Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "The Way" by Midnite

Let us continue. An extremely high level of prolificacy certainly does have its good points. Speaking musically, of course, one of the main things is that you're never really too far out of the spotlight and never really too far out of the collective attention span of your audience. Also, if you're any good at all, being prolific alone and, by extension, being dependable and consistent is a rather remarkable trait which will definitely keep you in demand in some way or another. Like I said, there're a lot of good things about staying very active and they well outweigh the bad. HOWEVER, there are negatives as well. One of the main aspects of following artists whose activity knows no bounds, as a fan, is keeping up. It's one thing to be on tour and punch up a schedule, which isn't very hard, but it's another of an entirely different type to be able to keep up with singles and, in the rarest of cases, albums. Obviously the keepers of ultra-activity in Reggae music of  the modern era has been pioneering and unstoppable Virgin Islands group, Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite who, in every way when it comes to music, has had very little in the way of peers when it comes to remaining visible and active. This has only added to one of the most unusual and powerful legacies in the history of Reggae music and, in general, it hasn't really hurt them. The only real question there is that if you trace the now forty-six piece catalog of Midnite (and we have - "Discography: Midnite"), you're likely to come across more than one or two releases, and not from the most obscure sources, which just didn't receive a great deal of attention. When you push that many albums, it's almost impossible for… people in charge of paying attention to albums, to cover them all and while I feel that the media, generally speaking, does not give Midnite the attention 'they' deserve as one of the single most popular entities in Reggae today (which means that all of their albums, almost by definition, are big deals), in order to actually do it would be very difficult. And I think that when a new album pops up the line of thinking is something such as 'okay, we'll get the next one' and you really only see a broad response or even a detailed review of their work, these days, when someone has a reason to give that stage of attention - such as today, when I have my own reasons to go traveling back to one of the lower profile Midnite albums of recent times. 

My reason is a bit of 'floating' research. If you haven't been paying attention to my work, the last five albums that Midnite has released, "Anthology", "Kings Bell", "In Awe", "Children Of Jah" and most recently, "Free Indeed", have all impressed me greatly. They've been collectively and individually outstanding in my opinion and while, as I've said in the past, I do not consider  myself the biggest of Midnite fans, I'm damn curious to see if suddenly my mind has been opened further to something which had been there but slightly inaccessible to my ears or if Benjamin has 'simply' stepped up his otherworldly skills. So it was my idea to keep going. Where I landed was on an album from a very familiar source from not even a couple of years ago which went basically overlooked by everyone besides the most passionate of Midnite fans (and even some of them), 2011's "The Way"
Also from Midnite & Rastar Records
This album came via the always present Rastar Records where it was, by my count, the sixth release of the Midnite/Rastar collaboration. Rastar's Midnite albums are very interesting because they almost seem like a microcosm of the situation that I've predicated this review on. They release so many albums that not only is it difficult when thrown in alongside other releases from Higher Bound Productions, Fifth Son Records, of course I Grade Records and the likes, but it can be difficult just within the releases from that one label. "The Way", however, is even unique even THERE because, as I suggested, it may be the least known of all the albums birthed in this union. Also, it was sandwiched between a couple of releases which were, arguably, two of the most popular Rastar did with Midnite, "Treasure" (most noteworthy because it was the first time VP Records had gotten involved on a Midnite album, as a distributor, and it was also in 2011) and the still surging aforementioned "Children Of Jah". "The Way", on the other hand, was something like a 'bonus'. It was right in the middle of the two and, looking back, probably exists completely in the popularity 'shadows' of both, only about a year and a half following its release date - and that isn't even taking into account the popularity of the other albums of the time, one of which, the aforementioned very popular "Kings Bell", would  be released only a couple of months after "The Way". AND [!] even before "Kings Bell" was "Anthology", which caught a great deal of the interest from the more hardcore and seasoned Midnite fans because it was an actual MIDNITE album. So! As you can see if ever an album wasn't given a great opportunity to succeed, this would have been that album. But its presumed success and popularity, or lack thereof both, wasn't at all indicative of what people who actually listened to it heard. I've never considered "The Way" to be a bad album or a 'strange' one. It existed in my mind as a pretty good one, actually, with several strong tunes. Still, I'd never really broken it down and put a reviewer's mind to it, but as you can see, my curiosities finally took over and today we take a look back at an album which maybe not too many people heard, trying to find out how good it really was. Let's see for ourselves. 

This album was all across the proverbial board in terms of its sound. While I wouldn't at all call it 'dynamic', on the whole, it had moments which could definitely be referred to as such, but it also had more than its fair share of heavy moments as well as bits in between. The result was a project which, quietly, was very thorough and 'reachable' to fans of many different levels in my opinion. It would be a tune which was equal parts heavy and open, simultaneously, which would get things started on Midnite's 2011 album from Rastar Records (the second of that year, actually, after "Treasure"), "The Way", in the form of the strong ‘Love Among'. I did really enjoy this song the first time I heard it and now it doesn't seem to have lost even slightest of its allure in my mind. The riddim, as basic as it could possibly have been, backs a delivery from Benjamin which is kind of a singing chant, making for one beautiful experience of a song. Of course, when you add that to the message being given, again, you have a very impressive moment. 

"Cultivate love and loyalty
Cultivate careful, temperate speech
Words make body temperature change degree -
Inside of human being
Here are the words of His Majesty 
A new race is already a web of interdependency
Weather affecting the prices of things increase
Meeting needs in climates of hostilities"

The second track up is another which is heavy, although very nice to the ears, 'Bun A Corn'. This tune I appreciated from the first listen, but I don't think that I appreciated it in full. My main interest here were the lyrics and if you've heard the song you know exactly why that is, but it is a fully 'armed' tune which is able to reach listeners on more than just a straight forward way, so definitely pay special attention there. Wrapping up the beginning lot of songs on "The Way" album was really one of the best songs on the album in 'Showed Love'. This is the tune that I reached on this album, in listening to it for this review, where I literally caught myself and remembered that this was that album. 'Showed Love' was a standout in every way and a song not to be missed. 

Was this album better than I (and pretty much everyone else) has given it credit for being? Yes. Yes it was. It contained a handful of tunes which were somewhere in the range of excellent, and even though it had definitely been awhile from last hearing most of them, I was happy that, somewhere in my mind, I had retained bits and pieces of the absolute class of "The Way". Along with 'Love Among' and 'Showed Love', was a piece like the gorgeous biblically steered 'They Ya Ready' ["ready or not, ready!"]. Lyrically speaking, this tune was VINTAGE Vaughn Benjamin and completely dazzling!

"Word, sound, architectural numerology
Manipulated into prey and dominancy 
Put material advantage inna the economy 
And psychological scorn and arrogancy"

Immediately following that piece was another one which, although took awhile originally (and took awhile to come back to me), was a real highlight on the album, 'Still Going Forward'. Ostensibly, this is precisely the type of track which, like the album on which it appeared, is rather easily lost in the proverbial shuffle, but the way that song is written and then arranged made it golden to my ears and I'd like to think that I wasn't the only one (but you know I don't care if I was). It was a fantastic song. Concluding that stretch was an even stronger song in my opinion and either the second or third strongest song on the whole of the album, 'Rastaman'. I barely even recalled this tune being present on "The Way", but when you follow along with it (or at least when I do), it reached a point which just made me smile and feel good and it re-cemented its place in my mind. It also has this very subtle and beautiful chain of melody which makes it, also, one of the more sonically pleasing efforts here as well. The title track was another winner on the album named after it, but not in the way of most of the other tunes that I'm mentioning in this portion. The selection was very basic, but I think that was part of my attraction to it --a large part of my attraction to it-- and what it made it so enjoyable. The song immediately preceding it, 'Such Ones', was very similar in approach and impressive also, but 'The Way', the song, had something hard to identify which really made it a special song and this wasn't a longtime conclusion for me. It's grown on me quite a bit. 

"To know of the herbs and root
To clean up some cells with fruit
Replenish and repair tissues
Heal broken hearts and soothe
There's orderly and rude
There's exclude and include
There's harmony and feud
And everyone still wants to be healthy and happy

Some found the way
Just from the good"

'Pon The Line' was another really good song, but the single most striking piece on "The Way", in my opinion was DEFINITELY the awesome 'One Ya'. TEARS! In every way I know to measure quality and my appreciation of a song, particularly a Midnite song, this tune excelled and it continues to. It starts off high, but as it progresses, 'One Ya' ascends into this… lyrically perfect [!] composition and it comes across as just spilling forth from the man's mind - like it's coming from another source and Benjamin is the conveyor of that message . This is a powerful song and it's well become THE song I associate with this album. The remaining tracks on the album were also pretty good as well. The best of them all, to my ears, is 'At Will', which I almost want to go back and include in the previous batch (biggup Ras Batch) (biggup Ima!) (new album, "Ah We Deh Ya", in stores now) (good luck finding it) (I digress) because it is very good. There was also 'Neva Before' which is a tune I really used to love and is still a mighty piece this day.

"What a joy when di people journey inna Jah
Inna motive and intention and behaviour
In economics inna how fi share di world culture
How di strong and di weak all live together inna yah 
Everyday inna joy and laughter
Inna di tings you haffi love and they offer
Concentration, now di outcome turnover 
That's why you setting inna di meantime now yah
That's what you studying: Inna di know and di how yah
The mode of advance, Selassie redeem I, I show yah
Unmovable principle that weh ahgo reach all ovah
Heart feeling like a party inna particular
Make this a day weh haffi enjoy, not disaster
Dem fraid fi see it, when di people choice take over
Make sure you rooted in Jah and righteousness love yah"

And finally also check a pair of nice songs in the stirring 'Talk' as well as the final song on the album, 'Better Mus Come'. The former is really good as is the somewhat Hip-Hoppified latter and both help to construct a solid 'body' of music on "The Way". 
Rastar Records
Overall, while I'm not going to say that this is an album which is as strong as its five most immediate 'descendants’, it is easily much better than the fate that it received and should really be held in higher esteem than it is today. I've always felt that this album, as I said, just had a really awkward set of circumstances surrounding it and, even for what it was and when it was, it was overlooked (if that is at all possible) by so many people including some of the more devoted Midnite fans. It wasn't a matter of people hearing it and just not liking it or it thinking it substandard, because it clearly was not and it also, just as undoubtedly, deserved a much better bit of attention than it received. But it's never too late to go back (well, I guess that it is sometimes) and you can take care of that right now by going back and having a listen. "The Way" was not the best Midnite album of all time, it was not close and it wasn't even the best Midnite/Rastar Records collaboration of all time. What it was, however, was a more than respectable addition to one of the most amazing catalogs in the history of Reggae music.

Rated: 4/5
Rastar Records
CD + Digital 

Review #411


  1. I'm glad & surprised you reviewed this one. Love it. Midnite delivers blessings.

  2. I pretty much agree with this review. I happened to listen to this album earlier today and had similar feelings about it.