Sunday, April 1, 2012

'It's Ringing': A Review of "Music Is My Calling" by Fred Locks

Where you belong. Given the fact that I, at this point, am now more than several thousand years old, I think that I can safely say that, over the course of a lifetime, there really aren't many things more satisfying than learning one's place in the world and one's purpose. No matter how big or small the 'role' you play may be, finding something that you're good/great at and being able to put it to use is truly a magnificent feeling and all the more so when you think of how many billions of people have probably come and  go without finding their own respective niche on the planet. Taking that in a more musical direction (because I'm not writing a review on life) (. . . or am I???), I think that we, as fans and observers of music and Reggae music particularly, are so fortunate because of the really wide variety of individuals and characters that this wonderful vibe attracts. From the very exemplification of the archetype of the Reggae singer to the . . . People that look like Elephant Man, they all so clearly belong in and around the music and when the day comes that they are around no more, their absence will definitely and immediately be noticeable. In the actual case of today, of the great Fred Locks, while you might not notice him as much, what Locks has done is seemingly to grab for himself, largely due to his longevity and inactivity (more on that in a minute), a place where he now has cultivated such a passionate following of hardcore fans. Along with this group, obviously, he has a more casual crowd, like yours truly, who will definitely check for his releases because he is Fred Locks after all, and the four or five times a year when we hear 'Black Star Liner' these days, it STILL brings a tear to our eyes (and that will never go away. It just won't). Locks has also managed to establish himself as someone whose name has continued to occupy this wonderful place of interest in Reggae music and for all of those fans who have stuck by the singer, he serves up the occasional 'rewards' and 2012 has brought another very large reason for his fans and admirers to take great interest once again, not that they/we needed a reason, however. We'll probably never need another reason.

Still sailing
 I'm not even going to attempt to go through how many [legitimate] albums Fred Locks may have in his catalogue these days, but I'm relatively confident in saying that it's probably in the neighbourhood of ten or so. For someone, especially in Reggae, who's been involved in the music for nearly FORTY years at this point, that's not very many at all (and it's literally maybe two and a half years worth of work for Vaughn Benjamin and company). I think that it's, at least partially, due to that type of work schedule, that it's made even more crucial when he does arrive with a new piece of work. It can be difficult to get excited about an artist's new album, when they just had one a few weeks prior (biggup Sizzla) these days. 

Not surprisingly, when you have that much space, spread out over four decades worth of work, you spread it in a variety of different directions and Locks has definitely done that in voicing with a variety of different producers and labels. This year we’re happy that his journey has brought him to one of our favourite labels, Irie Sounds International and James Lord for the work surrounding his very well received brand new album, the aptly titled "Music Is My Calling". Probably best known to our readers as the homebase of Achis Reggae favourite, Pashon Minott, ISI now links with the well esteemed Fred Locks and in doing so they've put together a project both worthy of its star and worthy of the fervor of his many fans. Musically speaking, as you might imagine, this one isn't going to kick up any thoughts of 'mainstreaming' on the part of Fred Locks (thankfully) and it follows the vast majority of his career (all of it) in being very straight forward and mature Roots Reggae music which is exactly what you expect going in to it, but if you were hoping "Music Is My Calling" would be Locks' debut Soca album, I'm sorry to say that YOU (are a fucking idiot), will be greatly disappointed. For the rest of you, however, brains at least slightly functioning right now, you'll be well pleased by this album. Like Clinton Fearon, Ras Midas, Apple Gabriel and a few others that we've dealt with in recent times, Locks become an artist of a certain 'level of experience' with a recent album to his credit which should definitely bring him a great deal of new fans, while re-energizing himself in the minds of the most faithful. On projects like these, you almost kind of find yourself wondering exactly what else can a particular artist, at this level, can do for himself/herself. What I mean is that, once you've been making music for THIS long, you've had ample opportunity to explore yourself and the world and your interests and do them musically, but going back to the premise of this review, the fun part here, as you see emblazoned in the title of the album, is enjoying 'the master at work'. It's not seeing and hearing what else he can do to draw you in, he's done that over and over again, he doesn’t have to do that anymore (you bought the album, didn't you?), it's seeing and hearing someone so perfectly positioned in this world in terms of what he has to offer the masses that he's become someone whose musical intentions are unquestionable. What we can question, on the other hand, is quality, but we don't get very far at all into "Music Is My Calling" before it becomes crystal clear that not only do Fred Locks and Irie Sounds International make a fine pair, but as I said, Locks hasn’t lost even the tiniest amount of his more than deserved place in the music. Let’s have a listen!

The title of the album kind of suggests a piece which is going to be this grand celebration of the music and while you don't get that directly, by its end, despite its very straightforward nature, you do get the feeling that, within these twelve tracks, we've received a very large, but indirect, testament to the music itself from one of its greatest practitioners. Fred Locks' new album, "Music Is My Calling" from Irie Sounds International gets started with the tune for which it is named after and this one does go in a most expected and very strong course. The song is a virtual musical autobiography for the singer over a very basic and sterling one-drop riddim. You'll notice that the tune doesn't spend its time doing more 'regular' things (like rhyming), but instead it seemed as if Locks had a plan in his mind as to exactly what he wanted to do and I would have to imagine that he was well pleased with the results. It's a very very personal tune as he speaks on various things we wouldn't have known about such as jobs he had while pursuing his career in music as well as auditioning at the immortal Studio One. Big opening. Next in is a familiar sounding piece, 'This Loving Feeling'. I don’t know where I've heard this one or something that sounds very much like it (although Locks did have a big tune by the name of 'A Nice Feeling', a few years back), but it definitely sounds like I've been 'here'  before. If I haven't that’s fine because this track quickly proves to be one of my personal favourites and it's also the type of open-ended tune which makes an over thinker like myself began to go in a few directions - mainly in the concept of linking "this loving feeling" with the title of the album and perhaps seeing that this particular feeling just might be the music itself. In any case, however, it's a big tune and a real highlight on "Music Is My Calling". Locks continues to attempt to turn on the lights and spread some joy on the next tune up, 'Cheer Up'. Although the vibe of the tune isn’t what you might expect and it isn't as bright as the tune immediately preceding it, this song really gets in your face about stepping up your spirits and getting in a more positive frame of mind. 

“Righteousness will cover the Earth - yes it will
Like waters cover the sea
Cause the harder the battle is
Don’t you know that - The sweeter the victory
Can’t you see?
Rastafari loves all HIS people - yes HE does
More than any other nation
We’re the first fruit of HIS garden - yes we are
And the chosen generation

And if we give Jah our hearts
HE‘ll give us a place in HIS kingdom
Wickedness will soon depart
Righteousness will overcome

So cheer up my people, please cheer up
Cause things won’t always be the same”

As I said, although the only spanning twelve tracks (which for some reason seems small to me, but probably shouldn’t), "Music Is My Life" definitely covers quite a bit of ground. One of the most visited is the love song and although my own favourite moments come in the more social aspects of the album, Locks does do well in every arena he hits. To my opinion, the finest love song on the album is the cavity causing 'Come Home'. I definitely had a different idea about this one going into it (refer to 'Black Star Liner' and you'll know precisely what I was thinking of), but I'm REALLY glad I was wrong about this one. Just before that nice effort is another and one which I think may do a big piece of damage if afforded the opportunity, 'My Love'. This is another kind of broadly vibed tune and because of that, I almost hesitate to really call it a "love song" (even though that is what it is). Locks does eventually narrow things down later in the song as the love for his special woman, although I'd still be stubbornly inclined to say that Locks (or whoever wrote it), himself, might have had LOVE for just about anything in his mind before carving out the beautiful song which appears here. Later, we get another tune which sounds familiar to my ears in the rather conflicted 'Pretty Face [Dirty Ways]' (biggup Chaka Demus) (biggup Pliers) (did you catch that one???). This tune is about a woman who can light up the visuals in a positivity way but totally down out behaviour with constant negativity. Eventually the world will come to realize that 95% of attractive women are completely EVIL. Until then, there're excellent songs like this. Speaking of evil, next we have 'Fatal Attraction' which is Locks' warning to a woman that her alternate choice to him might have quite a few problems in his head. Even not taken to the extreme "fatal" extent, the song, although not one of my favourites, does a fine job of outlining how a young and immature kid does actually progress in love and it isn't as harsh as its title would suggest, so even if you are such a person (and we've all been/are), you can take something out of it besides condemnation. Eventually you'll figure it out. And the final love song aboard "Music Is My Calling", 'Lonely Life', is another big one and another personal piece as well. Here, Locks talk about his travels as a musician being terrible for his relationships and the frustration he's gone through as a result. It's not necessarily what I might call a SAD song, it almost even sounds like Fred Locks is just INTERESTED in what's going on, but it's not something that actually shatters him to any degree.

“I thought my last lover could’ve been mine forever
But it never ended up that way
Cause I’m a singer, she said that I’m a womanizer
She kept accusing me almost everyday
If I could turn back the hands of time -
Maybe that woman would still be mine
Cause like Rastafari, I only wanted to have one wife
I guess I’m not cut out to live that kind of life

If I‘m to be blamed
Just tell me where I went wrong
Jah show me my mistakes
And help me to be strong”

To my opinion, the remaining four songs make up the real class of the album and in a big way. 'Never Give Up On Jah Love' is a SWEET inspirational track which is downright sublime. With it's large sound and very simple approach, I could see this one really attracting a lot of attention and although there're a couple of finer tunes on "Music Is My Calling" to my ears, I don't know that either of them would be more accessible or radio-friendly than 'Never Give Up On Jah Love'. One of the two which really was friendly to ME, was the album's only official combination, 'Ababajahnoy' which features VI veteran Binghi Ghost alongside Locks. This wonderfully aggressive track really made a very nice first impression on me (and in general, I would say that this album is a bit slow moving - meaning that most tunes require more than a spin or two to REALLY take in). I'm not the biggest fan of Binghi's (please don't start sending us EVERYTHING he's ever done), but he's in a mighty fine form on his verse on the song, without question.

“Ababajahnoy, shows us the light
Wipe away we fears and show us how to live right
Nevertheless we see vampires up and wi know dem merciless
Dem a di same suit and tie man who love fi si wi penniless
I digress
There is no stress
Ababajahnoy keep wi bless
No weapon form against wi shall ever prosper, know the rest
Don’t vex
Don’t get down and don’t stress
Fred Locks and Binghi Ghost telling you what’s next
When you feel blessed, you can make some progress
Help out your brother -
Cause you know that is the best”

Locks follows on the same line and adds a bit more petrol to his vocals for an absolute winner of tune. Still, for me (and maybe only for me) the album pinnacles on a later effort which doesn't stand out for any great reason . . . I mean other than the fact that it is amazing. 'Oppression [Makes A Wise Man Mad]'. Besides being simply CANDY for your ears, the song serves as a most upstanding and uplifting social commentary and it does something which you would want in a song for people being oppressed - IT MAKES YOU FEEL REALLY GOOD! There's a place for that in any song (or any anything) in my opinion and when you shine that brightly, you get my attention. Finally, this calling reaches its conclusion with a similarly thought song, 'Police Brutality'. This song, much like the eleven before it, is very straightforward and not very hard to identify, but what it does have is that immediately after it runs its course - in comes a dubbed out version of the song. You'll probably be left thinking what I was when I noticed this in regards to ISI - why not do this a few more times? - but for where it is, at the complete end of the album, it is a very nice touch and a ribbon for the present surrounding it.  

Overall, you'd have to comb a lot finer than I did (and you won't) to find something wholly WRONG with this album. What it lacks in the spectacular, it more than makes up for in the SOLID and, again, it's everything you'd expect from a truly GOOD album from Fred Locks and especially now. I really like the way the album progresses also. I don't know if compiling songs sequentially is a talent to be credited for someone, but outside of opening with the title track (which was easy business), "Music Is My Calling" goes about itself in a way where it seems like the 'correct' song  to be chose next, is chosen next all of the time and that really helps from the perspective of a listener. So, as I said, finding one's place in the world is such a satisfying and rewarding experience and so much so, in this case, that it's even rewarding when you find someone else who has done it. Fred Locks is such a someone and Reggae music and my players and yours are MUCH better off because of it. Well done.

Rated: 4/5
Irie Sounds International

Review #347

1 comment:

  1. Big up Lord James! I've worn the title track out in my work truck.- B