While I may not necessarily be the biggest fan of everyone we write about, there are so many wonderful artists of whom I just tend to have some of the highest appreciation of for other reasons. In some cases there is an amazingly unique and one of a kind style or something else which may set them apart from the 'pack' or they may have yet another glaring distinguishing trait which makes them stand out for me. Today we look at someone who not only has a unusual and somewhat polarizing style, but someone who I also really appreciate and am continuously fascinated by because how far he's come in his career and just how much he's seemingly persevered, Norris Man. The chanter has made himself into a powerful, yet oft-overlooked entity on the modern era of Reggae music and while I haven't always enjoyed his output, when he is at the full height of his powers, there is absolutely no one in the music like him. Today we take a look at the rocky road which has been the catalog of one of the most curious talents Reggae music has ever produced. Discography: Norris Man
|The music of Norris Man|
"Persistence" [VP Records - 2000]
The way to life. Along with being his first album and arguably the title of what remains his single most recognizable tune, "Persistence" is also, probably, Norris Man's best album to date as well. The now thirteen year old set featured some truly exceptional material and, even now, picking it back up for the sake of this post, I'm almost amazed at just how strong some of these pieces still are which, definitely, puts them near, if not completely IN, a classic category. Of course the title track highlights things here, but it wasn't at all alone and was joined by HEAVY tunes such as 'Undiluted Love', 'Greatest Reward', 'Let Jah Lead the Way', 'Bright Days' [BOOM!], 'Everliving Soul', 'Hold On to Your Faith' and others. It was really an outstanding album and one which has aged very well also. Handling production was Iley Dread from Kings Of Kings, as well as the likes of Scatta, Richard 'Bello' Bell of Star Trail, Colin McGregor (more on him in a second) and Ce'Cile who also sang background vocals on several of the album's titles (as did Dean Fraser, actually). It also goes to show just how popular the lead track from "Persistence" was that it would catch the attention of VP Records in 2000, pushing to Norris Man's most popular and, again, best album to date. Masterful.
"Better Your Soul" [Jah Scout Records - 2001]
Good things. The "Better Your Soul" album now occupies a very interesting place, historically speaking. The album would come via Jah Scout Records and be produced by the just mentioned Colin McGregor (incidentally, Iley Dread's name is Colin Levy, which means that Norris Man's first two albums were produced by two different people named Colin) (actually three) and those, alone, wouldn't typically be the type of résumé which would make for a long shelf-life, but "Better Your Soul", RIGHT NOW, may be the third most identifiable album on this list after the first and the coming fifth. My thought is that Norris was still very much riding the cloud of success that was the massive 'Persistence' (you could argue that he's still riding it) and this album, unlike #5 here, benefited greatly from the closeness in terms of time proximity. Still, that isn't to say that it was without merit, because it wasn't. Though the album would have a bit of a different sound to it, with some R&B as well as some Hip-Hop textures mixed in, it still offered nice tunes in the form of the aforementioned 'Hold On to Your Faith' (McGregor's contribution to the "Persistence" release, the title track, 'He Who Knows' (backed by the RIDICULOUS Grabba Riddim), 'Mek Jah Guide You' and 'Blessed Are Those'. Not his best work, but I do love how this album has seemingly stood its ground and refused to fade away… unlike the next album I'm going to tell you about.
"World Crisis" [Jet Star Records - 2003]
In the hills. "World Crisis" is the first of a pair of albums you'll find here which I feel didn't even come close to receiving the type of attention which its quality would seem to warrant and it’s kind of been tucked away in Norris Man's catalog, to only be enjoyed by fans fortunate enough to have come across it. Through the years, I’ve probably been guilty of overrating its quality to a degree, but I don't really care! I liked (and still like) this album. It was a pretty mixed and entertaining Roots set for its day and I think that, lyrically, it was one of Norris' better efforts as well. There were some really nice tunes on this album and joining the star on the Kings Of Kings produced album were the likes of Pinchers, Anthony B, Frisco Kid and fellow KOK staple, Chrisinti, on two different selections. 'City Lights', 'Congo Shanti', 'Don't Boast' ["Don't boast of yourself, oh evil one, stop fight against your brother! Don't boast of yourself, oh evil one, or some day you will suffer!"], the very colourful 'Traffic', 'Selassie I Hail' [WHAT!], 'Fire Ball', the devastating 'Far From the Light' and even more!
"Dem lackadaisical mind and dem system -
Freak you out, intimidate you, mek you waan compromise
Until, yuh bridge start fallin
That is when you realize you were so far from di light
Dem lackadaisical mind and dem system -
Intimidate you, freak you out so that you waan compromise
Until, yuh bridge start fallin
That is when you realize you were so far from di light
Sign ah show cause a perilous time
Instruments of cruelty - babylon design
Nuclear power, seh dem ah try stop time
Confusion and illusion just fi mess up your mind
Tease you with di vanity, mek ya live like swine
Careless Ethiopian no fight gainst your kind
And turn traitor and spy
I seh this is the reason why"
As I said, I acknowledge that I probably liked this one more than most, but to my opinion "World Crisis" is still an album well worth tracking down, as it never did reach digital format.
"Hey Woman" [Jet Star Records - 2004]
Crossed up. Before you get too far into Norris Man's fourth album, the Cynery Records produced "Hey Woman", the first thing you should know about it is that it wasn't a Reggae album. There was Reggae on the album and its star, obviously, is a Reggae singer and was at the time, but "Hey Woman" was an R&B album. I didn't like this one and, if I recall correctly at the time, not too many people did and I think that is largely due to the approach here. In 2004 (and in 2013 and probably in 2023 as well) Norris Man was someone known, primarily, to really deep Reggae listeners and, if you're going to do something of a 'crossover' album, that's fine, but you're going to want have a more diverse audience outlined. "Hey Woman", seemingly, never found such a willing group of listeners and has faded considerably (and it wasn't THE most well known release in its day either) and while I don't think that it was a terrible album, it is now my least favourite Norris Man album ever and will likely always be.
"Home & Away" [Greensleeves Records - 2006]
'Home & Away'
'Home & Away'
Shine on. Following the days of 'Persistence', definitely the second most fruitful time for Norris Man when he once again caught flames in a studio when he turned out 'Home & Away'. Like its predecessor, that giant of a tune would lead to an album of the same name and it would also be another watershed moment for the artist, as it would mark his first release for the once mighty Greensleeves Records. these days I just look back at this album as being all about CLASS. It was just such a well put together project which really showed the artist in a fine light and his greatest since "Persistence" (and just in terms of an actual PACKAGE, "Persistence" was nice for its time, but "Home & Away" was fantastic for any era). Musically speaking, it was also the second finest album on this list (with respect to the next piece here). You may remember from a few years ago, In The Streetz releasing quite a few albums for Roots Reggae stars such as Lutan Fyah, Luciano, Turbulence, Natural Black and Sizzla and "Home & Away" was amongst them and one of the most popular of the lot. That had a lot to do with the title track which led the way here but wasn't alone. 'We Are The Creator', 'Seh Dem Bad', 'Armageddon On', 'This You Must Know', 'After All' w/Lutan Fyah and 'I'm A Free Man' were all big tunes from an album which is destined to be forever looked favourably upon by almost everyone who heard it.
"Captura" [Grillaras Productions - 2006]
Fittest phantom. As I alluded to in reference to the "Better Your Soul" album, while I think that curiously popular album definitely was aided in the album preceding it being so immensely well-liked (and the artist, himself, at the time), the next time a Norris Man release would be afforded such a mammoth 'opening act', it didn't fair nearly as well. The six and half years following its release haven't been very kind to "Captura" as far as making its existence known. That's really too bad because, at its best, the Grillaras Productions release which featured the actual work of Isalyeikie Productions was scintillating! Following "Persistence" and "Home & Away", it is the next best album Norris Man has ever done in my opinion - it was that good - and not too many people at all ever even remember it. Although it had a few twists and turns (like 'Trade Wind', alongside Lion Face) "Captura" was a fairly straight-forward release which may not have had the immediate 'presence' of the other two albums mentioned here (but maybe it did), but stood mightily on what it did have going for it. The album pinnacled amongst tracks such as 'Captura'. 'Dem Rules and Laws' which featured Turbulence, 'Dem Speeding Up', 'Humble Heart' [BOOM!], 'Fittest of The Fit' and quite a few others actually. There was just a certain quality level on this album which it didn't see much of anything dip beneath and the results, at least in my opinion, made for an album which, although almost completely forgotten these days, was a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL set.
"Heat Is On" [Home & Away Music - 2007]
Cool off. Norris Man, himself, would take the controls on the "Heat Is On" album for his own Home & Away Music imprint and the results would be very mixed, at best. While I do not dislike this album as vehemently as I once did (not hearing it for a couple of years will do that), going back and hearing it now, I still hear what I'm sure I heard initially: "Heat Is On" was pretty boring. As I have attempted to stress here, Norris Man's very unusual can be just as very productive and wholly impressive when it is used correctly. When you use it incorrectly, however, what happens is something like this album which, unlike "Hey Woman", which was just walking on a different side of the 'road', actually made a pretty standard attempt to be a good album and just was not, ultimately. It did have a couple of bright spots in 'This Morning' (which I LOVE!) (love that song) and 'No Love The Culture', but that was all it had going for it to my opinion.
"Know The Road" [Lustre Kings Productions - 2008]
Clean roads. I'm pretty happy to say that the last time I picked up the "Know The Road" album prior to going back for this post, I was surprised, and in a good way, by what I heard. I'd remembered the Lustre Kings Productions helmed album as having been slightly better than average, despite having a lot of interesting things going in its favour, but I'm now able to say that I think it is a GOOD set and one which has grown on me just a bit throughout the years. That has much to do with the fact that the less-attractive [on paper] portion of this album - the solo tracks - have gotten better for me. The combinations are still excellent and with talent on board such as Lutan Fyah, Ras Attitude and Jah Dan Blakkamoore, that is precisely what one would expect. It is still, however, the MAMMOTH Itation Records produced 'When Your Time Is Up' which featured Norris Man alongside Pressure Busspipe which grabs the top prize here. But tunes such as 'Blessing Is All Yours', 'Thanks & Praises', 'King's Son', 'When Babylon A Burn' and 'Power Of Love', all of which I enjoyed to some degree upon the first few spins, sound today even better than they did nearly half a decade ago on "Know The Road", which is probably just as strong as the "World Crisis" album (and probably stronger if I remove my considerable and unwavering bias to that album).
"Modern Roots" [Nordic Steel Entertainment - 2012]
Bag of tricks. Still less than a year removed from its release date and I'm now more appreciative of the "Modern Roots" album than I was when I first heard it and not because it's become a better album to me - it really has not. HOWEVER, what has changed is my enjoyment of the full on paradox that the album was. First of all was the title. "Modern Roots" to me, and probably you as well, seems to denote some type of HEAVY Roots Reggae album and from the very first tune on the album, 'Dutty Babylon', you could tell that wasn't what you were getting into. Even before that you may have known as the label involved here, Swedish based Nordic Steel, wasn't at all a Roots Reggae label and tended to fly further towards the Dancehall and, more often even, the Hip-Hop arena. Also fascinating here was when you combine the sound to artist, specifically for my tastes. If you go back, you'll see where I most prefer Norris Man is on straight-forward Roots music and while it is that type of sound which stars here for me, the fact that I didn't dislike "Modern Roots", and actually enjoyed a great deal of it, is somewhat remarkable. Emblematic of that is a tune such as 'The Crown Of True Glory', which was… something else with typical Reggae subjectry, but I REALLY liked it. So to watch him excel in such a varied vibes is, again, very interesting. All of that made for one vigourous journey of an album and I haven't even mentioned the fact that it contained what is probably one of the best songs I've ever heard, the MASSIVE [BOOM!] [BREAK SOMETHING!] 'King of Your Soul'. Breaking templates and expectations everywhere they exist.
"Ghetto Life" [Partillo Productions - 2012]
The mirror. How odd is it that the most recent Norris Man album prior to 2012 would come four years earlier and not only would he end that stretch of absence from album shelves, but he'd do three times over and TWICE on Swedish labels. Following "Modern Roots" by a couple of months was "Ghetto Life", another extremely interesting release from the also very interesting Partillo Productions. Just as was the case for Nordic Steel, I'd never known Partillo to be much of a Roots Reggae label. They'd done a variety of different things, including Hip-Hop and, perhaps most notably, the Perfect Harmony Riddim, which was kind of Groovy Soca-ish (and OUTSTANDING). Also, once again, we got a very Reggae-centric type of a title in "Ghetto Life" for an album which didn't figure to be such a project when you took the behind the scenes matters into consideration, but with all of that being said, "Ghetto Life" was a FUN album! Yes, the sound was all across the board, but it had enough in the way of strong Roots to keep more familiar fans interested in songs such as the beautiful 'Soldiers', 'Dream On', 'No Folly Today' and the single best tune on the album, 'Jah Provide'. But in moments such as the ultra-focused 'Me Haffi Mek It', the bouncing 'She Want A Warrior', the all Ska'd up 'My Love' and several others, (love the title track), this album showed quite a bit of versatility and if you actually wanted to call it better than the album before it, I don't know that I'd argue with you too much at all.
"Norris Man Meets Mi Gaan: Dubwise Connection" [I-Sight Records - 2012]
Living. I do not like to be LATE to things (love being early, however), but I suppose that it is a good thing that I didn't really dig into the "Dubwise Connection" album until earlier in this year because if I had gotten to it earlier, I may have had to make room in an already well packed and tediously compiled Best Albums list. The album which found Norris Man linking with I-Sight Records and the reputable Mi Gaan band from out of California, was SUBLIME and it also featured work from the always masterful and Achis Reggae favourite, Tuff Lion. All of that lets you know exactly what type of a musical experience was to be had on "Dubwise Connection" (if the title wasn't enough) (although, as we've established, titles are not always accurate) (they were in this case), which featured fifteen tracks and a mix of six dubs and nine vocals (interestingly! By my surely incorrect count, six of Norris Man's album have had exactly seventeen tracks) (just thought you'd like to know that). It was also brimming with winners. Songs like 'Woman Have Faith', 'Rastaman Chant', 'Ancient Scrolls' [BOOM!] and the gorgeously familiar opener, 'I'm Trying' led the way on an album which I probably should have reviewed at some point.