Thursday, June 14, 2012

'+1': A review of "Sweet Jamaica" by Mr. Vegas

Do special things. When it comes to music, not everything makes very much sense all of the time. If it did, I'd probably be a much bigger fan of an artist like Dancehall veteran Mr. Vegas who, perhaps somewhat quietly, has probably installed himself as one of the most memorable names of an entire era of Dancehall music and, also, as someone who history figures to look back on very favourably. For some reason, I just don't pay as much attention to his releases that I should and haven't for quite some time historically, but I'm always looking for a reason to change things up. Maybe two or three years ago the singjay (I HATE that word) (CANNOT STAND IT!) did an interview that I read a part of, where he made a comment on the state of extremely Hip-Hoppified Dancehall music and Reggae and how it basically pissed him off that the music was in that ultra diluted condition. Vegas then went a step up and, essentially, said that he wouldn't be doing any of that type of music, going forth, and that the only thing fans would hear him on, if I recall correctly, would be authentic Dancehall music, authentic Reggae music, Soca and Gospel (which I believe he had previously retired to go and sing exclusively at one point) . Like I said, I don't pay the greatest of attention to Mr. Vegas' work, I'm not his greatest fan, but from how much I do hear - he kept his word. Even if he didn't and even if my memory isn't the best (and it usually isn't), what he's currently occupying his time with has suddenly got my interest as high as it has been in his work in more than a decade ["my name is kokane, I will fuck up your brain. If you know, what I know, you'll flush me down the drain"] (WHAT!). Of course what that is, is dealing with his latest album release - the absolutely TERRIFIC "Sweet Jamaica". Vegas is very fascinating, because he's someone who has both experienced getting the credit that he's due, after spending the better part of the past FIFTEEN YEARS [!] making bonafide hits, and he's also not received that proper recognition at times as well. That's why I feel that so greatly that, in the future, his career will be looked upon in such a great light when you can take ALL of his works into account. And if it happens that this album isn't the crowning jewel of what is looked back upon, well then Mr. Vegas is about to do something even . . . specialer [not a word] [but I kind of think that it should be] than imaginable because this is EXCELLENT.

But if he isn't - DAMN - what a gift he has just given us. "Sweet Jamaica" is a project which comes very fittingly as the SWEETEST place on earth celebrates Her FIFTIETH year in 2012 and to mark the occasion, Vegas delivers an all-encompassing double CD release, with thirty-one tracks in full, which pretty much covers everything there is to cover. Interestingly, the album also comes in a very nice time for the artist because he, himself, has been in a winning form over the course of the past couple of years. So much so has Vegas been on point that we really could have done well with an album even last year, but with such a piece now on hand, the wait seems more than necessary and not at all problematic. As a full scale development, "Sweet Jamaica" is the product of Vegas' on MV Music label as well as longtime producer/arranger/everything-else-you-might-need-done-in-a-studio-er, Mikey Bennett. The discs are split up with the first being Reggae and the second being Dancehall music. What a wonderful idea! In fact, I like it so much, I think that I'll split this review just like it. 

'Sweet Jamaica' w/Shaggy & Josey Wales

Reggae - Disc One

Late last year or so it was announced that Mr. Vegas was part of an initiative attempting to actually tangibly do something to keep foundational Reggae music in Jamaica. In recent years, as you can tell if you look around long enough, Reggae has, like so many of its older practitioners, essentially packed up its things and moved to Europe for the most part. Consider the Reggae disc of "Sweet Jamaica" to be his greatest contribution to his own initiative as the disc is largely comprised of the singer's (much, much better word) take on various older tunes and riddims and melodies from artists and producers of yesteryear and the fresh tunes are also ACTUAL Reggae music as well. Getting things started here is a remake of a classic from Jimmy London's vault, 'A Little Love'. He does do an excellent job with this one, but I do have to say that it may just be a matter of the 'tools' in this instance. I couldn't carry a melody if it had handles and glue stuck to it, but I'm pretty confident I could do a decent rendition of this SWEET song which also appeared on the "Memories" compilation last year from Steely & Clevie. Next, Vegas dives a bit deeper and pulls out 'You've Made Me So Very Happy', from the legendary Alton Ellis. This one takes awhile to get REALLY going properly, but Vegas also shines here as well on this very nice touch for the album. The first BIG EYE moment on this disc is up as Mr. Vegas comes together with Luciano on a tune which is equal parts Roots Reggae and more traditional Gospel, 'Alive & Well'

“I Sing praise to Almighty God 
King Of Kings and Lord of Lords
Mi seh no put no one before HIM
Praise to The King, cah love ah di greatest reward
Mi seh mi know my God a no fraud
And pon mi, HIM nah draw bad card
Mi seh mi, haffi adore HIM
No put no one before HIM
Dem caah turn mi ‘gainst the God” 

LOVE this tune, love everything about it. Luciano and Vegas make for one unusual combination, on paper, but there is nothing unusual about this song besides its extremely high quality. My favourite track on this disc. 'The Messenjah' isn't the only guest who stops by, most notably also appearing are Shaggy and Josey Wales on the album's exceedingly popular and STRONG title track. This song reached late 2010/early 2011 and it was BIG from the onset. Given the album which would subsequently carry its name and the direction of everything, it's become even more crucial and a bit of a THEME song now, a year and a half on. You've heard tunes like this before, but not many sound this good. The always colourful Jovi Rockwell chimes in a mighty way on previous hit tune 'Can't Stop Now' across a fresh cut of the old You Don't Care Riddim, while CLASS personified, Nadine Sutherland, makes her presence well known on the outstanding 'Magical', which proves to be one of my personal favourites here definitely ("featuring Nadine Sutherland" is a phrase which usually means GOOD to my eyes) (she is just amazing). 

Jimmy Cliff doesn't actually appear on "Sweet Jamaica", but his handiwork does in the form of the BEAUTIFUL 'Things Ruff' which plays through Cliff's 'You Can Get It If You Really Want'. This song is a pretty straightforward social commentary, but it made me SMILE throughout and I like how Vegas changes the vibes up, he sings, he deejays, he does everything to make this one the sensational piece that it is. The vibrantly immortal Israelites Riddim plays backdrop to the obligatory ganja song for the album, the somewhat funny 'Gimme A Light'. Here, we find Vegas . . . Pretty much sacrificing everything to smoke! His wife has left him, she's taken the kids, she probably isn't coming back and yet STILL the man needs a lift before he eats his breakfast! Vegas also takes on 'Take It Easy', the classic from Hopeton Lewis and while this one may not be a favourite of mine - who cares what I think, I played it for my Mother and she's probably still singing it she enjoyed it so much. I do actually really like this tune, it is hard not to. The riddim from another classic (I find myself using that word very often today), 'Cherry Oh Baby' by Ed Donaldson, zips behind the nice lover's tune 'Roses In My Garden' which is yet another highlight for the album and probably on the higher end in this case. Vegas also runs through 'Sweet & Dandy' from Toots & The Maytals, 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da', which he likely got Desmond Dekker, who got it from the Beatles (which I didn't know). Again, it's pretty hard not to like either of these songs, they're just beautiful renditions of classic (and again) material. That being said, however, I think Mr. Vegas goes to an even higher level on 'Say Yuh Bad' which takes on 'Johnny Too Bad'. This track is one brilliant piece of social commentary and Vegas CLEARS it!

“So now you end up a jail 
Dem seh you nah get no bail 
Because yah badness fail
Watch you ah peep through di rail
Well you seh you no fraid a people
Now a badda man deh inna jail ah beat you
Yah kill people without no reason
Now a life sentence you get inna prison”

Rounding out the Reggae disc of "Sweet Jamaica" is a HEAVY composition in 'Whenever You're Lonely' (that riddim is GOLD) and the electric praising tune, 'Above The Waters'. Both are two more fine additions to an album which really didn't need very much 'help' at all. This disc, again, probably serves more of an actual purpose for Vegas as it shows that he's willing to go to the extent of putting an entire album out on ACTUAL and AUTHENTIC Reggae music. Furthermore, some of these songs are a bit older, going back to as early as 2009 to my knowledge (which surely means that he recorded some of them in the 1980's!), so that shows you that it's not just for an album in mind, but really because this is the type of music he really WANTS to sing! Well done.

'I Am Blessed' org. version

Dancehall - Disc Two

So, after all of that, I guess it's somewhat natural that I feel a bit bad in saying that I like the Dancehall side better . . . because I do. The streak of winners that Mr. Vegas has been enjoying over the past couple of years of so, at least to my ears, has been fueled largely by his Dancehall music and to make my point, I give you the Dancehall disc of "Sweet Jamaica" as evidence. Vegas' cut of the BBQ Riddim, the infectious 'Beautiful Life'. I'll make more of a detail on this later, but this song is just a really good time to be had. It's not GREAT, but it does exactly what it's supposed to and just makes you feel good ["Having the best time of mi life and mi feel like an Afrikan wid twenty wife"]. 'Champagne Rosé' is just VINTAGE late 1990's Dancehall and that is probably largely due to a new version of the old Black Widow Riddim that it taps into (that took me FOREVER to figure out after singing some random piece of a Beenie Man song in my head as soon as I heard the track and as it turns out, Vegas was also on the initial run of the cut with 'Big Tings Ah Gwaan'). This is beautiful REAL Dancehall. There're no Hip-Hop overtones or flavours or shit like that, it's just pure undiluted Dancehall! 

”Shelly Ann no waan mi drink and dash a bottle dung di sink
An she look mi get a next one before she quit
Everyday yah know seh mi an di girls dem ah link 
Dem love di niceness yes, it pretty like a pink
Mi and Rosie, up inna Jacuzzi 
Neighbour waan know ‘wah wah’
How she so nosey
Dis nuh mek ya lousy
It nah mek yuh drowsy
Dis nah have nuh drugs fi mek Merciless seh ‘HOWDY!’”

And then there's 'Certain Law'. So much could be said for this one and not the least would be the KNOCKING Barb Wire Riddim over which it plays. That thing is EVIL and it must be stopped! Over it, Vegas outlines several things which he feels aren't quite in the arena of manliness in a hilarious fashion! 

'Bruk It Down'

Charged with maintaining the vibes set by the openers, the balance of the Dancehall lot of "Sweet Jamaica" doesn't even come close to failing - it is a big album! Check 'Let The Music Play' which is kind of an odd selection because, on the surface, it's the type of song you've heard so many times before, giving love to the music, but this one has more of a BITE to it and it isn't as cool and polished as so many of the others, which is a good thing. While that one may or may not prove to be hit (has a good chance if you ask me), definitely there're are already certified hits here. Arguably at the head of them is the hard to shake 'Bruk It Down', which is still doing damage everywhere it reaches. It's a kind of heavy dance track and normally I don't like those tunes and I'm not calling this my favourite (because that distinction is obvious), but I like it FAR more than I do some of the others, even from Vegas. Another really sizable smash for the singer is the best song I hear on the whole of "Sweet Jamaica" and that is clearly 'Black & Proud'. The anti-bleaching set was one of two tunes that really pulled me back to see that Vegas had pushed himself back up and it was time to take a listen once again (the other is also on this album . . . Kind of). Again, what he does is to take a well done concept in Reggae and Dancehall (particularly when he did the song) and add just a bit of spice and aggression to it which gives the impression (correctly) that bleaching is all kind of FUCKED UP and respecting and appreciating your nature is the way to go ["MI BLACK BABY, FROM A BLACK LADY, SO MI PROUD OF MI COLOUR AND MI NAH CHANGE IT"]. This disc ends with a livened up version of the other biggest track here, the hard to deny 'I Am Blessed'. LOVE the tune in its original form and I wish they would've did it here in that style, but I don't hate like this and it's not hard to imagine why they would want to do a changeup with the very well traveled piece. And Vegas may just have a similar hit on his hands should 'God On My Side' get a run and it just may.

'Black & Proud'

I also like . . .  just about all of the remaining tracks on the album (duh!). There's 'Talk Is Cheap' from TJ's DNA Riddim (Vegas got one of most interesting mixes of that riddim) and 'Honey Girl' which dropped late 2011 or so and has comes through on one of the better compositions of that year, the Dancehall Pull Up Riddim from First Name Music. The Dancehall side doesn't feature a whole heap of remakes like the Reggae, but you will find, along with the aforementioned Black Widow Riddim, the nice 'Something About You' which goes all Ting-a-Ling on the people. That riddim sounds as nice as ever and the tune on top of it lives up to the lofty standards of its history.  Also somewhat lofty is the new to my ears 'Party Tun Up' and 'Call Me' from the recent Aurora Skies Riddim - two very entertaining tracks. And a HUGE highlight also is on board in the woman empowering, downright stirring and Rocky-esque 'Dancehall Queen'

“Mi gal nah watch weh dem ah chat
Gwan live out yah dream
Man love yah lak a money machine
Yah arm neva green
Mouth eva clean
Whine like a Dancehall Queen
Bubble like pot weh full a steam
Whine like a Dancehall Queen 
Lovely a mi queen
Whine yah mi queen
Gal you a di Dancehall Queen

Mi gal mi waan describe you in so many words
Mi waan tell yuh something some gal neva heard
You deh a first, dem a second and third
Wid dem skin chippy chippy like when dem roast bird
You hot to di max
Gal you cool and relax
And no one bag a man no run through you like tracks 
So when some gal, baby you no matta dat
Cause a some a dem played out and cah eva come back” 

Rounding out the Dancehall side of the album is a pair of tunes which . . . aren't actually Dancehall (not that I'm complaining) and two combinations as well. 'Get Ready To Whine Up' features Vegas alongside Tifa and Ms. Kitty and it plays over the 40ft. Riddim from the Madmen. You might know this one as Soca star Bunji Garlin FUCKED IT UP and left it for dead with the all kind of wicked 'So & So', but whatever of it was left, these three made the most of. And FINALLY is 'Whine For Me Baby' on which appears Achis Reggae favourite, the wonderful Patrice Roberts. I really like this tune and, to wrap it up, a little Soca never EVER hurt anyone (except your feet) and I'm happy that Mr. Vegas, almost as much as anyone from the Dancehall, has been so active in the genre in recent years. The Dancehall disc won't be looked upon as significant as the Reggae side and I get that. It's fine. But for me it does just as good of a job, if not better because it doesn't go as hard on building upon classics, in exhibiting the music in its GENUINE state, which was the goal for the Reggae side as well. 

Overall, there's not much more to be said. It's difficult to throw around words like "landmark" (even though that literally surrounds this one), so we'll call it HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT. Mr. Vegas is someone who, at such an advanced stage of his career, probably doesn't have much to 'risk' in doing whatever he wants to do at this point - he's made his fans - but I think he's going to make a legacy with SO many more in standing up for Real Reggae music and Real Dancehall music on "Sweet Jamaica". For whatever it's worth he just made another one. Me. AMAZING!

Rated: 4.9999999/5
MV Music 
CD + Digital

Review #367

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