Monday, April 30, 2012

'The Conference Table': A review of "Jah Golden Throne"

I'd like to think that the actual process of making a strong compilation album is something more than just throwing together good songs because if it isn't, maybe I should get into the . . . Compiling business. When they're good, and not of the very specific variety, there's something so nice about being able to hear a string of different voices in different circumstances tied together with some type of common 'theme' or another. In Reggae, as I've said in the past, such projects are unfortunately disappearing and while the digital medium has given a new life to the riddim album - the "specific variety" I just mentioned - that really cool release where you have a multitude of different acts jumping on different riddims and just pushing one vibe or similar vibes hasn't been as actively produced to my opinion as in the earlier 2000's. For me, that's unfortunate for so many reasons and not the least of which is the fact that, as I've personally observed, they're so popular to many different types of people. Both fans of old[er] and new[er] can really enjoy them and generally do. A really really long two and half years ago such a project arrived, which although it seemed to be one strictly for the hardcore fans, turned out to be something so much more and really did something great for pretty much anyone with even remotely semi-functioning ears, "Joyful Noise". Released by I Grade Records (more on them in just a minute), that MASSIVE set, for me, may have just been the single best varied Roots Reggae compilation that I've ever heard and I definitely drew comparisons between it and another of my own classic favourites, "Culture Dem" from Lustre King Productions (surely you can see where this is going by now), several years back. Both of those, going forward, really did big things and continue to do sizable operations in their 'old age' going forth. Now, if you happen to pay a decent amount of attention (or can just read English), you're very familiar with a group of labels who these days work very often together, known as the Zion I Kings, collectively. You have I Grade Records, you have Lustre Kings Productions and you have, Zion High Productions. With both of the formers having taken there proverbial shots and done well, now it's ZHP's turn.  

The Zion I Kings
And they've done GOOD! It shouldn't come to the surprise of anyone as the same label also not only served up what still remains this blog's single most discussed album, "Breaking Babylon Curse" by Messenjah Selah, but ZHP was also behind an album which really has become a personal classic for me and favourite of mine through the years, "Rebelution" by Yami Bolo (I probably find myself listening to that album, in its entirety, at least once a week these days). And more recently, Zion High Productions were also on board for "Black Gold", the impressive debut album of Soul Roots singer, Toussaint. Credentials like those do absolutely nothing but set the stage for even more big works and if you look up you'll notice that "big works" has just walked through the door.

It's name is "Jah Golden Throne" (biggup Peter Broggs). Arguably the first big compilation of its kind in 2012 thus far, the piece very much feels like a direct descendant of its two elder 'siblings' and I knew, even before identifying that I had heard any song on this album that it would live up to those very lofty expectations. What you have here are sixteen original tracks, produced by the Zion I Kings, featuring a very nice mixture of vocal acts whom you would have expected to see involved with such a venture and a few surprise lights as well. All of the tunes are very upful and inspirational music, with at least a hint of a spiritual source involved in most of them, but really at its core, it's just EXCEPTIONAL music for the most part. The album also has a very cohesive and interconnected feel to it which isn't always the easiest thing to do when you bring together such a subtly diverse group of individuals - and that isn't just because of the music. And while we get into this more detailed shortly, some of the names on this set just seemed absolutely perfect, but just were just as unexpected and not in a curious and bizarre type of way (no, I'm sorry, but you won't find any Denise Belfon on this album) (biggup Saucy anyway). And while it seems that the early reaction and response for the album has been excellent (here comes some more of that), I do want to say that I had absolutely no idea that such a release was on the horizon and in a year which, thus far, has really been over-generous in terms of who has been active and who has been present on the scene with albums, @"Jah Golden Throne" may not get the same attention as some of them, but for me it's just as big of a deal as almost any of them, again, considering the history of the label[s] and artists involved. So, being the over thinker that I am, I also can't help but wonder what this portends for future releases from ZHP. It's been a minute or so since they've last pushed an artist's album (unless I'm really overlooking someone) and while I'd climb a mountain or two (not really) for sequels from either of a couple of different artists with whom they've worked in the past (two in particular), at this point - if it's going to sound this good, and it probably is - I don't really care who they'd have in mind. "Jah Golden Throne" is a very well thought out and carried out project which very quickly proves itself more than worthy of hauling the increasingly crucial 'Zion I Kings' tag. So how good is it exactly? Let's find out. 

"Joyful Noise"
In comparison to the other two compilations which I've mentioned thus far, what I will say is about this set, specifically, is just how POLISHED the album's sound is. Retrospectively, part of the charm and brilliances of both "Joyful Noise" and especially "Culture Dem" (all of them) was this kind of 'rough around the edges' type of sound - meshed between vocalists and the riddims. You won't find very much of that on "Jah Golden Throne", which is about as refined of an assemblage of tracks that I've heard in a recent times. For a fine example of that, check the album's icebreaker, the sterling 'Empress Omega' from the first unanticipated name here, Chet Samuel. I don't think I'd heard anything from this singer from quite some time and he's made a nearly SPECTACULAR way to say 'hello' again on a tune giving thanks and praises to not only THE Empress, but women of divinity all over the world. Taking it further, it's also somewhat of a relationship type of vibe in the sense of if you empower woman, you also empower man, which is a damn powerful sentiment. Speaking of powerful, next up is the coolest man in the world (I probably give that title to about five different people, but I mean it this time!), Mr. Glen Washington with the MAMMOTH 'Fall On Me'. TEARS! I found no better tune seated in this Throne than this effortlessly sang future classic from a classic of a vocalist. Washington is someone who, in my opinion, may not get all of the attention that he deserves, but is WELL on his way to becoming someone who will get that status well after his career is over and you'll hear part of a generation of younger and younger singers coming through and using his name as someone who inspired them as a youth. It's songs like this which are the reason for that - I could listen to this man sing all day long!

“Let your blessings fall on me
Let me be your guiding light
So that them that’s without can see
Guide & protect me on my way
Let me see a better day 
From this vibe I will not stray
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof
Them that endure will be rewarded at last
Your heart must be pure, your hands must be clean
For you to rally round the Black, the Red, the Gold and the Green!

Jah Jah love is like the sun shine
Brighter to me everyday 
I’m energized every time I pray 
Let your love take me over
Daily as I make my way
To the mark of the higher calling”

'Make It Work' is the UK connection as it is a link between longtime UK superpowers, Tippa Irie and Lloyd Brown. There's a rising intensity here that doesn't at all destroy a SWEET Jazzy type of a feel which is exhibited throughout on a tune which is about as WIDELY specific social commentary that you're likely to EVER hear. Mr. Lloyd Brown is the only artist to appear on "Jah Golden Throne" more than once (almost as if to remind me that I have to review his album) (all twenty tracks of it) (than you Mr. Brown) as he later returns with the downright delicious 'Just So That You Know'. Brown is another artist, like Washington, who I think people will really wake up one day and use as a platform to build inspiration for their own careers around because he's just done so much and yet been so current. Here, it took me a few spins (I've got no problem with that) to really get the point of the message, but I think I got it finally, Brown, in his typically brilliant lackadaisicalness is basically saying 'I'm in your corner'. Whatever your positive works and optimistic actions may be, he and HE are behind you in that. It's really a very COOL track and one which is a complete joy to listen to - one of the album's finest. Some of the more unexpected names on the album definitely go a long way in making a big impact for the listener. Such an name is the ridiculously overlooked General Jah Mikey who we simply don't hear from enough and perhaps that has something to do with his tune, 'Set A Way', being such a joy to listen to. Or maybe it's just because it's really good. Hopefully he makes his way more into the ZIK rotation and pops up on some other projects from the group because he's been unseen and unheard from for entirely too long and their music is straight for him full on, as evidenced by this track here, another of the real highlights. Similarly, although no where near as overlooked, is Prezident Brown who also makes an appearance on "Jah Golden Throne" with his own selection, 'Towerful'. I'm not the Prezident's biggest fan, but when you push rhymes like he does on this special praising track, you make me a fan. When combined with his own recent EP drop, "Do Thy Work", obviously he's on a good roll these days and hopefully a full LP is imminent with more material like this. Immediately following Prezident Brown is 'Nowhere To Run' by yet another overlooked veteran, Marcia Ball. Ball has been singing for quite awhile and has at least two albums to her credit that I know of, but to my knowledge this would be her most high profile feature to date. She did make an appearance on 'Without You' alongside Ras Attitude for his album, "Holding Firm" and some other things, but I was so happy to see hers being the lone female voice on the album (would've been even happier if there were one or two more). She certainly makes the most of the opportunity with a big social commentary focusing on those who may not have their lives revolving around proper ideas and are well tuned in on far more material things. Revered saxophonist, Jah Bless, also makes an appearance with the album's actual closer, 'Highway To Zion'. It's a full instrumental which is just an EXCELLENT touch and Bless takes on the same riddim that the Nazarenes and Vaughn Benjamin recently pushed 'The Lord Said' on from the former's outstanding new release, "Meditation". And the other unusual suspect appearing here is an artist who takes all of that stuff I mentioned about this album being so amazingly polished and destroys it - the insanely rough, coarse and gritty, but positively captivating veteran, Mr. Mention. His song, 'Showers of Blessings' is one of the highest ranking compositions you'll find here. It is SPECTACULAR!


The biggest names appearing on "Jah Golden Throne" well bring in some of its most metabolically challenged moments as well. Perhaps none are more familiar, however, than the sublime 'Babylon Yuh Wrong'. One of the best tracks I'd heard in 2010, when it initially reached, ZHP actually release the tune as a digital single and billed it as the first combination between two bonafide Reggae music legends, U-Roy and the coolest man in the world, Cornell Campbell [six]. A couple of years on, this tune is still as sweet as ever and I'm sure you'll agree. Jahdan Blakkamoore's is a tag not at all unknown to readers of ours and to the ZIK, so if such a thing as this compilation were going to exist, you'd expect him to be involved and involved he is with the bouncy 'World Needs Love'. This may be the changeup for the album - it's going to have heads swaying (like mine right now) and faces smiling (like mine right now) - and as is his norm, Jahdan brings in a heavy message, this one just happens to be in a very shiny packaging, but it's still giving babylon nightmares (did you catch that?). Jahdan Blakkamoore also appeared on "Joyful Noise" as did the WICKED Guyanese chanter Arkaingelle who makes a return here on the biblical 'Y Should Yee'. This artist will forever have a place on my players because he provided the world (meaning ME) with one of the greatest songs I've EVER heard from anyone, 'Manifess Joy', from his sadly as yet un-followed-up debut set, "O-Pen", from forty-two years ago. That's frustrating, but even more so is the fact that I recently noticed that although I haven't heard much from the chanter following that album, everything I have heard has been BIG! Here is no exception at all. Our good old friend Messenjah Selah also shows up for this release and does so with yet another excellent and uplifting vibe, 'Life Is To Live'. Quietly the man has begun to string together some big tunes from various labels (like Dynasty Records) and he's becoming someone who appears to be peaking once again, so hopefully there's an album in his future. As for his selection on this album, it's a big one - it's STERLING - and it's 'put-one piece-of-giant-smile-on-your-face' music, while having a crucial message as well. For current Reggae music, the two most familiar names, arguably, to appear on "Jah Golden Throne", Lutan Fyah and Pressure Busspipe also turn in fine pieces as well. For his part, Pressure delivers the SWELTERING Roots piece, 'Culture Inna Yuh Face'

“Culture inna yuh face!
Black culture and I will neva separate 
Culture inna yuh face
Babylon a vulture -
A time you get erase!

I culture is all I & I have, yes
Share di food amongst di people weh have less
Dem fi know that’s why di Rastaman truly God blessed
Bun di bwoy dem weh no inna progress
Hey Black woman, yuh king alone fi si yuh undressed
From you love yah culture, push up unuh hands, yes
Black man a top-ranking unuh confess
Right yah now a time fi free up unuh conscience!

Hey, Rastaman teach love from one to another
Respect all yah elders and respect all yuh Mothers
Babylon dem ah fuss when Black man climb up di ladder
Babylon nah no cool, a juss peer labba labba
When mi light di chalice, it full a peer grabba
Wicked man ah bun up through di disrespect Jah Jah
Afrikan people no fi favour Mick Jagger 
Inna babylon mi nah wallah” 

BOOM! {Note: I probably played this tune about fifteen times before I continued writing this review}

Not to be run out of the album, Lutan Fyah, as he always does, stands up big and proud with another of the major winners, 'Race of Life'. Oh and the riddim on this tune is . . . Golden. 

“I tell yuh, in di race of life - 
No one cares, who win or lose
In di race of life - 
To each his own
Don’t you interfere, man will choose 

I tell you if you ain’t got love, your life is an illusion
BEEN WRAPPED UP IN SO MANY BAD THOUGHTS, ALL YOU CAN SEE IS CONFUSION
Hey, come let’s rebel against dem foolish bad thoughts
Just a likkle bush of herbs mi go chant and plant
From di altar of my soul, I send offerings of joy
Give thanks and praise to Fari
Yes, I’ve been ridiculed so many times
Used and abused, even pushed aside
You get a pat upon di soul, a ‘well done’ with a smile
Yad it under cruel profile

I’ve got di eternal flames
Dis time we’ll be no millennium slaves
Tell di youths now when they turn to religion for that, lame
Woe to di church who drive di people insane
So said di right thing, yet done di wrong way
Di wicked nah go prosper these days 
Oh yes, Rastaman ah beg yuh gather yah grains
In time of drought yah gone need some food to sustain 
Till di soil, Jah will fall di rain
Feel no pain”

LYRICS!

And finally (I think) is the always more than welcomed Toussaint, who we'll be dealing with a bit more directly later this week, serving up what amounts to the title track here, 'Crown I Got'. TEARS! Call it my second favourite tune on this album (more like 1B) or just call it a divine level of a HUMBLING track. This song reaches emotions that no other present here does and it's really somewhat overwhelming. Toussaint is really making a fan out of me and with songs like this, you're really going to start to look FUNNY if you aren't as well.

Zion High Productions
Overall, Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings have hit another homerun with "Jah Golden Throne" and you knew they would. Looking at things from the aspect of this increasingly wider and wider reaching amalgam of labels, you really start to have somewhat of a limitless outlook and perspective. CONSISTENTLY, there's no one in the world currently making better modern Roots Reggae music in the world and if you pick up the "Joyful Noise" album and then have this one as well, you'll hear what I mean (incidentally, if you haven't picked up "Joyful Noise" by this point, I have no respect for you at all). They've mastered the art of making a great compilation as, with the first third of 2012 just about wrapped up, "Jah Golden Throne" is easily the best compilation album I've heard this year and should that have changed when December finishes up, I will be SHOCKED. Excellent. 

Rated: 4.85/5
Zion High Productions/A-Train Entertainment
2012
CD + Digital

Review #354

Sunday, April 29, 2012

'Odd Expectations': A review of "Modern Roots" by Norris Man

You're capable. Listening to good music and being able to listen to good music, in my opinion, is really one of the greatest joys and experiences that life has to offer. Because of what we do around here and just how much awareness and work it might require at times, I may seem as if my passion isn't always the highest, but in the most stripped away basic sense, this is all about celebrating one of the most powerful aspects of life. And it's always an enjoyable set of circumstances and can become even more so when I'm able to listen to some of my favourites doing what they do best. Surely you can relate. Whatever your favourite song is RIGHT NOW, stop reading this review and go and play it and when you get back think about how it just made you feel. It's amazing and nothing in the world can do it exactly like that. Still, I have to say that there are things and there are people, which is why we're here today, who, for maybe not the finest of reasons, can make listening to music and listening to GOOD music and even more interesting experience for several different reasons. The most obvious example of this, of course, is Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite. He/They have been so incredibly active and just as . . . Unusual, that even before you get into the music of "Random New Album" by Midnite, if you care at all and have any history in hearing them, you're already wondering about what's going on. Are you about to hear one of the greatest albums of all time or are you about to have to throw yourself into some seriously high level studies in order to follow along. Midnite is a perfect, albeit an odd, example because they've kind of become this mystic entity in Reggae to a great deal of people (and I mean that in a good way) (I think history is going to LOVE Midnite when it gets its hands on them), but an even more compelling example of someone who just really makes it a FUN thing to get into their music, before you actually do it, has been 'hiding' in plain site for years. It's the wonderfully enigmatic, oft-genius & oft-master of confusion, Norris Man. Unlike Benjamin and co. the interest in watching Norris Man isn't birthed in the theatre of the unexpected in that exact manner, instead it comes by way of simply not knowing which form the chanter will bring. When he's on top I'll maintain that he's probably one of the more talented modern Roots Reggae artists around, weaving together some truly spectacular tunes. When he's somewhere lower on the scale he's . . . not . . . That stuff. 

Because of that, I think it's safe to say that Norris Man hasn't really gotten that credit and that consistent level of stardom that many of his more famous peers have attained. And unlike many others such as a Mark Wonder or a Prince Theo, where it's more difficult to explain, much of Norris' career has pretty much been in synch. He gets a great deal of shine when he makes good music and not so much when he doesn't. You can look at that from tune to tune, but surely a great way to track what he's done and where he's been is by looking at his album releases (how convenient!). Again, when he has it together such as on "Persistence" and "World Crisis" (still occasionally find myself going back and forth as to which of those I prefer and I'm probably the only one who think they're even remotely close in quality) - the results are borderline spectacular at times. On the other hand, when he's not totally precision pointed, we get pieces like "Hey Woman" and "Heat Is On". When you place all of that together what you have is someone who, although they may not get calls of being "the greatest" by many, are still FAR too talented to ignore by people like You and I and one of the most captivating figures around.  

When he's good
So it should come to no large surprise that when I learned that Norris Man once again had an album shortly forthcoming, I immediately took an interest. It's a big deal for me and it's made even more interesting when you see where it comes from. "Modern Roots" is the very first album from the Trenchtown chanter for a label by the name of Nordic Steel from out of Sweden. Swedish Reggae has definitely been on the rise for the past few years with, most notably, the wickedly talented Million Stylez (with whom members involved with Nordic Steel got their start), achieving great successes and to have an artist such as Norris Man doing an album is a great thing. Reportedly, the circumstances surrounding the album's work is somewhat impromptu and unplanned as Norris Man was originally to voice alongside a friend of his, Advance, (more on him later) for the label, prior to taking a great liking to Nordic Steel's vibes. When he did, he kept coming back and kept coming back and now you're looking at the result of his many visits. When I first saw the name - Nordic Steel - I thought it pretty new to my eyes, but after looking them up I noticed that they had done a few things that I had enjoyed, most notably was a big tune from Lutan Fyah by the name of 'Dip Him' from a few years back. The label has also worked with the likes of Cali P, Turbulence, Perfect and others such as the aforementioned Million Stylez. So not only do we pretty much know what Nordic Steel brings to the proverbial table in terms of their actual sound, it's also clear that although Norris' is the biggest name they've ever done a full album with (following the likes of Advance, Essay, Rebellious and Iman Russ, who is one of the heads of the label), this isn't a case of some completely unknown group of people pooling their money together to throw some rubbish towards a big name. This is a respectable project and Nordic Steel brings a lot to it. With all of that being said, the only real remaining question is whether we're dealing with the GOOD and focused Norris Man or some other version. I'll confess that I was wrong here because I had bad feeling about this one but, for the most part, he's sharp. 

The twist here is because of, as I alluded to, Nordic Steel's sound. They're not known for being this powerhouse of a Roots Reggae producer, they make very 'colourful' music and they also mix in quite a bit of Hip-Hop (Iman Russ' album is a Hip-Hop album). So I saw the title of the album and expected a very straight forward Roots album and instead, they were thinking that 'modern Roots', meant a more 'open-minded' style of the genre. You know if you read our work to any degree of consistency that I'm not really a fan of Hip-Hop, however, I am a big fan of a good Norris Man. So which one dominates here? PROBLEMS! "Modern Roots" starts putting me through tribulations with its very first track, 'Dutty Babylon'. When I first heard this tune I thought it was pretty easily dismissed as being some "random Hip-Hop" vibed song and that's what I was going to call it, but after listening to it about five times (it just so happens to be placed on the album before the my favourite song and when I load it backwards (which is just what I do), you hear that great song and then this over and over again until you go back) I started to change to my mind. Yes, you're going to hear that very 'electric' riddim and no it isn't something that I hear and am absolutely in awe of, but when you hear what Norris Man does to it, it starts to impress a little, despite the fact that he does turn some of his lyrical flames in the direction of Bugs Bunny! The opener is a perfect example of the paradox that this album is at times: I may not like how it sounds, but for some reason I do kind of enjoy what I'm hearing. Next, as I said, is the single best moment on the entire album and my favourite song from the artist in quite some time (from 'When Your Time Is Up' with Pressure Busspipe), 'King of Your Soul'. BOOM!

“Haile Selassie is the King of your soul
Only Rastafari gonna take control
Righteousness must be blessed
So tell di wicked man seh him fi rest
Haile Selassie is the King of your soul
Only Rastafari gonna take control
Ah tell mi bout dem mighty, ah tell mi bout dem bold

Cold heart gonna lose dem soul
Wickedness bound to go down
When you hear di trumpet and di congoman-
Sound di sound
There is no one to control us
Remember dat a Jah go before us
Always HIM I praise!
We won’t get played, smarter than di system
Rastaman create his own!”

The song is quintessential Norris Man at his best. If ANYONE else does that same song, you have to ask questions because no one can really make a song like that work besides he can because, for all of his idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, when at his best, he always seems to wok things out. That's what he does on this MASSIVE selection. The song which brings the beginning trio from "Modern Roots" to a close is a very interesting one (again) because in the midst of everything going on here, you actually get three love songs as well. This one, 'My Lady', while not my favourite of them, is still a pretty nice tune with its very moody kind of vibes. And later you run into the other pair of tracks for Norris Man's special lady, 'For You' and 'Give Thanks For Your Love'. I don't really have a bad thing to say about either of these songs. The latter is just slightly better and both are pretty nice, albeit unspectacular, and as far all three of the love songs - well done - not real highlights for me here (although as I type this, I am really liking 'Give Thanks For Your Love'), but definitely a nice addition. 

'Gimmi Di Weed'

Along with the opener, you really start to see a major shift in the vibes on the album in it's final four tracks where a more of a Hip-Hop vibe (usually) takes over. The only song that I actually dislike here is the first of the four, 'Make The World Go Right'. You'll hear it and IMMEDIATELY be able to comprehend why that is. It's not just a Hip-Hop track, but it features Norris Man actually rapping on a rapper's cadence and pacing and it's just not a song for me. Later on is the very aggressive 'Cyan Diss Rastaman' which isn't bad at all and actually sounds like something that would've been on Cali P's recent set, "Unstoppable" and nearly on that level as well. The final song, 'I'm My Own President', definitely intrigued me by its title. The tune is a pure rap song and features Iman Russ mostly with Norris Man mixed in. I can actually deal more with this type of tune because it's a rapper rapping instead of Norris Man doing it. Certainly it isn't one of the lasting pieces here for me, but it's so much oriented and geared in another genre, that I don't have a problem with it and it doesn't have that awkwardness present on 'Make The World Go Right'. As for the other song within the final four . . . Well it isn't Hip-Hop at all. It is a GORGEOUS piece of Dancehall and the album's obligatory herbalist tune, 'Gimmi Di Weed'. The tune features a riddim which I do know quite well, the Arabian Nights from last year (HUGE Capleton tune on the same vibe), but what I didn't know was that it was apparently produced by Million Stylez (small world). That thing is CRAZY sounding like something from the old Main Street days - just an intoxicatingly fun and chaotic composition. 

Not surprisingly, aside from that huge moment, the vast majority of the main attractions offered by "Modern Roots", for me, are the more cultural/spiritual sets, which, even when compared to GREAT Norris Man, remains in good standing at times. Along with 'King of Your Soul', check the social commentary directed towards the younger generation, 'Youths of Today'. There's so much going on in this tune that the case of it featuring Advance isn't the most ostensibly interesting thing about it. What I like here is that Norris really does go far in personalizing the track for himself and the listener as well ("what would you say if your son becomes the president?') by just making sure the children themselves are staying focused as well as the parents who are charged with really ensuring the safety and progression of the future leaders of the planet. Advance (who sounds a bit like Bramma) (and is Bounty Killer's nephew) follows suit, making for one fine combination. The SWEET 'The Crown of True Glory' is another LARGE praising track and it should be said that with other tunes like the MAMMOTH 'HIM Neva Fail', this is one of the artist's strength in his writing and generally making music. Here, he really displays some powerful moments in this very serene track such as the tune's opening which is just gorgeous. 

“King Rastafari is my everything
King Rastafari is my heart and soul
There is no other love
Its only HIM alone that wears the crown
A crown of true glory, worthy to be praised” 

Next is 'End of Your Days' which is also not to be skipped and is somewhat comparable, in vibes, to the tune directly preceding it on the album (which I just told you about). This one is just slightly more broad to my ears, with the foundation idea of the track being to appreciate life to the fullest and to do things which are gratifying to His Majesty. The kind of easy nature here also helps it along because it gives it a subtly 'observing' tone from the point of view of Norris Man which is really interesting. The frenetic 'Lion and The Lamb' is another winner on "Modern Roots" and it's a song which kind of bridges the gap between Roots, Dancehall and Hip-Hop because of just how hype and intense it is, but it's still firm Roots Reggae. The fire-breathing Rebellious joins in for a wholly big anthem like track which is still very lyrical and a BOOM! Lastly is another impressive set in 'Caesar's Place', a piece I was really looking forward to hearing based on its title as well and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. 

“No matta what di people do
No matta what di people say
No matta what di people do
This is Caesar’s place

Kingdom of vanity, is a kingdom of doom
Their old time philosophy about cow jump over moon
But I know for sure - my dish won’t run with my spoon”

Obviously this one is specified for the sake of comparison, but it's a song about living in oppression and attempting to overcome it. I can see how you can say this one is a bit bleak, but there is a HOPE in there also, just as there is a hope throughout this entire project. 

Norris Man
Overall, I'm going to qualify it just a bit, but I have no big problem here and it's a better album than I was anticipating. The mix isn't that harsh in most instances, even for me. And on top of that, like I said, anytime you can find Norris Man in a fine form, you have something potentially special on your hands and ears and we well get flashes of brilliance here, like with 'King of Your Soul', a tune which stands in fine comparison to the best of just about any piece of work from the artist and you have to take notice of that - That these sessions birthed THAT type of work. So, regardless of where we actually place it as far as quality, "Modern Roots" should be noted as being one of the most interesting albums in one of the most fascinating and captivating careers in Reggae today - Norris Man

Rated: 3.50/5
Nordic Steel
2012
Digital


Review #353

Friday, April 27, 2012

Check It #36: Back Up

"Where I Lead" by Toussaint (EP) [I Dwell Records/Gatorwood Records] 

That didn't take very long. First up this week is something which legitimately SHOCKED me when Bredz first told me about it - it's a brand new album from Achis Reggae favourite, Toussaint. Of course, you know him from having dropped one of the most impressive sets from 2012, the magical "Black Gold" and it really doesn't seem like that occurred too long ago, perhaps because we've basically been talking about the album from ever since. So you know if he were to do something like . . . Do another album, that would interest me a lot and that's where "Where I Lead" comes in. I Grade Records, who did the first album, isn't here and instead, Toussaint links with I Dwell Records and Gatorwood. So much here is interesting, not the least of which is the fact that Toussaint chose to continue to do his brand of 'Soul Roots', which means that people like you and I get to continue to enjoy his output and he stays in the Reggae 'loop', instead of returning to his more soulful origins. ALSO really standing out is 'I Blaze', a track which links the singer with the mighty Mikey General - a song I cannot wait to hear. So expect a full and devastatingly long review when we get our digital paws on it. BOOM!

Digital

"Don't Mislead The Youths" by Sizzla Kalonji (EP) [Locksmith Records] 

Moments like these remind me that . . . I have two Sizzla reviews to write. I'd noticed this release some time ago and I think that I thought it was a single which, although definitely still worthy of some attention, I snot as crucial. But I was wrong and the legendary chanter has linked up with Locksmith Records from out of New York to push "Don't Mislead The Youths" which is one of the two first BIG EP releases of 2010 [look up down for the other] [I hope you didn't just physically turn your head down and look towards the floor] [please leave a comment if you did] [I think people like you are amazing]. It's kind of Hip-Hoppish, but not too much so in this case and, it's Sizzla so check it out. Big title track and another piece on the same riddim, 'Ganja'. 

Digital

"Cookies" by Gappy Ranks (EP) [Hot Coffee Music] 

'Maddest Ting'

With "The Best Is" and "Rising Out Of The Ghetto", Gappy Ranks has always minded to keep his name current on the digital circuit via releasing excellent EP's and he did that again for 2012 back in February with probably his best drop yet, the  ganja personified "Cookies". Six tracks with a similar driving force, this piece has gotten quite a bit of attention and justly so - It's excellent! Two major highlights in particular to my ears, 'Maddest Ting' and the EAR CRACK that is 'Da Herbs Deh', but the entire set is very well done. Pick it up today if you haven't already. 

Digital

"Do Thy Work" by Prezident Brown (EP) [Soundkillaz] 

While I've never been the biggest fan of Prezident Brown's, I do love to give credit where it is due and it's well due in the case of his own latest EP set, "Do Thy Work" for the Soundkillaz. This piece is essentially a three set project with different mixes stretching it out to seven (including Nyahbinghi cuts of all three songs). I'd heard a song by the name of 'Do Thy Work' a while back and while I didn't know anything else about it (I assumed it was Prezident Brown), it was very good and here's the work behind it. A very solid set from the always dependable and capable veteran. 

Digital 

"Dancin' Shoes" by Malijah [ReggaeLand] 

Next in is what may just turn out to be a real sleeper for 2012, it's the extremely talented vocalist, Malijah with his debut album (I THINK), "Dancin' Shoes". For the project, the energetic and colourful singer has linked with ReggaeLand from out of Spain and what you end up having is a piece which, although it won't get an 'album of the year' type of consideration, it definitely is going to have quite a nice following (if it hasn't already), because it's just SOLID from beginning to end. In its thirteen tracks, it also gives a nice mix of the artist who has been demonstrating a vast amount of subtle versatility for his entire career. Nice album. 

CD [I THINK] + Digital 

"Catch Me If You Can" by Sophia Brown [Music Mecka Records/Zojak Worldwide] 

'Catch Me If You Can'

Cool singer Sophia Brown is up next with her much about talked brand new release, "Catch Me If You Can". Over the past couple of years or so Brown has gotten a great deal of attention and it's been well deserved as she's already carved out a very impressive career for herself which now culminates in a big album. This is definitely one for the fans of the modern Lover's Rock, for the most part and Brown has been adding to the subgenre some of its biggest pieces as of late. None get bigger than the title track for this album and several other selections here, including 'Relationships', which features Hezron. Intent on showing some diversity and versatility, Brown also offers tunes such as 'Mamma Africa' and 'Poverty'. The latter features her alongside the legendary Luciano

Digital 

 "You Don't Care" [Joe Frasier Records/VP Records]

We always keep an eye out for the wonderful works of the people at Joe Frasier Records and they recently jumped up with yet another stellar old school/Lover's Rock compilation set. This one is a remake of the old You Don't Care riddim and, as usual, it's fine material. Big names are all around this release as the remake features the likes of Terry Linen, Stevie Face, Courtney John, Lady G, Lovindeer, Gappy Ranks, Ed Robinson and Lloyd Brown (who we also have to deal with pretty soon). More big material from the big women and men at Joe Frasier Records. 

CD + Digital 

"Forever In Love: The Best of Soumia" [Sushiraw] 

I'm always trying to find something new and interesting going on in the satiny world of Zouk and particularly in the absence of some of my favourites doing work (although Kénédy does have a new big tune with a video where she's without clothing, laying in the back of a truck) (I digress). And while what we have here may not qualify as "NEW" it's definitely interesting as French singer, Soumia, chimes in with a big 'Best of' set, "Forever In Love". The release comes via Sushiraw, the label of famed singer, Kaysha, who also joins on the album and reportedly marks the lovely singer's first decade of music. Guestspots from the still fire-breathing Kalash (who recently enjoyed yet another re-releasing of his ultra successful debut album) and also Daddy Mory round out twenty of the most well known pieces of Soumia's extremely photogenic career. A DVD featuring videos is also included in the physical set.

CD/DVD + Digital

"Rewine" by Rudy [Dreams Media Entertainment] 

VI Soca just doesn't get its fair share of attention, despite the fact that there're more than a few big names on the scene and while we continue to wait for the latest release from my personal favourite from out of the BVI, the USVI's finest, Rudy, is standing up with her own big creation, "Rewine". This is a good album! Rudy's a name which certainly isn't new to me, but I don't really listen to her a great deal, so most of it is new to me and there's a HILARIOUS tune here, with typical old school Soca/Calypso humour that you need to hear, 'Dung Deh'. Soca stars Machel Montano and Jamesy P also feature on separate tunes as well. 

CD + Digital 

 
"The Global Selection" [House of Riddim]

Anytime the big boys at House of Riddim from out of Austria jump up, you really have to pay attention to their work because when they do, they're oft to do things like what we have in the case of their absolutely LOADED new release for their Global Riddim. First of all, the piece itself is a glowing brand of powerful (but smooth) modern Roots Reggae as you can, thankfully, tell via the clean version of the set attached to the end of the album. And on the preceding eighteen vocal tracks, HOR have assembled one of the nicest roster of vocalists in recent memory. Jah Mason, Chuck Fenda, Natty King, Zareb, Papa Michigan, Smiley, Ras Mac Bean and Bryan Art are just some of the big names on the project which is definitely already in the running for Riddim album of the year. 

Digital 

The Sandman Riddim [Weedy G Soundforce]


Riddim Mix

Also impressing with a big new riddim as of late is Weedy G Soundforce from out of Switzerland who bring forth their own wicked creation, the Sandman Riddim. While it may not bring in the heavy hitters like the global, the Sandman does manage to more than hold its own. Surely that has a lot to do with a HUGE combination, 'What A World', which features two of my personal favourites, Lutan Fyah and Natty King. Perfect also joins as do Shocking Murray, Skarra Mucci, a returning Grindsman and others. 

Digital  

 Di System Riddim [Chiney K Productions/Zojak Worldwide] 

Another large cache of big names can be found touching down on the official album release for Chiney K's pounding riddim, Di System, oh and the riddim itself is pretty good also. Sizzla, Anthony B, Turbulence, Fantan Mojah, Jimmy Riley, Lutan Fyah, Ginjah, Tyrical, MILITARY MAN and even Cutty Ranks and Jigsy King are only a few of the names to take Di System for a run and the riddim itself also maintains the pace. Perfect for the digital set - you can pick and choose - but to my opinion, it's Tyrical, Sizzla and one or two others who set the course. Enjoy. 

Digital 

The Africana Riddim [YAL/Digital Vibez Entertainment/Zojak Worldwide]

Teflon's Yard A Love links up with Digital Vibez Entertainment (and the fine people at Zojak Worldwide) to push the cool Africana Riddim. Although you won't find it stuffed with the biggest names, what you will find are tunes from Capleton and the producer book-ending an impressive group of new and up and comers. Of that lot, definitely most impressive are Potenkle I and the wicked I Rolla, a name to keep an eye on right now.

Digital

The Summer Rave Riddim [DJ Frass]

People like Agent Sasco, Spice, Capleton, Vegas and even Bunji Garlin highlight the Summer Rave Riddim from DJ Frass. I'm not thrilled with this one, however, but I thought the cover was cool so we threw it in. Check it out for yourself.

Digital 

 'Vampire Slayer' featuring Batch by Ras Attitude (single) [West Coast Studios]

And lastly this week is a new single which I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on, 'Vampire Slayer', which links one of the greatest duos in Reggae music today, Ras Attitude and Batch. I can't say much about this one, because I've yet to hear the entire piece, but is there anyway that this one CANNOT be a winner?

Digital 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lyrics!: Gappy Ranks

As an artist there are so many different things you can do to kind of 'distract' your listeners for better or for worse. Be it your delivery, the company you keep or literally thousands of other bits and pieces, you can always get the crowd to look in the direction that you want them to - and sometimes when you don't want them to. I don't quite know what it is about this guy, but he NEVER seems to get a real credit for being exactly what he is: One of the most lyrically talented artists in Reggae music today. Maybe it's the persona, maybe it's the deliver or is it something else? Regardless, I thought that I'd help things along just a little. Here are ten completely and totally random instances of wordy wizardry from the UK's finest - Gappy Ranks. 

Gappy Ranks
 -'Heavy Load'-
"Mount Zion I don't feel so high no more
And the rivers weh mi feel don't feel so deep
And mi carry dis - 
Heavy Load
Heavy Load
Jah Jah guide mi when mi touch di street 

So if you got a dream and you got a vision
And you living in di scheme, wid di dutty politician
There's knowledge inna book, you've gotta have some ambition
Nuff still ah look, but dem no know di definition
You've got to believe, don't give up for a second
You know what I mean
Just tell mi what I reckon
Nuff ghetto youths waan kick ball like Beckham
From New York, to Kingston, to Austin, to Peckham"

-'Why'- 
"Most High keep mi far from wrong
Mi no fear di bear, di eagle or di dragon
Mi nah jump pon babylon bandwagon
Every ghetto youth haffi reach Mount Zion
Mi name a mi name and mi nah change
Everyday it hard and di world get strange
Nah sell out mi soul and mi nah go exchange
Mi nah sell out nobody fi go drive out di range"

-'Coulda Runaway' w/Delly Ranx-
"I was born as a Ranks
Grow up as a Ranks
Lak di great Delly Ranks
So mi haffi give thanks
Mi ah shine lak a star, dem si mi from a distance
When badmind ah chat mi, mi no response" 

-'Maddest Ting'-
"Every community supposed to have an herbalist
To supply di people dem wid all strain of cannabis
You can ask di doctors and di nurses and di scientists
Herbs neva kill nobody yet, I hope you hear dis - Video
Put it pon di board an watch mi chop it up
Next thing mi put it inna rizzla an mi wrap it up
Mek di serious sellers a road dem know wi have it up
Even if a quarter, if a half or if ounce you haffa bag it up

Which herbalist have di maddest ting a road?
Mi waan fi know cah mi chalice haffi load
Which herbalist have di maddest ting ah sell?
Real high grade wid a high grade smell

As mi wake up a juss one of di first thing mi does
Go fi light up di herbs and get di morning buzz
Weed buss inna mi head and announce mi righteous
High grade mek mi feel marvelous
And mi no waan no white powder, mi no waan no needle
Weed weh seh, so a good over evil
Mi no waan no friend from no cokehead people
High grade alone mek mi fly like eagle"

-'Nah Ready Fi Die'-
"May he rest in peace to di ones dem weh gone already
Some die naturally, some no ordinary
You si yah friend?
Him ah drink an drive.
Tek out di keys from di car already
Badmind ah work a juss ah wait fi yuh give it up
One life you have, juss live it up
Nuff a dem seh crime pay
But same way, crime tek yah life away

Mi waan fi live till mi gray and old
Mi nah ready fi die right now
Mi nah ready fi die right now"

-'Stinkin Rich'-
"Cah mi si mi parents suffah, wid mi and mi sibling
Go to bed widout no suppah, not even a dumpling
Used to have whole heap a dream wid di money counting
Used to think about today and what tomorrow will bring
Searching-
Biggup all di ghetto youths weh hustlin
If you into 9-5 unuh just, keep working
Mi waan money inna bank, everyday turning
Cash card inna wallet, money stack up and a pon it

Mi haffi stinkin rich this year
Paper money or copper kind, mi no care
Haffi mek di money any time, anywhere
Mi no tek check, but mi mek check clear"

-'Life Goes On'-
Dem seh di good die young
Then if di good die young, then mi time soon come
Mi juss ah live and have fun
Mi juss ah hustle up di money till di money caan dun
It's so hard to think bout afta
Even through laughter-
And disaster"

-'I Was There'-
"I was there with the people, Japanese people
Who nah lose dem life, lose house and lose vehicle
Everybody calm, everybody equal
Nobody nuh fight, nobody nuh move evil
Dats why mi shed a tear, a million tears
Si di people weh die that day
Because I seen it and I know it
Mi ah remember till mi old and grey" 

-'Ragga Ragga'-
"Mi luv fi si when Bounty vs Beenie
Mi luv fi si when Shabba gone wid di Grammy
Mi luv fi si when Supercat clash Ninja
Mi luv music, a coulda Gaza or Gully
Mi luv fi hear Bass Odyssey and Stonelove
Mi luv fi hear Killamanjaro and Addies
Mi luv fi hear Bob Marley, Dennis Brown,  Sugar Minot, Gregory Isaacs, Alton Ellis
Biggup di Ranks dem -
Cutty! Delly and Louie!
Mi dun biggup Shabba Ranks already
Biggup Capleton weh bun dung dreddie
Biggup Mr. Wacky, him start Weddy Weddy
Who have the energy?
Somebody seh Ele
Luv fi si Sean Paul and Shaggy pon tele
Crowd start fi cheer when dem announce  Kalonji
Fans all around from all town and country
Mi luv how di Killa bring Vybz Kartel
Busy!
And Mavado start well
Step pon di stage, di whole place start shell
Alright, mek mi talk bout Gargamel
Biggup every banton -
Buju Banton, Mega Banton
Wayne Wonder, Sanchez and Lukie D fi sing di anthem
Singing Melody and Tony Curtis sing di harmony
Hail up Alborosie, Gentleman from outta Germany
My name is Gappy Ranks, I come from England, have you heard of me?"

-'Peace & Joy'-
No food fi di poor and di hungry
Shootout pon di boundary
Clothes dutty and mi caah go a laundry
If mi get a white shirt, dat a luxury
Big boss have you any work in di factory?
Cah mi caah buy flour, saltfish and ackee
Time pass till all mi hair get natty, mi no waan tun inna no John Gotti
So mi juss-
Hold up mi head high
High to di sky
Yuh caan stop a man weh a try
Mi nah stoop fi di M-O-N-E-Y
Cah mi doh want a piece of di babylon pie
Jah Jah know it's a ocean of tears I cry-
Fi di youth dem weh missin and di ones dat die
I si how dem bring drugs and boom bye bye
So mi nah stop bun dem till di day I die!
It's like dem waan mi kill mi bredrin fi loaf of bread
But I shall not live on bread alone
Mi nah sell out mi bredda dem fi loaf of bread
Dem waan mi dead, dem waan di John Crow fly ova head
Tell dem my heart still beats lak di Afrikan Drum
Just words and power from an Afrikan son
You doh have to rich to be happy
Mi si smiles pon poor people face and dem don't even have it

I'm searching for peace and joy
Food and water mi seh fi every girl and boy
I'm fighting fi equal rights, Jah Jah light shine bright
Keep mi through di darkest night
Mi waan fi mek di world feel love
Every ghetto youth haffi fly inna di sky like a dove
Cuz no one man is an island
So mi two foot ah stand pon dry land"

I bet you can't guess who this is

Sunday, April 22, 2012

'With Friends': A review of "Meditation" by The Nazarenes

The concept of unity and uniting are ones which are very often explored in Roots Reggae music and always have been, for the most part. Be it in the completely broad sense of 'bringing the people together' or uniting for some specific purpose or another, it's definitely become one of the foundational topics of discussion for the genre, no matter where it's gone. Now, with that being said, one of the most interesting aspects of unity in Reggae music, in the functioning sense, is just how the actual music, itself, tends to form quite unusual and unexpected bonds - giving us, as fans, not only great music and potentially great music, but also providing music makers with such a wonderful opportunity to musically trade ideas, cross cultures and cross talents - making the massive Reggae listening world much, much smaller. This is a type of unity which isn't spoken about, generally, in song, but it's also a type of coming together and for the purpose of the actual music and we've seen stellar results over the years. A very, very fitting example would be one from just last year when well respected Guinean born chanter, Takana Zion, reached Jamaican soil to vibe his most recent set, the very well received "Rasta Government" album. For that project, Zion would also collaborate with the legendary Capleton and, that would become a very large tune, 'Glory', and just an excellently conceived situation and he wasn't the first one either. Also in the not too distant past several other African born artists such as Tiken Jah Fakoly, Lyricson, Black Dillinger (biggup Black Dillinger) and who knows who else have done similar things and achieved big results over the process. So on the surface what we have here, in the form of the most itinerant brothers, the Nazarenes (born Noah & Medhane Tewolde). The duo was born in raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (during the direct reign of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I) into a family of Eritrean roots (I've suddenly become really interested in geography and can now name all fifty-four African countries in about three minutes) (just thought you'd like to know that). They have, however, honed their musical skill via traveling throughout the world, particularly Europe - currently living in Sweden, I believe -, and now the Nazarenes are performing their own LARGE piece of unification with their brand new album, "Meditation"

 Just a few years back, the brothers made an appearance on one of the finest Roots Reggae compilations you'll ever hear, "Joyful Noise", which brought together artists from all over the Caribbean and all over the world (obviously) for a project which would subsequently prove to be MAMMOTH. At the helm of it all was I Grade Records, the dominant label in Virgin Islands Reggae music and apparently Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred and company were so impressed with the Nazarenes that they decided to do a full length album to go with that first tune, 'Everlasting'. This is interesting alone, as over the past couple of years, if you want to talk about bringing people together, no one has done it better in Reggae music than I Grade. Last year they released "Kings Bell", which featured the finest of the Virgin Islands, Vaughn Benjamin/Midnite, working alongside the venerable Andrew Campbell in Jamaica. And back in 2010, they did the same with otherworldly gifted Virgin Island grown, Dominica born singing chanter, NiyoRah for "Feel Your Presence", and that same year the label also released "Black Gold", the solo album for US born 'Soul Roots' singer, Toussaint. So for them, it's pretty much 'business as usual', but this project does mark the very first occasion that I Grade has worked on a full-scale album release with an African act.

'Food' & 'On My Way' digital single EP [in stores now]
No time like the present. "Meditation" becomes the fourth album from the Nazarenes, following their 2001 debut, "Orit", "Songs of Life" from three years on and, most recently "Rock Firm" from 2008. I can remember first hearing of them and noticing just how well regarded they were. Certainly not too many people had actually heard of the Nazarenes, but it seemed as if many of their fans were almost instantly fervently passionate followers. For me, their music fit into something which was, quite honestly, just beyond me at the time, As I've gotten older (I was nineteen or twenty when they released their first album) my ability to appreciate more MATURE music has gone up (now, I'm just old) and my tastes have definitely changed because, listening back, I really missed out on some very big material with their best work to my opinion (at least for another week or so), is definitely "Songs of Life" which may even be worthy of 'modern classic' consideration. So for me, even on a very basic level, this album, although I wasn't expecting it before last year or waiting for it at all, was really a big deal because it prompted me to go back and now really have a vault in three albums of music to catch up on. Leave it to I Grade Records (along with the Zion I Kings) to do that, unifying me as well, and presenting the Nazarenes to the masses in 2012. Like I said, the group inherently makes a very mature and WISE form of Roots Reggae which may not be as flashy and immediately attention grabbing on the superficial level in terms of glowing melodies and things like that. But for the listener who takes his/her time and is patient and 'meditates' on what they're hearing, YOU are going to love what you hear on this one. The Nazarenes' style meshes so perfectly with the label's creations that it almost sounds like they grew up on them and by its end, "Meditation" reveals itself to be a HEARTY piece of Roots Reggae unity. How exactly does it do this? Press play. 


'Food'

One thing that stands out immediately when I got into this album is just how AMAZING it sounds. I'm not talking about the quality of what I hear, but really just in terms of HOW it sounds - it's going to be one of the best sonically 'gifted' albums that I've heard in a very long time (probably the single best from Chezidek's goldmine, "Judgement Time"). That's even a bit more unusual considering that some of the music here is already familiar, but I don't remember it sounding this clear and . . . Beautiful. That's definitely something which will take a good song and make it even better and when you pick up "Meditation",  the brand new album from The Nazarenes, you're going to get fourteen songs which are, at least, 'good' and made just a little better by virtue of being crystal clear. The first example you get is on the album's title track which gets us going on the album named after it. This tune is pretty much precisely what you'd expect it to be: It's a chant and a prayer giving thanks for the new day, asking for guidance and really outlining what is to come. The two things that standout on this one are, again, the fact that it sounds absolutely stunning and that's in spite of not being able to completely follow because part of the chanting is done in Ge'ez (biggup well written press releases!), an ancient Ethiopian language. There's a great deal going on musically here as well and just the intro for the album rather quickly becomes a favourite! Next we have another big tune in 'Food' which, with another by the name of 'On My Way', was actually featured on a digital EP release which reached back in late February (a nice and exceedingly often event in Reggae music). The song, as part of its charm I suppose, is very blunt in the way it's written because it's a message aimed at world leaders for the most part and what it so basically says is to not be distracted by so many different other things and to GIVE PEOPLE FOOD! That simple! It does go deeper than that, and "food" can really be taken as a variety of different things, but the prevailing sentiment is to stop creating this to hurt people and to help them. BOOM. As for the heavy 'On My Way', which comes in a bit later on "Meditation", that song has so many different things going on. From the really aggressive vocals (tapping into some Junior Kelly at times) to the really LARGE and urgent vibes of the tune, you really feel like something important is going on and although it really took me awhile to really grasp it, because it's somewhat broadly written, it is a beautiful song as well. 

“Now I can see
Now I can feel
I see crystal clear
Open up the gates of Zion!
Open up the gates of Zion!”

The first half of the album also features a couple of tunes which are sure to get your attention, 'It's Too Late' and 'The Lord Said'. The songs are the two combinations on "Meditation" and, not surprisingly, I Grade has managed to pull in two very large talents to work with the Nazarenes. On 'It's Too Late' the brothers team up with Spanish Town's lyrical wizard and an always favourite of ours, Lutan Fyah, who is his typically impressive self on his bits (and pieces). 

“Mi seh the hustling caan cease
No time to kick back, relax and get you mind at ease
Hey deh in this judgment time, mi know di meek shall be relieved
Di wicked ahgo stumble under Rastaman feet
Selassie I sit up in di mercy seat
Some destruction when dem check seh dat a safety and peace
Di beast!
Mi sight dem all no stop screech and eat
Yah wealth caah save you -
Signature nor receipt” 

For the biblical 'The Lord Said' ("my covenant is with thee"), which may be even better, things come full circle as the most ubiquitous Vaughn Benjamin from Midnite (had an album in January and it's April already! Anytime now Mr. Benjamin) makes his presence known in his signature style. The song is another one in which so many different things are going on and while I won't call it "chaotic" necessarily, with the different vibes mixed in, it certainly sets a stage for the characteristically unorthodox genius of Benjamin and it's easily one of the best moments on this album. Filling out the first half of the project are another couple of highlights including my single favourite song on "Meditation". First is 'Mother' which is borderline brilliant at time. The title word is one used in reference to the African continent and the way it's done is like an acknowledgement of/apology for wrongdoings of the world towards Her. The lyrics of the song can also be taken in the more terrestrial sense - meaning, She who gave birth to me - and I thought was such a nice thing to do because you can really here just how interchangeable they both are at times. And you may call me distracted for this, but the best song that I heard during this project is the related 'Mamy Blues'. If you can get through this one without singing "nobody knows what I did today . . . ", then you're a much better listener than I am (biggup Toussaint). Just as on 'Mother', this song also is one which is observing the many injustices done to Mama. In this case, however, where "Mother" was Africa, "Mamy" is actually the entire planet. 

“This is specially dedicated to our Mother Earth
Our universe -
Which is constantly abused by Her own children” 

The piece is a bit more skeletal, on the surface, than some of the other songs here, but what it really has well is a great deal of emotion which, for me at least, really takes it further than any of them. Oh and did I mention that I've fallen madly in love with that riddim and were it not for the fact that I'm already married to the most wonderful thing to ever walk this planet - I'd probably propose to it - and I'm not even joking ("Only me! Me and The Most High").


'Everlasting'

The concluding half of "Meditation" continues to build on the mighty foundation laid by the former. The tune which leaps off the paper, looking at the tracklist, is definitely 'Everlasting', the tune from the aforementioned big "Joyful Noise" set. It had been awhile from the last time I'd heard this tune and having another opportunity to enjoy it (and you know I had a great time going back through that entire album for 'research' for this one or whatever you want to call it) a little while on, it's still an excellent track. The riddim, the Flying High, is still as glowing as its ever been and the Nazarenes used it to show that despite the comings and goings of all of these things thought to be great, the only one who is eternal and everlasting is His Majesty and His work. 'Get Together' is another tune very likely to generate a big interest and it also fits nicely into the premise of this review. This is the changeup for the album, it's almost Poppish and I'm certain I recognize the melody from somewhere. The message is one of coming together and uniting people regardless of walks of life, religion, race or any other thing people look at as being differences between us. The Nazarenes a clever step forward in the typical way you hear songs like this going when they go into just how wonderful the day would be when we've taken these differences and made them celebrated commonalities amongst us. And speaking of "clever", you have to check out the almost overly simplistic tune, 'Alive'. Basically this song is about enjoying the experience of life and everything that comes with it and, like I said, it just doesn't get more up-front than that. 

“Every step that I took has its meaning
And every move that I move has its purpose
What is there for me is there for me
And what is not for me then its not meant to be

Here I am!
Here I am!
Here I am!
Alive!”

'Destiny' is a song I also really enjoyed even if took me about ten listens or so (and it did) to totally grasp full on. The sound is a complicated one, but if you take your time with it, it develops into probably one of the more lively pieces on "Meditation". What I REALLY like in this instance is how the song very much is a statement of a conclusion. The ultimate ending on the album is a good one, but for me this song does such a good job of directing the course of most of the music you’ll hear on the album to a common point or a common destiny. The dubbified 'Politrickcians', while not amongst my favourites here (although it is growing), is a decent piece and it benefits to a degree from the excellent acoustics present throughout the album that I mentioned. It sounds so nice that it's going to catch your ear and you'll probably like it as well (ask me about it again in a month or so). I do really enjoy 'Lonesome Lady' and it's kind of old school set. Although it's kind of a drearily vibes, I take this one more as an empowerment for women who might find themselves in terrible situations. It says to take responsibility for your part in your situation and to really aspire to change your own personal scenery as much as possible. And lastly is a tune which came down from glory (what!) the excellent 'Love JAH'. As I said, I think that 'Destiny' does really place a perfect bow on the package that is "Meditation", but that isn't to say that the closer is lacking in anyway - it's probably better than 'Destiny'. It's very straight forward as the title would indicate and maybe the MOOD of the song is what helps it also as does the sound because it is exquisite! 

The Nazarenes
Overall, while the condition is obvious, should you fall into the category of individuals most likely to appreciate this album, I can't see very well how you wouldn't. "Meditation", and the music of the Nazarenes in general (and music of I Grade Records, for that matter), is best appreciated by the more mature fan of Roots Reggae music. Not saying that a newer/younger fan won't get ANYTHING out of it, because the sound is so great, but I think that the more experienced fan is the one for this album. YOU, if you are such a listener, will get a lot here and, just like I did, presumably be able to enjoy that ultra crystal clear sound. On every album and every project when you have a producer[s] and an artist[s], you'll have a kind of a meeting of the minds and what comes from that is the magic (or the garbage in some instances), but it's an even more interesting arrangement when you bring together people from such different paths and experiences. That's what "Meditation" is - A genuine and well done product of tangible unity in Reggae music. 

Rated: 4.45/5
I Grade Records/Zojak Worldwide
2012
CD + Digital

Review #352