Wednesday, May 2, 2012

'Stick Around': A review of "Where I Lead" by Toussaint [The Liberator]

Even over the course of just the past three years or so, from since I've been writing here, we've already seen the emergence of some extremely significant talents in and around Reggae music. Of course, that's a normal step, no year goes by without someone 'new' reaching big heights, but having a special type of awareness over the past few years has definitely shown the arrival of, and musical reception of, quite a few different names who aren't necessarily amongst the more 'usual' types. These artists, for one reason or another, have gained a nice amount of attention in Reggae music and in Reggae circles, despite not, at least ostensibly, falling into the more general types of people in the genre. A couple of them, in particular, have become two of my favourite vocalists as of late and as you know if you spend any time around here, I talk about them every single chance I get. Of course I'm talking about a certain German Reggae princess who needs no introduction around these parts and someone who just may be one of the most interesting people to rise up in the music over the past decade or so, Toussaint The Liberator. In the case of the latter, with whom we wonderfully get to deal with again today, it's almost strange because what was the initial point of interest in the discussion surrounding him and his increasingly AMAZING debut album, "Black Gold" from either about four months ago or a couple of years back (it REALLY does not seem like it's been two years already!), has kind of waned for me. When we first really heard of Toussaint and got to enjoy his music, there was this big deal made, and rightly so at the time, about this subgenre of music 'Soul Roots', which perfectly described the music of the US born soul singer who had more than just an ear for Reggae music. Having now listened to that album in its entirety . . . maybe around six thousand times, the 'edges' have faded away, and I now basically just regard it as an excellent Reggae album. It's still interesting to talk about Soul Roots music (obviously, I'm doing it right now), but Toussaint's music resonates far more for its quality than for its [sub]genre designation. What's far more fascinating for me now is the extent to which he went to deliver his vibes and just how detailed he has been in ingraining himself in Reggae music. Well, he just did it again.

"Black Gold" [2010]
"Black Gold" came via what has become a damn inferno these days, the currently well ablaze I Grade Records, which was and remains something really big. If ever you have a doubt, that album is the prime example as the label previously (and still) known as the biggest in the Virgin Islands for Reggae, took a virtual unknown to people like you and I (and someone from a non-Reggae background) and for the second half of 2010, helped him become one of the most talked-about Reggae artists around. Of course Toussaint also played a huge role in his successes and prominences as well which, made him even more of a 'prospect' to watch. Listen to that album! It is one of the cleanest and most passionate and sincere pieces that you're going to hear and so well produced. There were so many things to like about that project and while so much of it got attention before you actually pressed play, the music was definitely the main attraction. 

I Dwell Records
 So how do you follow up on something like that? It seems rather soon for Toussaint to have another album, but that's exactly what he's done adding even more flames to a boiling first quarter 2012 schedule of releases. The most welcomed "Where I Lead" doesn't find the singer working again with I Grade, but it does find him linking with a label which should be fairly recognizable to hardcore Reggae heads, the California based I Dwell Records, who is also apparently in the midst of a big year thus far. Along with this set, I Dwell has also finally released the full album for their Fyah Furreal Riddim from a few years back (a lot of big names on that one, including a tune from Isasha & Million Voice) and they've also done the release of a solid album from Lymie Murray by the name of "Deeper Roots", which has been on its way from quite some time. Still, up to this point, I have to say that the biggest impact I Dwell Records have made on me was on an album which I didn't love from an artist who isn't one of my favourites necessarily from a few years ago. Al Pancho did a full feature for them named "My Story" and buried on that album was 'merely' one of the best songs I've ever heard from anyone, 'No Space'. When you do something like that, it may not make me run down everything you do into perpetuity, but it does give you a bit of fuel for my tastes, so I was just happy to see them here. From the other point of view – seemingly Toussaint, having satiated the Reggae side of his vibes in a golden style, could have returned to a much different type of area to deal with his next release. So the fact that he connected with I Dwell is a big plus as the label probably doesn't have the biggest of reputations in the Soul music listening community (duh!). It's also very interesting from the standpoint of Toussaint not waiting for a next album with I Grade (which hopefully will come again someday). I don't know this for sure, but I would imagine that "Black Soul" was fairly commercially successful for what it was considering how popular it seemed to be and another combination between Toussaint and I Grade Records would be, presumably, another very big deal to many people (like me) (and You), but the singer went right back to work and did so with very Reggae heavy label. So did that work proved to be more of the same brilliance from Toussaint? Yes. It did. 

The first thing that you're  going to notice about this release is the fact that it's only carrying ten tracks and three of those are dubs. I can't say that I have a problem with that (probably because listening to this one gave me a nice reason to go back and re-re-re-re-re-recap the first one, so I feel like I've had the full experience) and that's because this seems to be somewhat of an album which has an idea to give the listener more of a musical experience that you'd almost get in a live performance. On some of the sung songs, the riddim plays for extended periods of time without vocals as well. And it should also be mentioned that, unlike on "Black Gold", 'The Liberator' is involved in the naming of the artist this time, and not just a title of sorts, so when you go and look for this (and you will), you may find him billed as 'Toussaint The Liberator' or 'Toussaint Liberator'. Call him whatever you like, but his second solo album, "Where I Lead", gets up and going with one of its finest pieces to my opinion, the ultra cool and Reggae-Bluesy 'Insanity'. I had so much fun with this song in trying to figure out exactly what the "insanity" was Toussaint was talking about - oh and it just sounds amazing also. Also a point here is that 'Insanity' is somewhat skeletal lyrically, it's a point being made and driven back and back again, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it's a top notch tune!

“Longtime since I seen your face, but the memory’s there
In between me and the insanity 
I conjure up images but they can’t take your place
Standing next to me
This road, this road, this road so rough for me
Cause it takes me away from you
But baby I know that you’ll trust that you got your king
He’s holding out for you”

Surely you can take this one in a few different directions. Maybe he's singing it from the point of view of someone who's incarcerated, in which case -insanity- is a good word or maybe from the position of being himself, a musician on the road (and he has been very active in that, performing alongside many of the top VI Reggae acts). In either case or something else, it works excellently on this occasion. Well done.  Next up is the very first of a pair of strong combinations on "Where I Lead" (that's not the only thing they have in common), the herb-inspired 'Reload' which features well GRIZZLED veteran Kulcha Knox alongside Toussaint. Knox has this eternal and unwavering old school DJ style which I find absolutely delightful every time I get to hear it. On this selection, the riddim captures him nicely and he and the singer compliment together so well, pushing this one near the heights of the album for me. The slightly Ska-ish and jovial, 'I Wanna Fly'. The tangible purpose of here, OBVIOUSLY, is to lift up your spirits. It's one which is going to get heads knocking and do so instantly and that may just be the overall purpose here because at just 2:49, it's the albums shortest track by nearly half a minute. 

When I first saw the tracklist for "Where I Lead" and figured out exactly what I was looking at (it took me a minute), I fixated on hearing one track above all others and did not disappoint at all! 'I Blaze' is the other tune on the album with a guest on board and in this WONDERFUL case, it just so happens to bring together Toussaint with one of my favourites, the incomparable Mikey General. Just as when Kulcha Knox jumped in, the General comes on a song which also aimed at the herbalists and the results are MASSIVE! Besides just being that type of an obligatory call, it also goes onto another level of really putting a more concrete 'face' on the herb and not just really pushing itself in the way of something which is, largely, a stereotype in Reggae music at times. Here, it's so much more on this sublime composition. 

“I build it up, and take a puff-
Cause I’m not inna no rush
I gotta a lot of things to do
And my mind must be focused”

“And all the pain just fade away every time I start to blaze
No problems, none at all
Cause I am burning down the walls”

The title track was another one I was interesting in hearing and it didn't fall short either. Part old school HEAVY Reggae and part Jazz, the song is interesting and, presumably, very personal as well. On it, we find Toussaint wanting to take his place as a man in the relationship and being in the household. It doesn't seem that this is a very easy process though (it isn't) and you hear about the inside struggles and outside struggles, making it one remarkable moment on the album named after it. 'Ninety Nine Percent' is another such moment and another one I was very much looking forward to hearing. The tune is one referring to the Occupy social movement and I actually heard another tune on the topic (with a very similar message) which featured Toussaint alongside a rapper (don't remember what his name was), some time last year, so obviously it was a very important subject matter to him. That's evident on this track, one of the real highlights on "Where I Lead". Lastly for the vocals, check the James Brown-ish 'Take The Money and Run' which features Super Tough Records (who, presumably, made the riddim). It's not my favourite on the album, but it just might be growing on me at this point.

As I said, "Where I Lead" also features three dubs and although I'm not the biggest fan of Dub, I have not a single complaint about these. The first is called 'Much Closer Dub', but it's actually the dub of 'I Blaze'. There's also the 'Where I Lead Dub' and a 'singer's dub' of 'Insanity'. What they do with the last of them is very clever as the once LUSH riddim is streamlined for the track and we basically see the exact opposite of a normal dub, where the vocals are largely stripped. The other two are classy as well, but I favour 'Much Closer' slightly. I always like when label's throw these in as it shows that the idea was to really give an all encompassing musical display in my opinion. 

Toussaint The Libeator
Overall, while I do resist the temptation of actually comparing the two albums, "Where I Lead" is a very nice followup to a most outstanding debut set in "Black Gold". Although I wasn’t expecting to hear from Toussaint this soon, I'm very happy that he and I Dwell Records and Gatorwood Records, who is also involved with the album, decided to work together because what they did was damn good work. I'm going to recommend this release to the large crowd who enjoyed the first album without qualification and, of course, Toussaint's music is very open and accessible, so if you're someone maybe new to the genre of Reggae (and I said Reggae!) music, this also wouldn't be a bad start for you either. Toussaint is an artist who may not be the type we usually deal with around here, but I'm glad he's stuck around. So call it Soul Roots, call Roots, call it whatever the hell you want to call it: "Where I Lead" is a very good album. 

Rated: 4/5
I Dwell Records/Gatorwood Records
CD [I THINK] + Digital

Review #354


  1. Fine Review! Excellent music!

  2. Serious artist! Love this record!

  3. Superb vocals and rootsy backing. A great example of the new roots!