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


  1. Yea! It sounds as cool as Niyo's did. Love his combination "No Matter What The Crisis" with Lutan Fyah on Africa and "Lion Have Mane" with Niyo on Purification Session.

  2. archie this music is to pure for you.yuh dont know nutten about rastafari u should review sizzla n dem sell out deh

  3. This is not the first album produced by a jamaican your home work archie RASTAR RECORDS is the first yardy lable to work with vaughn benjamin seekout BETTER WORLD RASTA featuring original tracks from BLACK UHURU.let who have eyes to see n hear di words of the almighty.seems like u dont

  4. Well that's actually a pretty good point about Rastar Records and I thought about that when I got the press releases for this one. Even if you go on I Grade's site, it says the same thing essentially that I do. But the thing about Rastar is that they do their work in Fort Lauderdale Florida. That's where their studio is and that's where their business address is. And even if you look in the liners of the "BWR" album - Look who did the work on that album.

  5. Much thanks for the review. Truly great works this one!
    Pay no attention to negative comments...Jah bless and keep up the work!

  6. Thank you Anon! We don't mind disagreements and definitely appreciate corrections, but LOVE nice people, so thank you.

  7. I have been following Vaugh...Midnite's work for years, and I want to just say this is a nice review, thanks so much. King's Bell is truly a well rounded album.Jah Bless.