Friday, November 30, 2012

'Still Not Holding Back': A review of "My Way" by Wayne Wonder

A giant. Should it be your goal to, for some very, very strange reason, find evidence of the existence of CLASS in music, I would surely recommend that you begin your search somewhere besides the current landscape of modern Dancehall music. Not that you won't find any amongst the artists, you will, but you won't find it in any abundance and it doesn't seem to be a situation, at all, which is headed for a changing any time soon. In fact, for the most part, if you listen to Dancehall music these days (and you do), you've probably noticed, and may even enjoy, just how full on strange the music has gotten in recent times. And as someone who forever takes pride in the fact that I'm not [yet] that disgusting old man who will seemingly go out of his way to make sure you know that he thinks that everything from his youth was better than it is today, it's kind of making it difficult for me, but like I said, it is there if you're REALLY interested. I'd look at someone Agent Sasco as a classy artist as, when even near his absolute best, he comes across as someone who has spent… years and years writing his lyrics and perfecting his delivery. And I'd also look at someone like Ce'Cile, for whom 'class' definitely also takes on a visual context [DUH!], and others like Romain Virgo, a still nicely active General Degree, even Sean Paul and just a few other artists who present their music in a way which gives the listener the impression that the general intent was for the final product to sound as good as it possibly could. Another name which belongs in that lot or which that lot belongs with is certainly Wayne Wonder who, given his longevity and prevailing contribution to the genre, may just belong in a class of his own. The singer has now a career which stretches back a nearly ridiculous thirty years and, although he's surely experienced essentially everything the life of being a musician has to offer, Wayne Wonder remains someone whose music, with one large exception of course, really hasn't had to go through a glaring shift as far as its audiences. You'll find Wayne Wonder fans everywhere, young and old, and while you would think that he might reach a point where you'd see this kind of, very typical, gradual aging of his fans - but it hasn't happened. While the historicity of WW is reserved for older fans, the actual appreciation of his music still belongs to pretty much everyone who has ears. 

Because it only takes such a person to realize that he makes 'wonderful' music. It's going on a decade now from the time when Wayne Wonder achieved his biggest successes, which were raised on the strength of the still MASSIVE 'No Holding Back' (a bonafide modern classic) tune and album of the same name, which went around the world and back several times. Following that, he would also reach back in 2006 with the excellent 'Foreva' album for VP Records which, in retrospect, was probably an even stronger project than its predecessor. And from then WW has remained active and remained in the spotlight throughout the years, just as he has managed to do for his entire career - keeping his name one of the most respected in the genre - and his next move is sure to do the same thing again.  
"No Holding Back" [2003], "Foreva" [2007] & "If I Ever" EP [2010]
Wayne Wonder now delivers "My Way", his very first project since the aforementioned "Foreva", which released way back at the front of 2007. Taking its name into context is very interesting because the album marks something of a debut for the vocalist. In late 2010 news broke that Wayne Wonder had broken away from VP Records and was set to do things on his on and he had been, but "My Way" becomes the very first album he's done on his own imprint, Singso Music, which literally means that the album features him doing things his own way and answering, musically, to no one but himself - a right which he has well earned at this point. I should also mention that in late 2010, Wonder would drop a digital EP on his label from a forthcoming album (then still two years away, obviously) by the name of "If I Ever", which really just went to show how his intentions were set and where he was planning on taking his music on the behind the scenes end and also feature three songs which would subsequently appear on this album. Listening to WW's music these days (and all days)is just so easy because YOU KNOW that this album is going to be good. It's not something which requires a great deal of thought. It's going to be a very good album. You know that now and you knew whatever his next one was going to be, from almost six years ago, that it was going to be good. Adding to the attraction in this case is the downright royal group of producers Wonder had to work with here as well. Included in the bunch are very classy maestros Tony 'CD' Kelly and Stephen 'Di Genius' McGregor who provide tracks for "My Way" and, as we'll talk about later, he also links up with very talented vocal artists as well. The sound of the album, largely, continues to push what Wonder has been doing in recent times which is this very CLEAN and, again, refined brand of Dancehall and Lover's Rock which is just incredibly easy on the ears and extremely appreciable and accessible for all types of fans of the genre, new and old, which is a very rare quality reserved for a very select group of artists and an even more exclusive one when speaking of Dancehall. The results, as we've already established, is another nice album much along the same lines of its two most immediate elder 'siblings', "No Holding Back" and "Foreva", as "My Way" proves itself quickly to be on that same level. Let's take a listen.

'Caught Up'

Coming on the heels of nice releases from Cocoa Tea and Beres Hammond over the last month or so, Wayne Wonder just may be the last big-named Reggae artist of 2012 to release an album, leading into 2013 and I would think that the hope (and the expectations) would be to show that an album like this, on his terms, can succeed commercially and, even prior to the first tune spinning, the artist has given it every opportunity to do so. That "first tune" comes in the form of a single from the album, the very infectious 'Caught Up'. In choosing a single, I would think that you would want to pick a song which would definitely stay with the listener long after the tune has completed and because of that, I would imagine that WW and company didn't have a very difficult time here because "My Way", basically, features fourteen such songs, but they did choose so wisely in 'Caught Up', in my opinion. And good luck to you getting that song out of your head (biggup my Wife). Next up is the tune which I believe is the album's next single, the very frenetic (nearly Soca-ish) 'Drop It Down Low' which is a song so evidently aimed at drawing asses of varying sizes in the general direction of dance floors anywhere in the world. It won't have any problems doing that… it just won't. Typically I have an aversion of songs with titles like that, but I don't dislike this song at all, which actually, kind of, features a brief bit from an non-credited Supriz (biggup Supriz). 'Sweet Dreams' rounds out the opening batch of songs on Wayne Wonder's new album, "My Way" and it just may be the best of the initial trio. Of course, I'm absolutely biased in saying that because the tune comes through across a sterling mix of one of my favourite riddims from 2012, the Baddest from Dre Day (which Aidonia left for ruins with his devastating tune, 'Militancy'). The lyrics here are also very clever and a bit of the attraction of this song will be lost on you if you do not pay attention to what is being said. Big tune!

'Drop It Down Low'

With the way "My Way" is set up, the album has a very nice middle portion where things begin to slow down and while I don't say this in the same as I would in reference to the first three songs, really gets EXCITING and diverse. Again, for someone of WW's class and skill, this is what he's been doing throughout his career and it really adds a nice dimension to the album. DEFINITELY the best of these songs here is the Stephen McGregor produced syrupy sweet 'All About You' from a few years back on the Next Chapter Riddim. This song is a vintage level WW love song it hasn't diminished in the slightest to my opinion.

"I've been around the world and back -
And that's a natural fact
It really made a difference in my life
I've toured a lot of places
I've seen so many faces
But none compare, none compare…

It's all about youuuuuuuuu"

The tune is one of the biggest you'll find here and I think it's great that it gets a bit of a 'second-wind' and resurrection on an album sure to be heavily paid attention to. Also ranking highly is the tune following 'All About You' on the album, 'Xtra Ordinary'. This song has a riddim which took me a minute to catch on to because of the vocals, but is sublime (I'm convinced that the instrumental of this thing would be a gold bar). It has a unique sound altogether, so while it did take some time to grow on me, it was well worth it. Check the somewhat electric, but otherwise fairly laidback 'Anna Lou' which sets as another highlight here and another one which doesn't necessarily leap at you and grab you fully on the first spin through. 'Anna Lou' (at least to my ears and probably on mine) has a Zouk-ish feel to it and you could certainly call it R&B, but for me it has that kind of subtle, but wholly up front sound to it which you find in Zouk these days. It's excellent, regardless of how you take it, however. The very important sounding 'Crush On You', for some reason sounds very familiar to my ears and it also sounds kind of like Zouk with its rather 'bright' sounds. Both of these songs, 'Anna Lou' and 'Crush On You' were somewhat unexpected and having read an interview from earlier this year in which Wonder talked about his new album having "twists", I'm going to call these the biggest such on the whole of "My Way".  Even better than those is a later song which has just a slight bit more energy, but is clearly not of the variety of the opening trio or some of the others I'm about to tell you about, 'Lovely Days'. The sound there is a complex and it isn't that kind of natural and organic sound that you would have thought with that title, but it is a bit more forceful to a point - that point being a very nice song. Also check 'This Time', which actually does feature a bit from an announced Supriz (without the presence of whom, no WW album is complete) (and that may actually be a law). 

"I'm coming for you baby so make sure that you are ready, like -
Jay and Beyonce both of us, we're going steady
I got to ease her burden cause her burden getting heavy
I don't want she give way like the New Orleans levy, lets -
Make it a classic like the '74 Chevy
Spice up the love, mi no want it deady deady
Baby we can make a perfect pair
Just like All For One, 'I swear!' "

When things do speed back up, Wayne Wonder has enlisted the help of a couple of friends as making guest appearances on "My Way" are Shaggy and veteran R&B vocalist, the incredibly easy on the eyes Mya. The former, an oft-collaborator of Wonder's joins on the pulsing 'Don't Say No'. This song has been around for quite some time and in a few different forms (including a WICKED one alongside Delly Ranx) and Shaggy still adds a very nice facet to a song ["woman you buck up on a smooth criminal, good fi yah body like a vital mineral"] which is pretty hard to fuck up and isn't on this version either. For her part, Mya chimes in on a song which I've been completely unable to shake out of my mind from the first time I ever heard it, 'If I Ever', which reigns supreme as my favourite song on "My Way". That song is crack for your ears in every way. It has this very LARGE sound to it and while Mya tones it back just a bit initially, it's still as contagious as ever in this version and I'm still not complaining! 'Like The First Time' is another really fine selection and one which sounds right out of the same vibes as the sterling 'Glad You Came My Way' and 'Bounce Along' from the 'No Holding Back' days, which were captivating and somewhat 'loose', but also had this undeniable power (and I mean that outside of just making asses shake, which is a very nice trait to have as well). Check 'Put Your Drinks Up' as well as the Tony Kelly helmed 'Over All' which round out the album as two of its biggest moments. The latter is also somewhat of a changeup because it's a song about perseverance and determination, which steps outside of every other song on the record. Well done! It's very nice to adjust things a bit and while the nature of the song is different, it's very vigourous sound is absolutely not and it's also the single most impressive lyrical display you'll find here as well in my opinion.
Wayne Wonder
Overall, like I said, the actual perceivable quality of an album like this is pretty much sealed when you know that such an album is going to exists. Wayne Wonder's new album - whatever it is and whenever it gets here - is going to be a very good album. You also have an idea, going in, as to how it is going to sound and while there were "twists", I don't think any song here is going to run off any long time (or short time) fans of WW's. The only real question about "My Way" is, specifically, how good is it and to my ears, it's every bit as good as and it belongs in the same, general, company as both the "No Holding Back" and "Foreva" records. If you liked either one of those (and if you liked one of them, you probably liked them both), you're virtually locked to have a great deal of fun with this album as well. Just like I did. In "My Way", Wayne Wonder continues to show his own personal side of the music which brilliantly mixes substantial class and substance with just a bit of grime. The results are as expected: Another winner. 

Rated: 4.25/5
Singso Music
CD + Digital 

{"My Way" by Wayne Wonder releases on December 4}

Review #402

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