Friday, June 29, 2012

'WONDERFUL!': A review of "Working Wonders" by Mark Wonder

I told you this would happen. Generally speaking when we begin to discuss things such as potential and up and coming talents, in just about anything, we're dealing with someone/something of which there isn't a great deal known. Musically speaking, we'll look at an artist and say 'he/she has a lot of potential to be a star' and almost always be speaking of a younger artist. We'll also say, 'this song could be a hit', and mean that once more and more people get to hear it, you suspect that they'll like it. Today, however, we're still going to talk about potential and a potential fulfilled as someone has just made good on something that I saw coming from a few years away. Currently in Reggae music, I have my eyes and ears tuned in the direction of a few different artists who I just have a feeling are about to something. Be it a big tune or a big album or a big whatever, they are SATURATED in potential to do great things and NONE of them have just walked through the door. We can look at Sizzla Kalonji who, after he remembers that he is . . . Sizzla Kalonji and stops with the sparring sessions, figures to be poised to drop yet another MASSIVE album after showing flashes of brilliance over the past couple of years or so. There's also Agent Sasco who, these days, seems to have evolved into one of the most lyrically gifted artists the Dancehall has ever seen and I'd also include veteran singer Glen Washington who will prove me wrong or right very shortly as he's set to wheel out an album of his own, the potentially aptly labeled "Masterpiece", later this year. Now, typically I may not trust my judgment or makeshift psychic abilities, but very recently I've had a good reason to do so as someone who I have been predicting would do something huge for the past few years has done it. Of course I'm talking about veteran Roots Reggae singer, Mark Wonder. In recent times I've wondered about the singer of whom, the more I listen to, I'm further confused by exactly how it is that this man isn't amongst the biggest and most well known Roots artists in the world. To my ears, he's every bit as talented as just about anyone that I listen to (and I listen to everyone) (all of the time) and while I know that such things require more than pure talent, Wonder's is a talent which, when at its best, can be downright overwhelming. 

I didn't predict that people who didn't listen to his music would wake up one day and suddenly start doing so, but I did think that everything was aligning and coming into focus and he would soon either give them a reason to start listening or he would do something which would make them look damn stupid for not listening. Take your pick! Whichever one you choose has just walked through the door as Mark Wonder is now pushing his latest album (his sixth by my count) (actually sixth and a half because he did one twice) "Working Wonders" which comes with a built-in double meaning and is one MIGHTY piece of a modern Roots Reggae album. 

The wonderful music of Mark Wonder
Mark Wonder is someone who has largely made a great deal of his finest work (especially lately)  in operating with European labels. He's recorded for the likes of Pow Pow  Productions, Special Delivery (for whom he did a big EP, "Battle Axe"), House of Riddim, Addis Records and Irie Ites (in that same time span he's also worked well and consistently with the formidable Al.Ta.Fa.An., but it's been more Europe based imprints I believe) but clearly he's linked with one on an even greater level. That label, obviously, is the fine and always colourful Oneness Records from out of Germany who it seems like we get around to dealing with several times a year, which is a great thing. Most recently (like twenty minutes ago), they reached with the brand new Reggaeville Riddim and, they're turning around very quickly and now have two pieces to promote adding this album as well. That shouldn't be a problem as the Reggaeville is arguably the best riddim album of the first half of the year and Mark Wonder is about to lay a major claim for having the best Reggae album of that same time period on the WONDERFUL "Working Wonders". A few years ago, Wonder did the "True Stories of Mark Wonder & Friends" album which was originally pushed by the aforementioned Al.Ta.Fa.An, in 2009. That album featured the singer from out of Kingston singing alongside his PEERS - people like Sizzla, Luciano, Capleton, Junior Kelly, Lutan Fyah, Chezidek, Anthony B, Ziggi Recado, Gentleman . . . MAD! A couple of years on, Irie Ites would pick up that album and give it a proper release and, reportedly, it did quite well. I bring that album up to say that, perhaps, his profile has been heightened and the followup, which you're looking at, may be set to bring in a larger fan base. Also, the new album has done something very nice (which I'm going to tell you about in just a second) in promoting itself early so, I'm hopeful (as is Oneness) that what we have here is a matter of the business side of Reggae catching up to the musical side. "Working Wonders" is OUTSTANDING from beginning to end, I'll tell you that right now, and if it just so happens that Mark Wonder's popularity, or 'potential popularity', is at or near an all time high as well, then that would make this one a full on special project. So hopefully it draws in more new fans because if it does, what they'll find is a talent whose proverbial time to shine has come as Mark Wonder lines up for his best album to date and one of the best I've heard in quite some time. Let's talk about it!

"Working Wonders" megamix

If I haven't mentioned it (and I haven't), besides having many reasons why I think he was set to have a big and breakout moment in his career, Mark Wonder also has one of the greatest singing voices you'll hear in all of Reg . . . in any genre of music. It is SPECTACULAR and you can get a healthy sampling of it on his new album from Oneness Records, "Working Wonders" which gets going with a tune which is just as impressive as the voice singing on it, the HUGE praising tune, 'Ancient of Days'! When I first heard the first bit of this song, I KNEW something special was going to come behind and it and that's what occurs on the opener. There are so many things to like about this one; from the historical journey Wonder takes the listener on, straight through the full sound of the song which is so large! A fantastic start to an album which manages to maintain those heights. Mark Wonder says 'The World Needs Love' and he says it with the full support of the Reggaeville Riddim which backs the next tune in on the album. We just talked about this one not too long ago and the song, which I liked immediately, has grown on me even more from then. 

“Bless mine eyes on the morning sun
Feels so good when hearts and hearts are one
Must take time out to give thanks for life
Oh this world can be sweet paradise
Speak no bull!
Put all differences aside
We sure can conquer, but with positive minds
There is no other way, this we got to obey
Our chain is as strong as its strongest link

Yes the world needs love and love needs love today
Yes the world needs love, oh love don’t go away
Yes the world needs love and love needs love to stay
Yes the world needs love, oh love, don’t you go away”

That's a big inspirational track and one which doesn't ultimately go the way of being a tired, clichéd and mechanical type of 'you can achieve' song. Instead it's more of a spiritual and EMOTIONALLY driven type of an inspiration, the latter of which is pretty rare, specifically when combined with the former (again, you usually hear the type of songs which're of the 'feel better then DO better' variety, this is 'feel better then THINK better'). And the next track in is also a spiritually guided tune and another one very familiar to my ears. 'Soul Deep' was Mark Wonder's cut of Oneness' General Key Riddim from a few years back (that is a SWEET riddim and you can stop reading this for a second and go and buy it. I won't mind) (back? Good.). This song I listen to now and wonder how it wasn't a hit. It's gorgeous and it is the type of straight-forward Roots Reggae which is just as appreciable for how it sounds as for what it says. 

“Do you believe in a world with peace and harmony?
A world where people smile so happily
The birds and bees living naturally
A world free from all these catastrophes
Guide and protect us Jah -
Day by day
It’s only You alone can show us the way

Remember The Father
Soul deep, soul deep, soul deep
He’s the sun, wind and rain - remember The Father
Remember The Father
Soul deep, soul deep, soul deep
The same today as yesterday

Mankind where did we go wrong?
Right now, we’re caught up in a serious situation
It’s time now we find a solution
Stop and look, higher meditation
Youths of today - our future generation
Let’s never be ashamed to call HIS name”

That is one sublime piece of sweet praising track and, for me, one of the main spotlight points on an album full of them.

"Guiding Light" featuring Sizzla Kalonji

"Working Wonders" is an album which provides a steady stream of GREAT songs to my ear and quite a few of them are sure to leap out at the listener even before he/she really gets into the body of the record. Surely none are more attention grabbing than 'Guiding Light' which is the album's first single 'Guiding Light' which features Mark Wonder singing alongside Sizzla Kalonji. I've warmed up even more to this tune from the first time I heard it, now I'm to the point where it's now one of my favourites on the album. This tune came via digital single, there was a video and, as far as I can tell, the song done quite well in all aspects. Listening to the song, that's no surprise. Wonder and Sizzla have already proved they make a nice pair on the tune 'Don't Worry', which also featured German star, Gentleman. Incidentally, that tune was produced by Al.Ta.Fa.An. who also has a hand on this one. Also present here is 'As the World Turns' which was a tune from the golden Soul Riddim, this one featuring the suddenly controversial Natural Black. Black's sudden mind changing proclivities notwithstanding (he can do whatever he likes), this is an excellent selection which makes me smile for several reasons. I think the Soul Riddim is my favourite Oneness track and this was one of its highlights. Biggup old Natural Black. 

“Wi hail Selassie I The First from morning . . .

Give praises
That’s all you need to know
Inna one direction, di whole a wi fi go
Seeds of corruption, no need fi sew
Better today, better tomorrow
Unification strengthen your mind
And the good-living lengthen your time
Make sure you know what you ah do with your time 
And stop war over nickels and dimes” 

The album's final offering, the LARGE 'Send Down the Rain', is also its third and final (duh!) combination, this one featuring Mikey Melody who, like Sizzla, also featured on the "True Stories" album. Again, what we have here is a praising tune, but this one is looking up and asking for a worldwide cleansing from The Almighty and Mother Nature. This song is extremely clever and its appeal matches its master class of writing and arrangement, particularly as it goes along. And another tune which leaps out at you in the middle of "Working Wonders" is 'Fighting Soldiers', a top notch former single from Greenyard Records' Part of my L . . . Design Riddim. This tune provides the album with one of its many signature lasting pronouncements when wonder says, "babylon you're fighting a battle and you just can't win". INDEED! Big tune. 

The title track for the album is something that really interested me because it's something that could go in so many different directions and it did not disappoint at all. Ostensibly, it's a love song, and I'm almost certain that it was the intent of Wonder's. He's singing about the love of his life. HOWEVER, if you take into account how this song is situated, you could substitute words here and have a shift in a different direction. It's a love song in the body of a spiritual tune! 'Distant Lover' is the more typical love song on the record, but even it has something about, some excellent little quality, which gives it a greater feel to it. The song also happens to feature on the same sparkling riddim as 'They Know Not Love', the wicked combination featuring Sara Lugo and former Mark Wonder collaborator, Lutan Fyah ["poverty still deh deh, still deh deh"]. Speaking of familiar riddims, you should also recognize the one present on . . . Yet another highlight from "Working Wonders", 'Jah Love Is Amazing', as the same that played through 'What Goes Around' by Naptali. I used the term "overwhelming" previously and this song, despite its coolness is an example of that. Here's a tune that's best enjoyed with your eyes closed! You can feel free to open them to take in the album's sterling obligator tune for Mama, 'Woman of The Nile'. One of the more tangible moments on the album, this tune appears to be an autobiographical one from the singer who builds it in an OUTWARD reaching way. From the title you get a more broad sense of the music, but he specifies it to HIS MOTHER and uses her as the basis (his basis) for giving love, honour and appreciation to hard working good Mothers all over the world. And also do check the good (running out of positive adjectives) 'My Child', which is HEAVY! I hear a bit of Jazz influence on this piece which is a very intelligent and spiritually minded social commentary. It's also fantastic, one of the strongest vocal displays present and a great song.  

'Freedom Street' is an older tune of Mark Wonder's that I was actually surprised to see on board this album, but its presence does make it a stronger release in my opinion. Here's another track which blends the 'nature' of a kind of reality tune with the spiritual side. Wonder is throwing the possibility of freedom up to His Imperial Majesty and it’s packed into 'Freedom Street' which now gets another well deserved opportunity to be appreciated. 'Zion's Glory' was new to me but I'm sure not to forget it anytime soon. This DYNAMIC set may not grab the attention it deserves, but BE CAREFUL, if you ignore it, like this artist, you'll be missing something very special. 

“I can hear the trumpets blowing
And the angel’s choir singing
Ithiopians calling
Hail His Majesty

Zion behold Her glory
Rainbow coloured story
Lion of Judah reigns
The advocate of change
True philosophies -
Fulfilling all history
The seals, the revelation
What a joy!
Sweet redemption!
Ancient of days, worthy to be praised 
King for us now and for always” 


And finally, in my mind I've saved the best for last - 'On This Day' may just be one of the best songs I've EVER HEARD! Talk about inspiration, talk about upliftment, talk about just making yourself feel good! You're talking about this song and that flawlessly addictive riddim (which is allowed to play on and on after the final vocals). At the heart of my love of this release is this special song which has already worked wonders for me. 

Mark Wonder
Overall, I know the hope is that everyone goes out today and picks up "Working Wonders" and I'm sure you will, but I have a more substantial point to make here besides selling albums (I don't do that anyway). This album is REALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD! As I said, Mark Wonder is someone who has, for as long as I've been listening to him, shown the capability of doing that kind of SUSTAINING album and particularly in recent years. Well capability and potential have now turned into fulfillment and actuality because "Working Wonders" is EXACTLY what I was talking about. Mark Wonder is on as great of a display of his talents as I've ever heard - this is his finest album to date. So! You can choose to keep on ignoring me if you like. You're about to miss out on a special one: The best Roots Reggae album I've heard in two years. EXCELLENT! 

Rated: 5/5
Oneness Records
CD + Digital

Review #373


  1. YUH DUN KNO... a tell u, album WIKKID to rass!!!

  2. Laaaaaaaaaarge up !
    I was a little afraid of your critics cause you did already rate this Album that high before the release !
    So I thought we could only disapoint you !
    Incredible Review - I am so happy that you like it !
    Maximum Respect Morry

  3. Yeah, really big album. Still digesting it and I'm enjoying it thoroughly.

  4. Give thanks IrieDawta & Cassa always.
    Yow Morry, it was even more impressive. It was a 5+ yeah. Very well done my friend!