Tuesday, July 10, 2012

'Here Is A Joy': A review of "Masterpiece" by Glen Washington

Stick to it. Somewhere along its splendid journey it was decided that Reggae music would exist as this type of 'inspiration in a bottle' type of  genre where performers, of all skill sets and popularity would attempt to push a brand of music which would inspire their listeners. Be it a motivation to better oneself in some type of way or an encouragement to continue along doing positive actions, I'm sure you can think of artists, songs and even lyrics, immediately in your head, which would largely speak to the subject and you LOVE them! Taking them from your knowledge would greatly diminish your ability to appreciate the finest music in the world. Another type of inspiration you hear oft referred to in Reggae music would be the type speaking of perseverance and determination and it is in the kind of notion of carrying burdens and continuing on through so many problems which we, so wonderfully, take a look at today as we deal with an artist who has brought and continues to bring thousands and thousands of songs to fruition. Being an 'aging' Reggae singer means so many things and, typically, not many of them are good. If you don't live somewhere in Europe or in a place like California and you want to continue singing and performing, you may have to move to one of those locations where your music [hopefully] is its most popular in the world and just because you are of a certain musical stature and have paid your proverbial dues, doesn't at all mean that you are out of the routine and everyday competition which exists in the music. And this has happened, unfortunately, to so many of our artists and will, presumably, continue to do so. Therefore it is so DAMN pleasing when you can find someone who can go around most of that and do so for no other reason than because no matter how long they've been singing songs, it just ALWAYS seems like they're getting better at it! FOR EXAMPLE, meet the coolest man in the world, Mr. Glen Washington. The Clarendon born vocalist has a career now which stretches back to the pre-me era and (I'll be a most WOEFUL thirty-one years old (as hell) if I manage to live another month or so) while I'll spare you a story that you've likely heard a few times before, a VERY strong argument could be made that not only is Washington RIGHT NOW making the best music of his entire career, but he's also as popular in 2012 than in any year before it. 

"Destiny" & "Vibes" [2009]
Longevity in Reggae, or in music in general, is very tricky because it lives in more than one way. You can have longevity on the strength of the work you've done - meaning you have songs which just cannot die, even if they tried. People love them and because you're the one who sang them, your presence will always be required. Far more fascinating, however, is the type of durability which arises when you have someone who doesn't have to 'maintain' and is able to 'CONTINUE', which is exactly what Glen Washington has done. Sure, you'll never forget tunes like 'Viper', 'Jah Glory' and, my personal favourite 'Kindness For Weakness', but then to it you'll add the not too distant 'Vibes', 'Jah Jah We Call On You' and other songs which show that, despite being well in his FOURTH decade of singing music, Washington may very well be just entering his prime

Zion High Productions
If you're still not convinced of that, he's about to serve up as powerful of a positive proclamation of his prowess to date in the form of his brand new album, the fittingly titled "Masterpiece". Glen Washington is, as you might expect given years in the music, someone who has recorded for such a wide variety of talented producers. His last two times out, "Destiny" and "Vibes" from 2009, came via Joe Fraser Records and Kemar McGregor, respectively and for this new album, he continues his excellent choice of maestros. "Masterpiece" comes courtesy, directly, from Zion High Productions and, by extension, the Zion I Kings, which features I Grade Records and Lustre Kings Productions as well as ZHP. Our readers are well acquainted with the ZIK as we regularly feature their work, most recently they came together for the Nazarenes wonderful piece, "Meditation" and the sensational compilation, "Jah Golden Throne". The latter was ZHP's first release of 2012 (to my knowledge) and it was also a project which would set attentions to what would ultimately become this album as Washington blessed that project with what was, in my opinion, it's greatest moment or, at very WORST, one of its most glaring of highlights (more on that later). The ZIK's production style is one which, on paper, should so seamlessly match up with Washington's musical approach. While the singer has very much managed to stay fresh and interesting to yet another era of fans, it's almost even more remarkable when you consider that he's taken no drastic course to get where he is today. He didn't just start deejaying one day and it suddenly caught on with the masses, he's been the same CONSISTENT powerhouse of a Roots Reggae and Lover's Rock singer that he was at the nascence of his career and, again, you would guess that such a lovely and MATURE style would easily find a nice balance with the ultra refined vibes of the ZIK (which also means that you're likely to hear a few riddims that you're familiar with). And if you did guess that then you would be proven very correct because "Masterpiece" not only fulfills on the extremely lofty designation of its title, but it also proves that the very warm reception that the downright CLASSY Washington has enjoyed particularly as of late hasn't just been thrown in his direction because he's a nice person or someone just felt it was his time. This album is outstanding! Let me tell you about it.

The Zion I Kings
"Masterpiece" is a very healthy and colourful mixture of the two subgenres in which Glen Washington has most routinely done his work, Roots Reggae and Lover's Rock. If you pressed me to pick between the two, to the surprise of absolutely no one at all (I'm sure), of course I favour his Roots material and on this album, by the slightest of margins, it's more geared toward that arena, although the singer does well cover his usual course on this record. And he wastes absolutely no time at all in getting started as Glen Washington opens the proceedings with a song which is probably going to be the favourite on the album of just about everyone who is fortunate enough to hear it, the SUBLIME 'There Is A Joy'.

“I know that Jah blessings surround me everyday
For HIS goodness and mercy and grace, on my knees I pray
Although many will fight me, some will try to keep me down
But HIM that shook earthquake and thunder will keep me around

That Jah blessing brings
HE’s righteous and holy, royal Majesty
There’s nothing to compare
Jah rules eternally
That Jah blessing brings
When I’m down and out HE’s the one who sorts me out
Jah blessings brings
An eternal flame, none of them can put out”

The tune is not only completely STUNNING, it's gorgeous in every way, but it also serves up the single best and most fitting line of the album when the singers says: 

“I really love to praise Jah Jah
I will exalt HIS praise from coast to coast 

BOOM! The tune is an early highlight and expect big things from 'There Is A Joy'. Next we have a tune which doesn't struggle at all in keeping the vibes high, 'Take Away The Whip'. This biblical set follows the tone set by the opener in a mighty way and although it may very well lack the GLOW of the opener . . . It might just be the better of the two songs! Washington is giving a HUGE praise in the onset of "Masterpiece" and he keeps it going on the album's third tune, the bouncing 'Puppet Master'. On this tune he puts the focus on the powers that be in oppressive society and identifies that the light of His Majesty is the only thing bright enough in the world to reveal that babylon has STRINGS hidden which it uses to manipulate the world. The sonic appeal on this track is thorough - it's a delightful song - but hopefully fans can sift through it to hear the message within because it's a very well written piece. 

By no means am I the biggest fan of Lover's Rock, but I do have to say that Glen Washington sings some SWEET songs in the category. I don't know if it's his voice or just the way his songs are arranged, but he sings the type of love songs which, inherently, seem to eschew the ever-prevalent sappiness. This is a talent on full display throughout "Masterpiece" such as on 'Let Me Have My Way'. Now I know that the title of this song may strike in an odd way but it's a very good and smooth track - not at all the awkward stumble that you may be anticipating. 'More Than I Desire' is just one of the best songs on the whole of this album. Without pressing them to their absolute limit, it is one of the greatest display of Glen Washington's hypnotic vocals that you're going to hear on this album (and most of his others also) and it just does very well to my opinion. Check 'My Vision' which caught me by surprise only because it checks in across that same sparkling track which backed 'Be You' from Toussaint. Washington definitely does the riddim honour with this spiritually charged and socially conscious love song. Washington also taps a riddim familiar to fans of Toussaint's on 'One Thing On My Mind' (again, it's not as bad as it sounds) [from 'This Song'], which is the second of three love songs which ride out "Masterpiece". The first of them, 'Lovelife' is also the best of the three. This song has so many different textures and sounds to it that, even before you get to the actual words, you're well tuned in and opened for it and the closer, 'Dark Days Are Gone', really gets nice following an opening bit which doesn't exactly make you expect what is to come after it and you'll know what I mean when you hear it. 'Dark Days Are Gone' is REALLY good, it's probably the single best love song on this album and, obviously, for me it's one of its lasting highpoints as well. I like those broad love songs which can kind of go in more directions than expected and here you have a stirring example of precisely that. And there's also the Jazzy 'Highest Quality' (tell me you didn't think this was an herb song) (WHAT!) which is somewhat of a changeup on this album because while it is, ostensibly, a very straight forward love song, it's also one of the selections here which are sure to get heads rocking and feet moving because it just sounds so nice and infectious. 

“Love gets stronger everyday 
When we carry on this way 
Love we giving is for real, not a back-door deal 
This is signed and sealed
I’ll do anything it takes
And your heart, I’ll never break
There’s no mountain too high, no valley too low
For your love, you know I’ll go
I see my future in your eyes
And realized I won the prize
And there’s none to compare to this love that we share
I’ll be always near” 

On the side which you look at as more traditional Roots Reggae music, "Masterpiece" continues to shine and offers up its biggest moments. Along with the first three selections on the album, pay attention to a special track by the name of 'Chant Down Wickedness'. Here, we have a track which . . . Does what its title says it is going to. While I wouldn't necessarily call this one 'festive' or 'jovial', Washington well does seem to want to make an occasion out of burning out nastiness! 'When We Pray' is MASSIVE and it features on the same MASSIVE riddim which backs Toussaint's (biggup Toussaint) MASSIVE tune 'Crown I Got'. 

“How good and how pleasant it is, for us to be here
Jah love and HIS blessing we share - drives away all fear
Not giving a care for vanity, observing all things
I won’t let men change my sanity 
Jah praises I’ll sing” 

TEARS! Washington continues to give crucial thanks to The Almighty and making even more excellent music simultaneously. And he goes on and on - 'One Way' is one of the best songs on this album, it's fantastic. The composition very much seems to be autobiographical: He sings about his Grandmother raising him and the influence His Imperial Majesty has had and the impact HE has made on Glen Washington becoming who he is. I like the full 'commitment' of  this song which kind of identifies this chosen and trusted course that he has taken in his life and really says that there is no other option, I can only be what I am. It's a BEAUTIFUL sentiment and a powerful moment for "Masterpiece". The mellow 'JAH Oneness' follows within that same ideology and it's arguably even stronger (I don't know I'd quite make that assessment, but both are really near the top on this record). What I really like in this case, as I say often, is how the spiritual borders the tangible. In this track, and related to examples throughout the album, you get certain real life situations which can be (and are) used as examples to show the listener - this is what Jah has done for ME. Also be keen on 'I Must Be Dreaming' which is entirely entertaining as well as carrying a big (and broad) message on one of the best riddims on the album. The song here which is likely to attract the most attention, on paper, is easily the fine 'Why Worry' which is the album's only combination - featuring he of three first half of  2012 albums, Norris Man. It took several spins of this one, but it did finally start to grow on me. I've said it countless times, but I have no problem in stating it again -- when Norris Man is properly motivated to do his best and then approaches it, it's ALWAYS a nice experience and "Masterpiece" and Washington finds him in a fine form as the two make a strong, albeit an unlikely, musical pair. 

Now, with all of that being said, my absolute favourite moment on this project comes when the vocalist and ZHP blend together Lover's Rock and Roots Reggae and, in effect, make a miniature version of the album. This happens on the song which I told you was the finest on the aforementioned "Jah Golden Throne" and is STILL the biggest winner here, the GOLDEN 'Fall On Me', which is a spiritual song wrapped in a remarkable love song package.  

“Let your blessings fall on me
Let me be your guiding light
So that them that’s without can see
Guide & protect me on my way
Let me see a better day
From this vibe I will not stray 
The earth is The Lord’s and the fullness thereof
Them that endure will be rewarded at last
Your heart must be pure, your hands must be clean
For you to rally round the Black, the Red, the Gold and the Green

Jah Jah love is like the sunshine
Brighter to me everyday
I’m energized every time I pray
Let your love take me over
Daily as I make my way
To the mark of the higher calling”

Glen Washington

Overall, obviously "Masterpiece" is a great album. After going through the full set for the sake of this review, what I'm left most thinking is just how gifted someone, Glen Washington, must be to go for all of these years and have such a big success these days at such a later stage of their career. He very much fits inside of a very select company which includes very little more than the likes of Beres Hammond and Cocoa Tea - artists who have been going and reaching levels of success for a large amount of time and doing so virtually unchanged as far as their styles. If you were to go back to the late 1970's and present Washington, himself, with a copy of this album, he might be surprised that he was still a singer more than thirty years on, but after getting over that, I can't imagine that he'd be too shocked in what he was hearing. He's clearly found a winning formula which has gotten him through another gem of an album in "Masterpiece". I often go out of my way to avoid using lame, ridiculous and worrisome clichés such as 'don't give up' and the full on GHOULISH 'follow your goals/dreams', but they're all applicable here as are ALL of this determination driven inspiring Reggae songs that are stuck in your head as Zion High Productions, the Zion I Kings and Glen Washington show the singer to be STILL right in the middle of a seemingly endless prime. Well done.

Rated: 4.65/5
Zion High Productions/A-Train Entertainment
CD + Digital 

Review #378

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