Tuesday, May 29, 2012

'The Boost!': A review of "Freedom Fighter" by Anthony B

If you stick around, doing anything, for a long enough period of time, eventually you'll find yourself in need of a boost of sorts to help you keep going. It is the general nature of human beings perhaps - we get bored easily and have low attention spans - and sometimes there comes a very stale and mechanical feeling in doing whatever it is that one does. Musically speaking this is doubled because not only can it come on the part of the artist/producer heading into the studio daily or writing songs continuously, you can also find that in fans like You and I who, whether fairly on completely unfairly (we don't care), can all of a sudden and totally without warning just kind of numb up to a particular artist until/unless they do something to draw us back. And in a genre such as Reggae music in which success is, for so many artists, at least partially predicated upon ACTIVITY, that can be a really tricky thing. Of course for examples of this we look to more active names in the music and when you speak of prolificacy in Reggae, you ultimately end up at the same couple of names: Vaughn Benjamin/Midnite & Sizzla Kalonji. Having recorded somewhere in the neighbourhood of a few billion tunes or so each, both are prime examples as their activity levels have, essentially, given them careers which are much 'older' than their actual time spans and in those times they've gone through ups and downs (despite what the former's most ardent of fans would have you think) (potentially big album from Midnite, "Children of Jah", coming soon). More fittingly for today's purposes, however, is the fact that last year, Midnite and Sizzla released "Kings Bell" and "The Scriptures", respectively, both of which would really go a great ways in re-enthusing the general image of both in the eyes of many and both just happened to be two of the best albums of 2011 as well. So, today we look at someone attempting (and succeeding) to do the same thing as another Reggae star takes the same route - Anthony B. Though I'm sure he has been here before, I can't actually recall a time when Anthony B would have experienced something similar to what many people see/think he's going through at the moment, but through his many years making music, he's also proven to be one of Reggae's most durable sons, so it's no surprise that he manages to return to form and do so in style.  

"Rasta Love" [2011]
It's been nearly three and a half years from the last time Anthony B released a good album. That album, "Rise Up", came from a most comfortable source for the chanter, Maximum Sound, with whom he's worked extensively throughout the years. The one album in between then and now, last year's widely panned "Rasta Love", for his own Born Fire imprint, may just be the LEAST regarded non-major label Reggae release from a star artist of recent memory. I've had albums which I have loved and no one or not many people agreed with me and there have been other albums which everyone else seemed to love and I . . . just couldn't get it, but I cannot remember one where just about no one thought was any good, particularly from someone with such a proven skill. Although not without precedence (see, or rather, don't see (or hear) "Untouchable" and/nor "Justice Fight"), in retrospect, that was just a WEIRD situation, but a year later the correction has arrived.  


Its name is "Freedom Fighter". No, Anthony B didn't return to Maximum Sound (although I would like to hear that), but what he did do was to go in a very fruitful direction and to a next flourishing European label, the Austrian based IrieVibrations. Just last year that label delivered a set which was just as lauded as "Rasta Love" was slammed, "Rub-A-Dub Market" from the legendary Luciano. That album made it on and near the top of many 'best of the year' lists (including mine) and was probably one of the finest albums ever of the storied career of 'The Messenjah'. Over the years they've also done big projects for a variety of different names and have been involved with others as well. The European scene has been flaming in the last four or five years or so and IrieVibrations has been one of the reasons why in my opinion. So certainly they'd make a very nice choice if you were looking to make a big album and they once again prove their worth on this set. I think I first heard of this album maybe back in either late 2010 or early last year when the rumour was that IrieVibrations had releases planned for Luciano, Konshens and Anthony B over that next year. The second of those (if I am correct in my memory) has yet to materialize (although the label did do "Modern Revolution", an album featuring Konshens (more on him later) and brother, Delus, a few years back and Konshens did, of course, do his own album earlier this year in "Mental Maintenance") but we now bookend the trio and, in full, for a single label (not named VP Records) (incidentally, VP is the distributor here) to have legitimate new studio albums from Luciano and then Anthony B in less than a year is EXTREMELY impressive. It's even more remarkable is that their both good and they aren't, essentially, the same exact vibes with the star changed out. While maybe not the most spectacular album you're going to hear from the artist, "Freedom Fighter" is solid throughout and a very nice 'kick' for Anthony B. Besides an album which wasn't well received he's just kind of seemed to have plateaued a bit musically (he actually did that years ago as a developing artist, but he 'plateaued' at AMAZING) as of late and, as I said, here's the remedy. 

I actually have to admit that I was wrong for having a bit of a bad feeling about this album. Certainly that had at least something to do with the quality of its most immediate predecessor, but there was also something about a description that I'd read about it. However, upon reading it again, it was only the final part of it which said something about this album "mixing different vibes" (or something like that) - it was only a single tune instead. My lowered expectations are quickly dispelled as Anthony B drops in on his brand new album, "Freedom Fighter" with its biggest moment and title track to get things started. Sometimes these things must seem really easy - naming an album. 'Freedom Fighter' is somewhat of an odd title perhaps (but this is Reggae music), but the song really jumps out at the listener and quickly takes the honours of being the single best tune on the album named after it. It is absolutely STERLING! 

“Now wi nah back down
Forever man ah fight
Till everyone inna di dark world si di light
Seh everyone is equal in The Most High sight
It no matta if you Black, yah Pink, Purple or White
Come mek wi unite and go bun parasite
Upliftment to a higher height
Hail Emmanuel who are di Black Christ
Emperor Selassie I give life!
So Rastaman neva siddung, neva beg, cah wi neva want
Freedom song: Well a dat wi chant
Anytime wi need food, di earth wi plant
Nah have no time fi gallivant” 

“From you believe inna bondage
Wi no stop chant ‘FYAH!’
Hail to The Most High, give thanks higher
Every morning mi rise, mi haffi seh a prayer
Get fit till mi perspire
Hail Rastafari!
Cause HIM a di Life Giver
WHO shall tell dem seh di Longest Liver
No dash weh di stick weh yah use cross di river
You no know when you might need each other!” 

The song is going rank highly for me throughout the rest of the year, I'm sure, and while I've heard a few Anthony B albums which, at this point, I'd call better than "Freedom Fighter", this tune would have been a highlight on ANY of them. Next in is another fine selection, the curiously titled 'No One Knows Tomorrow'. This tune, with its great, big vibes is equal  parts social commentary and inspiration/motivation as well. On one hand the chanter talks about making the most of today, while on the other he speaks of people exhibiting outrageous behaviour - ultimately leaving the listener with the message of 'do what want to do, but BE CAREFUL'. This one has so much to like about it as well and while it isn't as MASSIVE as the opener, at least not to me, it definitely isn't extremely far behind and it should be a favourite for many fans. And wrapping up the start to the album is 'Send the Rain Away'. A pretty decent, complex, love vibe, this effort just has a wonderful sonic appeal to it. It's nice and easy, but it also demands a nice amount of attention as well. 


'Beat Dem Bad' w/Konshens

Like I said, while this may not be the single most EXCITING Roots Reggae album that you're going to hear, "Freedom Fighter" definitely does have its stand out moments and in between those flashier times is just largely THOROUGH material. Clearly the most ostentatious effort here is also the only combination to be found, 'Beat Dem Bad', which features the aforementioned Konshens joining Anthony B. I've warmed up quite a bit to this tune, although I'm not going to call it one of my favourites, it is obviously the type of song aimed at drawing people in and I'm pretty sure that's what IrieVibrations had in mind with former digital single (and it will probably work). But maybe that doesn't work in your case - for you I'd suggest a tune which is very flashy, but in a very different way. The very . . . Strange (but I mean that in a good way), 'Hail Jah', Anthony B's cut of IrieVibrations' Roll Out Riddim from a couple of years back. I think I had forgotten all about that riddim which is SO plain that it's unique and my ears were well warmed to this tune even before I'd made the connection with it being what it actually was. All of that is yet another testament to the top notch work that this label has been doing lately. If you still need convincing, you might want to take the also familiar 'Defend My Own' for a few spins. This song features the GORGEOUS Jungle Skunk Riddim (which you should know from Luciano's 'Hard Road') and pulls in a heavy spiritual message, yet tangible at the same time. THIS is one of the best songs on the album to my ears and hopefully it'll receive an opportunity to shine because I can very much see this one getting buried on this album. The lovely SweetBaby Riddim from awhile ago (which featured Mischu Laikah) underpins the firm 'Jah Bless Me'. I don't think this is a great song by any degree, but it's just a sweet and poignant vibes on a track which once had a very nice place on my players and looks to return there again as part of this album. And the same can also be said for the excellent social commentary, 'Cry Blood', which may be the oldest tune on the album as it is featured across the Lovebird Riddim (which ran back in 2005-2006) (same riddim features the MASSIVE 'Mother Nature' by Elijah Prophet). This piece is kind of desolate actually and although it does change, lyrically, at times, that is the prevailing feeling on this track, but it doesn't, at all, detract from its quality. Sometimes you just have to get gloomy to make your point. 

“Yuh ever stop for awhile and observe -
How babylon pressure ghetto youths fi likkle herb?
Nuh fraid when dem ah raid, dem will shot you like a bird
A higher authority nah seh a word
A poor man pickney alone get kick up
Inna war zone a dem alone unuh pick up 
Seet deh anotha Black youth you go stick up 
Dutty babylon you sick mi stomach!” 

The songs which may be completely new to you (as they were/are to me) also offer a great deal of some of the best material to be found on "Freedom Fighter". A glaring example of this would definitely be the SWEET 'Where To Turn'! MAD! The track is one speaking about what can you do when the ones that you put your trust into aren't there for you when you need them and it being a frustrating situation, Anthony B has that in his delivery, but the vibe is compressed (biggup my ancient, workhorse of a computer) and built in such a sweet piece of serenity that the result is easily one of the most appealing moments on the album. Oh and there's also this, one of the most moving verses here: 

“But how can you know when someone really love?
Know [!], when someone really care?
Even when you take yah marriage vow and swear - 
Yuh still ah wonder if someone will be there
Imagine if the person weh you love never love you back 
Mama talk and you neva did ah listen dat 
Spend yah lifetime work and try double dat 
Now you find out seh a trouble dat!” 

Although it took awhile before I got there, I also enjoyed the tune which precedes 'Where To Turn' on the album, the somewhat Bluesy 'Light of Mine'. It is another tune which tries to blend the tangible with the spiritual and, at times, the artist actually seems to be attempting to make the point that his genuine "light" is his music and you can go down different roads from that, but at the heart of it is a message of perseverance and determination and a nearly brilliant one to my opinion. 'Same Boat' is a HEAVY selection which seems like I've heard it before but I couldn't at all tell you from where. Regardless of my experience with it, however, it's a big unity song not to be missed ["to how mi colours deh, mi a Nubian, but wi no haffi treat each other like alien!"]. And I have to say that 'Stronger' is probably the only song on board which I just didn't take in too much, but I'm not going to call it a bad song just yet (but I knew from its intro that I wouldn't like it). With that being said though, there're two more songs here which REALLY got my attention in the form of 'Born to Be Free' and 'Too Hard'. The first is pretty much an extension of the title track, both in terms of its subjectry and sound as well. It has a very captivating sound and a big message awaits those able to sift through it. 'Too Hard', on the other hand, is just a HUGE social commentary which speaks specifically on the troubles and mistreatment people face at the hands of those, presumably, charged with upholding the law and, in typical Anthony B fashion, he exhibits that he simply has yet to and likely never will learn how to hold back. 

“Imagine the land of Reggae music seh no dance can’t keep
As the sound turn on, dem get raid from police
Don’t lock it - dem waan kick out yah teeth
So what happened to freedom of speech?

I thought police was here to protect and serve
But it seems dem come fi ride off di poor people nerve
Poor man alone no got di rights fi say a word
Cause if him talk, him marrow fly like birds
Worst if dem buck you up a road inna emergency
Pop it off and full you up now inna urgency
Dem a cops yah weh wi got round yah bloodthirsty 
Warn Bruce like how mi warn Percy!” 

SCATHING! 

Okay and the digital version of "Freedom Fighter" (I guess it doesn't matter where you get it) also features a pair of 'bonus tracks', 'Caribbean Girl' and 'Throw It Pon Dem'. Both tunes are previously released tunes from IrieVibrations. I think I actually favour the latter, with a bit more of a BITE to it, but both are pretty nice tracks and I think a nice touch for digital customers.

Anthony B

Overall, this album is impressive and, in scrutinizing it for the sake of this review, it's probably just a bit better than I originally would have given it credit for being. Still, I'm going to give it a slightly conditional recommendation because I think that it's going to be an album more accessible to a more experienced type of fan (particularly those of us who had to deal with the "Rasta Love" album and subsequent frustration - for THOSE people, this is GOLD!). Like I said, it's not the most dynamic set and even if you feel that it is more so, I don't think you're going to think that it is one of the more 'vigourous' album performances in Anthony B's huge catalog. It may, however, be one of better carried out pieces and well arranged and when you combine the talents of this artist with the credentials of a label such as IrieVibrations, that's not to anyone's surprise. So, I can't imagine that such a thing was discussed, but if one of the goals of "Freedom Fighter" was to show Anthony B as the extremely talented and bonafide Reggae star that he is - someone who we haven't heard from on an album in quite some time - then they did well. Mission accomplished. 

Rated: 4.25/5
IrieVibrations Records
2012
CD + Digital + Vinyl [I THINK]


Review #362 

2 comments:

  1. the best album in 2012...

    ReplyDelete
  2. i think this score should have been higher

    ReplyDelete