Monday, June 18, 2012

The Vault Reviews: "Rasta Awake" by Army

I like to think that in every album, or at least in every one in which some type of considerable effort was paid by someone, there is not only a type of grand and prevailing message to be taken, but also some predominant experience to be had. I think that the writer of the songs, the producer and everyone/anyone in between was trying to, in their own way, ensure that the listener came away from listening to the record with not only a thought and some type of enlightenment, no matter how large or small, but also a feeling which may be just as important in many cases. Here's the great thing for me (and of course I'm a nerd, so you surely won't find this as impressive): I think these two things are COMPLETELY independent of one another. I don't think they are related in the slightest outside of both being born from the same artist, album, producer etc. and I could call upon a wide array of shitty Roots Reggae albums to make my point. They all are likely built on lyrical foundations which I'm likely to support, for the most part but, as we established, they are shitty. The experience of listening to them will be shitty and you'll feel like you need several showers to wash away their shittiness after the final song reaches its end. Another good example which is so far away from the first that's similar, would be listening to an album from Capleton. Again, in terms of the message, King Shango is one of the most brilliant lyricists the music has ever seen and because of that his points are generally crystal clear, but the encounter of listening to a Capleton album, a great one, is EXHAUSTING! It is a journey of sensational proportions, the likes of which is more often found from high level Soca stars and Capleton bottles it and gives it to us in Reggae and Dancehall and it is amazing. I do have to say, however, that one of the most fascinating "journeys" that I've been fortunate enough to go on over the years is the one provided by sweet singing Virgin Islands veteran, Ras Army, who pushed an album now seven years ago which I just now find myself being able to say that I REALLY comprehend every aspect of. And because of that I also have to say that the album has become a favourite of mine, very recently, and has done so much for me as well. 

"A Different Age" by NiyoRah & "Conquering Sound" by Ancient King [2005]
The album? "Rasta Awake". This record came way back in 2005 for I Grade Records as part of their 'Fire, Earth & Wind' trio of releases which also included the debut album of the brilliant NiyoRah, "A Different Age" [Earth] and Ancient King's debut set, "Conquering Sound" [Fire]. The incredibly easy singing Army fittingly provided the 'wind' of the set and as we're SO able to now look back and observe what became of an ultimately very successful promotional campaign (and I Grade may not be planning out things like this anymore (then again, they might be), but they're still very productive as promoters of their releases these days). It was probably one of the first such internet driven marketing jobs from anyone in Reggae music and look what it's spawned. Ancient King may not be very active anymore to my knowledge, but he did have another album and toured quite regularly if I recall correctly and NiyoRah is a bonafide star and arguably one of the most wholly talented individuals in all of Reggae music. As for Army, by far the most distinguished of the three in 2004/2005, it remains his most high profile release to date and really brought him out to a fan base who didn't previously either know him at all or know him as well.  

"Zion Soldiers Chant" [2008]
 As for me, it's also where I really caught on as well. Previously the singer had done two albums (which are pretty much impossible to find, at least until their producer gives them to the wonderful people at Zojak Worldwide to make available), "Yesterdays News" and "Struggler", for the mighty Dean Pond ("their producer") (biggup Dean Pond), which helped to gain him a remarkably faithful and passionate fan base which Army still enjoys to this day. He would go from working with Pond, a maestro with very few peers anywhere in the music to working with Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred and, musically, the completely incomparable Tuff Lion at I Grade Records. Can you even THINK of a better situation for an artist from out of (anywhere) the Virgin Islands to develop? That's what Army had to deal with and, clearly, they all saw some form of giant talent in him and I'm sure if you asked each and every one of them, they'd say they still see it today (especially the Lion who would also go on to produce the singer's next album, "Zion Soldiers Chant", in 2008). I've been listening to this album from when I got it, which had to be not too long after it released, and while admittedly I was initially more interested in the other two albums of the trilogy, over the years I've always found myself coming back to "Rasta Awake" because I (paid my money for it and I can!) always felt like there was something more in it. And this was an album which I well had respect for. I'd listened it and while Army certainly does have a very unusual writing style (it's very poetic, which is kind of assumed, but not always the case with good/great writers of music lyrics) to my ears, it's one which, after seven years, I can digest with no problem. But it was on the other end of that spectrum - the experience of listening to the album full on - which I don't think I managed to accurately APPRECIATE until rather recently and when I did (!) I heard angel singing, I saw explosions and was just generally very proud of myself. On top of that developed a notion that clearly this album, which had "awakened" something in me (I had to, I had no choice but to write that sentence and you know it), is probably one of the most COMPLETE records that we've seen in Reggae from since the turn of the century. I'll show you what I mean. 

Not that I looked or anything but (I'm just going to go ahead and say this anyway), for an album with thirteen tracks, six seconds more than an hour of playing time does seem very THICK. The album has only two tunes less than four minutes long (barely - they are both 3:55) and three more than five minutes long (and another at 4:57) which means that you really have a lot packed in here. Maybe that's why it took me about SEVEN YEARS to arrive at a point where I felt that I'd gotten the biggest vibe from it that I could (but you know that I'm still working on it). Getting us 'awake' and moving on "Rasta Awake" from Army from out of St. Croix (I hadn't mentioned that yet) (shame!) is the delectably vibed spiritually minded social commentary, 'Give The Youths A Try'. As I alluded to, Army has a very interesting way of writing his lyrics - he almost never goes at anything straight forward. He prefers a more 'spiraling' method of making his point[s] which, for the type of music which is to be found on this album, is a very good thing. The tune is exquisite in almost every way and we begin! Next we have what is definitely a favourite of mine from the album, the OVER COOL 'Jah Reveal It'. It also happens to be a selection which with I've struggled with for so long. Ostensibly, it is a social commentary, but you (or at least I do) try to fit in the title with the nature of the tune to try to get at what Army was thinking. These days, I've narrowed it down largely to a few lyrics:

"Some don't believe a change is gonna come
Greeting the children at the setting sun"

"Escape from her waters, flushing down through your streets
Escape, it's your duty
Or else you gonna face defeat"

They suggest something else, presumably greater, exists which is worth being struggled for and therefore something which is "revealed". I love songs like this which challenge a listener and REALLY make you step it up as a listener and not just accept what is placed before you. Wrapping up the opening lot of tunes on "Rasta Awake" is 'Mr. Monday', which I'm sure is divine on some type of an OFFICIAL level, but whatever. It's a standout here for many reasons and, all of these years later, I find myself hearing it like it's the first spin. Big tune. 

As I said, this is an album which I've been playing through a lot very recently and it's done some really powerful things for me. I'm not exactly a PILLAR of mental health (never have been, never will be) and a handful of tunes on this album managed to hit me and help in some very strange (yet usual) moments. The biggest of those and the biggest of all of the tunes on the album is its title track which is a very enlightening experience of its own. 

“The rivers running long and the waters are deep
There is a great divide-
With the children on the street
Now Rasta awake
Cause a no time fi sleep
Seh no bodda retreat
Steady vigil you fi keep
Rasta awake!
Lord a no time fi sleep
Earth is your school
Steady vigil you fi keep

Listen to the reading and then watch for the sign
Storms ah pass through pon your frontline 
Unuh keeping to the border with your head to the grind
Don’t let mischief turn into crime”

This ALARM CLOCK of a song is one which, brilliantly, presents Rastafari as a kind of a maintainer of the world and of natural order with a direct line of reasoning and contact to 'The Executive'. He shows that when Rasta 'sleeps', so much in the world goes wrong and turns into chaos and later Ras Army says something in this song which just GRIPPED my mind. 

“Climbing ever steady Rastafari haffi climb
And enough thing haffi stay behind” 

I heard THAT in a heavy line of thinking and it turned into: 

“You have work to do
Stop worrying over bullshit” 

WHAT! The song also picks up and intensifies throughout, making it one where the brilliance of word is well equaled by the genius of sound. Another tune to which I had a very strong reaction and opinion on recently was 'Honorebel'. This song has one SWEET vibe which is kind of an uptempo set and Army uses it to set up a track which reminds us to live an upful life because if you don't, "What you gonna do when you really got to face The Man". And I always took to heart the grandly vibed 'Don't Move My Mountain'. There's so many digital blips and slips (what?) going on in this one at the beginning, but ascends into this wondrous one-drop which plays a SUBLIME backing to Army who lyrically personifies the EARTH and life and history in asking His Majesty for help to do HIS work, but not the absolute final answer. I love  this song because it, again, is a challenge to the listener. There's something to be said for being a GOOD LISTENER and if you are that type of a person, you'll find billions to enjoy about this one. I also like how it's cleverly presented with Army really just asking for a hand here and there, but he's well willing to do the work required on his own. 

“Don’t move my mountain Jah
Don’t move my mountain 
Just give we the strength to climb
We will cross over ya” 

And lastly I'll place in here 'Preying Mantis', which I think history has found to be one of the most popular tunes on "Rasta Awake". It's also one of my favourites and, as of this writing, the one I find myself thinking about most these days. 

'Preying Mantis'

That's not to say, of course, that the remainder of the songs aren't on that level at all, most of them are and some even better, looking at them with a more objective eye (I don't have to be objective, I'm not getting paid, I just like what I like!). An excellent example of this would definitely be 'Tek Your Time', which is an undeniably GREAT tune. That song is GORGEOUS and it also leaves you with one of the most memorable sentiments of the entire album ["I don't want to wake in the middle of the night to find out I don't know Jah way"]. And the song immediately preceding it 'Who Will Pay' is another winner and a very lively one too, which goes to wonder when The Almighty comes to clean up corruption and general NASTINESS, who will pay for the state of society. 'Small Number' may just be one of the most sonically pleasing vibes here. I hear more traditional R&B in there and I hear a whole heap of Jazz as well. For his part, Ras Army delivers a unique more straight forward, almost deejaying, style for the most part which creates for one of more stirring moments on the record. Speaking of stirring, do check the energized 'Men Will Doubt' and the brilliant 'Share Your Love'. The latter of the two is a champion of a song with the singer seemingly interchanging "love" with a concept of awareness and using love, in its actual state as a catalyst to urge people to be more aware and to "read the signs". 'Men Will Doubt', on the other hand, is a bit more open and immediately discernible and still a very mighty piece of work. Finally check 'Mi Sista' which is a composition equally aimed at uplifting the hard working women of the world and also aimed at men who just refuse to treat them right, appreciate them and stand up for the women. I hate to say it (not really, I love to), but out of the TRILLIONS of problems I do have, I've never been this guy. Love your woman, it's just too easy not to! And if you still don't get it, take 'Mi Sista' for several spins. 


I do want to go back and say something for the writing on this album briefly. Taking the 'Fire, Earth & Wind' concept into consideration, Army's style, at least here specifically, fits so well into things. You'll hear words related to nature, especially the water, in pretty much every song and every single verse even and he almost seems to, at times, use those things as metaphors of people and situations as well. It's very interesting and I'm now WELL looking forward to going back and reacquainting myself with the "Zion Soldiers Chant" to see if I hear the same as pronounced there as well. It's very, very interesting. 

Overall, I do so much have a greater appreciation for the "Rasta Awake" album in 2012 than I ever did prior to it and that's saying a great deal because I already held a high regard for the project. These days, I can definitely call it one of my favourite albums from I Grade Records altogether and I can also just as surely recommend it to more experienced fans. It takes awhile, or at least it did for me (I'm not the brightest of individuals, so maybe (DEFINITELY) you'll get it much quicker than I did), but when it does finally set in, what you have on your hands and ears is a STUNNINGLY beautiful album from Army. One which was well, well worth the journey. 

Rated: 4.65/5
I Grade Records
CD + Digital

Review #368

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