Roots Lab]

#5. "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" [Afrikan Roots Lab]
#6. "Assini" [I Grade Records]

#7. "Cipheraw" [Rastafaria]

#8. "Intense Pressure" [Rastafaria]

#9. "Geoman" [I Grade Records]

#10. "He Is Jah" [Rastafaria]

#11. "Vijian" [I Grade Records]

#12. "Project III" [Natural Vibes]

#13. "Scheme of Things" [Rastafaria]

#14. "Ainshant Maps" [Afrikan Roots Lab]

#15. "Full Cup" [Natural Vibes]

#16. "Let Live" [I Grade Records]

#17. "Current" [Natural Vibes]

#18. "Jah Grid" [I Grade Records]

#19. "Thru & True" [Rastafaria]

#20. "New 1000" [Full Grown Records]

#21. "Suns of Atom" [Fifth Son Records]

#22. "Aneed" [Groundbreaking Records]

#23. "Rule The Time" [I Grade Records]

#24. "Better World Rasta" [Rastar Records]

#25. "Bless Go Roun" [Higher Bound Productions]

#26. "Infinite Quality" [Lustre Kings Productions]

#27. "Maschaana" [Natural Vibes]

#28. "Kayamagan" [Rastafaria]

#29. "Standing Ground" [Fifth Son Records]

#30. "For All" [Sacred Sounds Records]

#31. "Live 94117" [Rastafaria]

#32. "Supplication To H.I.M." [Rastar Records]

#33. "Infinite Dub" [Lustre Kings Productions]

#34. "To Mene" [Rastar Records]

#35. "Ina Now" [Rastar Records]

#36. "What Makes A King?" [Afrikan Roots Lab]

#37. "Ark A Law" [Higher Bound Productions]

#38. "Momentum" [Fifth Son Records]

#39. "Standing Ground Dub" [Fifth Son Records]

#40. "Treasure" [Rastar Records/VP Records]

#41. "The Way" [Rastar Records]

#42. "Anthology" [Afrikan Roots Lab]

#43. "Kings Bell" [I Grade Records/Andrew Bassie Records]

In Stores November 1!