Sunday, March 31, 2013

'His Time': A review of "Much More To Life" by Norris Man

Keeping pace. We talk, occasionally, about certain individuals who are just at a point in their respective career where it seems as if they can do no wrong, musically. They've entered either a wonderful stretch or, in some cases, have completed their developmental stages and are just at a point where they are in their musical prime and are seemingly capable of and are to be expected to make great music almost every time you hear from them. Today, however, we deal with a streak of a different kind (at least I think we do), one which is very unusual and appears to becoming a sticking trend. When you talk about activity and all forms of it in its most prolific state in Reggae music, pretty much all lines lead towards Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite, at least when it comes to albums. When it seemed as if the stretch of late 1990's/early 2000's prolificacy in terms of Reggae albums from certain names had ended (and it has), someone forgot to tell Midnite and they've continued along, keeping a downright odd pace. And there really is no one else even in that range anymore. Previously, we'd look at people such as Sizzla Kalonji (who did have two albums last year, which would have been the first time that happened… since the last time it happened), Jah Mason, Turbulence, Luciano, Anthony B and the likes who would have kept similar schedules but, as I alluded to, those days are, essentially and presumably moving forward, gone - I think. Last year may've been a apparition, but of all the people making big music in what turned out to be an unforgettable year if you do love Reggae music, a couple of others really stood out for their prolificacy. One was, of course, Anthony Que who made a fan out of me in dropping two of the biggest albums of the year and a couple which were of a quality I didn't really think he was going to bring, "No Fear No Man" and the MASSIVE "Meditation Time". And then there was Norris Man. As someone who has surely never been known as being an ultra prolific voice, the vocalist just did some 'different' in 2013 and when the year ended he would have three more full albums to his credit than when it started. Seemingly to make up for a bit of time lost as it had been four years since previous set (2008's "Know The Road"), suddenly Norris Man had decided to make 2012 his year and you have to give him credit: He had a great one. 
Norris Man in 2012
So why stop now? Don't. Of the many very interesting things about Norris Man's work in 2012, one of the most remarkable was that the first two of his subsequent trio, "Modern Roots" and "Ghetto Life", would actually find him working with two different labels from out of Sweden, Nordic Steel Entertainment and Partillo Productions, respectively. Those two albums were of a very varied style as well. The former, despite its title, was a mix of Reggae, Dancehall and even Hip-Hop (though it would carry what has become one of my absolute favourite Norris Man songs ever, the conquering 'King of Your Soul' and the latter, though more straight forward, would also be a healthy mix of differing styles. The third album, "Dubwise Connection", which found the chanter linking with the band, Mi Gaan and the brilliant Tuff Gong, was also his best and, easily one of the finest that he's ever done. This year, however, Norris Man finds himself recording on more 'familiar ground', in more ways than one, as he now delivers his 2013 album (or at least his first one), "Much More To Life"

In making a project much more within the framing of his more 'traditional' style (although I should give it credit - "Dubwise Connection", as its title would actually suggest, was superb Roots Reggae music), Norris Man finds himself working with a much more consistent 'stop' along his musical journey, our old friend Sherkhan and company at Tiger Records. To my knowledge (which is almost surely inaccurate), "Much More To Life" becomes the fourth artist album released on the label, following Perfect's outstanding 2009 set "French Connection", and "Ghetto Princess" from Diana Rutherford and Bazil's "Stand Up Strong" - both from 2011. Although this album wasn't at all on my radar until quite recently, it shouldn't come as a full surprise. Along with his very busy 2012, Norris Man isn't exactly a stranger to working with Tiger Records. In fact, along with a small group of vocalists which includes both Rutherford and Perfect, he seems to be one of their own favourites as well, so while this album doesn't come with a large build-up, given the musical relationship between Norris Man and Tiger Records and the penchants of both to do albums, it isn't one whose existence is very shocking. For the interest of fans, such as You and I, it's also a very good thing. Norris Man has done some very good work with the label over the years on a variety of their different creations and, as I've said in the past, while he may not be one of the most consistent names around, when you can get him in a good form, the results are virtually guaranteed to be GORGEOUS! At his very best and even in being pointed in the general direction of his best, Norris Man's talents are both unusual and wholly captivating. If you are able to appreciate his work (and obviously you are, otherwise you wouldn't be reading a review this long), then you know how he almost seems to make his own category of music as he sounds almost nothing like any of his peers and has a style which, alone, is somewhat polarizing, but it's also one which I've grown to love so a "GOOD NORRIS MAN ALBUM" is one which will never have to work too hard to find room on my players - even after what he did last year. The question, however, is precisely how good is "Much More To Life"? The answer is very. Let's talk about it. 

The album seems to have a very streamlined and personal type of vibes to it throughout. It seems to begin at the cover which is very simple and, again, personal - that apparently was the thought behind it as well. One of the most fascinating aspects of this project is the presence of six different Skits which really just kind of carry the album along with Norris Man, occasionally chiming in to give an opinion or an explanation at various points along the way. There're six of them in total (including an intro) which pushes the track number here to an obese twenty-three, which was daunting because I am… ridiculous and, unlike everyone else, I simply have to mention every song on the album, so seventeen is not only much more manageable for my own selfish purposes but, if I recall correctly, six of Norris Man's previous albums have exactly seventeen songs on them (WHAT!) (Yes, I am a nerd and I remember things like that). Following the intro, which is one second long, we get to the very first song on Norris Man's brand new album for Tiger Records, "Much More To Life", 'Murdera'. The album's opener is a beautiful song and not the smallest detail of which is that golden track behind it. That thing grows and grows throughout the song and, by tune's end, it has built to the point of really delivering a high level of intensity to a composition which demands such emotion. For his part, Norris Man delivers one of the finest pieces on the record and a significant social commentary. Following the second skit, on which Norris gives a setting for the tune to follow, the title track, which is actually very good in its brevity. The song is also a winner. It's probably one of the more broadly focused selections here, but it is still very well written and the riddim, although somewhat dynamic, is very simple and fits the song very well. Things go considerably higher on the next tune in, however, the excellent 'Warning'. 'Warning' is high-powered and AGGRESSIVE modern Roots Reggae music which is something the chanter is very strong at when he really makes an attempt at pushing something with a bit of a BITE to it and this tune is the first sign of something like that on this album. 

"I buck dem pon di wicked man deh
Wickedness is what di whole a dem portray yes
But, at the dawning day yes-
They're gonna their dirty way yes
I have nothing to say yes
Let Jah be the judgers of the judgers yes
And the rulers, the rulers of men"

Here we find him in a bit of a mood as people who continue to live in negative ways ["you're messing up! You're fucking up!"] seemingly ignore the warning that the trouble their negative works will bring to them. 

As I said, "Much More To Life" is an album which really seems to be a  very personal creation to my ears and eyes, and one which is intentionally so. In its twenty-three tracks, Norris Man covers so many different aspects of life and it doesn't come off as being overly-programmed at all in the way of him trying to make songs to cover a variety of different topics. In what has to be its most organic moment, he delivers a pair of songs in 'All Day Long' and 'Dreaming', which make for a powerful pair. The first is actually the stronger of the two, but it has kind of a 'loose' feeling to it a times, especially in its second verse. Then when 'Dreaming' comes over, you notice that it carries the same riddim as the tune ahead of it and it also has a very free vibes to it, but even more in its case. I actually take them both as a pair, they're just one really long good song to my ears, but they become intertwined on the skit which follows, the album's final, on which the artist says that it worked out exactly like that: "We have just recorded that song. So spontaneously - just right off the bat, off the top". That's fantastic because what I'm imagining is the track playing and Norris enjoying it so much after completing the first song that he basically just kept singing and another tune, one with its own meaning and uniqueness, was born. So the skits, although very short in most cases, definitely do add to the texture of the album and help it along quite a lot. This one, especially, is very informative and is my favourite as not only does Norris Man outline what happened in the case of 'Dreaming' but he also goes into inspiration and music in general - pinnacling at one point when he says that sometimes not even he, himself, comprehends what something he does is or where it comes from. On their own, neither of these tracks, although well solid, register amongst the album's finest moments, but taken together and then with the skit - it is a HUGE highlight here.
Also from Tiger Records
Also making their marks on "Much More To Life" are a few tunes which're familiar to my ears as they are Norris Man's songs from previous Tiger Records tracks. Such a tune would be the most identifiable piece, on paper, on the album to my eyes, the LUSH 'We Are The People'. This tune comes through on my favourite riddim from Tiger's vault, the Box Guitar (and every time I hear it, I just immediately start yelling, "we ready, ready, ready, ready, ready, when the revolution start!!!") (biggup Junior X), where it was the second best offering. It hasn't lost a thing over the past few years and I was so happy to see it on this album, where it also ranks very highly. The song is fantastic and is probably the best vocal display you'll find here. Standing out as well is an earlier pair of love songs, 'Let Love Control' and 'My Feelings For You'. As far as the latter - I knew I knew that song from somewhere and although it took me entirely too long to put together, I'm glad I took the time because as I listened to it over and over I really started to enjoy it again. It's an acoustic piece and very skeletal on the Dutty Foot Riddim, but it's the best song of its kind on this album and I'll tell you again, don't just hear it once and pass it over, it takes a minute to advance. 'Let Love Control', on the other hand, brings no such delay. It's big from first spin on the Ol' Sitt'n Riddim as Norris Man, again, turns in a very impressive vocal performance. There's also the sublime 'Trying Man' on what may be Tiger's most well known composition, the Wharfedale Riddim

"Yes I am a trying man
Want my stability
Survival is the game
I've got to ignore the pain
You see we work so hard
Bound to get over
Binghi man tough up wi heart
This is what they say now
All the rumours they spread, whoa
And I seh Rasta will prevail!

They cannot conquer me
Rastafari protect and keep I & I alive
They cannot conquer me
Cause mi protected by The Most High that is higher than high
They cannot conquer me
Rastafari protect and keep I & I alive
They cannot conquer me
Cause mi protected by The Most High, higher than high

We believe in ourselves
Nothing to pull us down
We got to go through -
Firm and be strong
This is the revelation!
It is the day!
Got to be strong
When many rumours are said - and I said whoa
Rastaman no watch no face"

I love that song (on what remained of that track after Tanya Stephens smashed it over her head) and I had kind of forgotten about it, but an album like it this can definitely give it a much deserved reincarnation. I also know 'Read Between the Lines' (which has another fine skit preceding it), from a mixtape that Sherkhan did from a few years back called "Reggae Zone" (a couple of other songs from this album were actually on it as well - 'Let Love Control' and 'We Are The People') and there's also 'Jah Rule Always', which is a fantastic praising piece from Norris Man. 

Still now, with all of that being said, the single best moment that I hear on "Much More To Life" is from a new song, or one which is new to my ears, the mammoth 'The Soul'. TEARS! There is just something about this tune which made it crawl all over my affections in about four listens or so and, eventually, it reached a point where it was just this very curious (it doesn't really sound like any other song on the album) piece which had well grown on me. There're elements of Gospel and maybe even a few other things, but whatever you want to call it they mine gold on this track! Another track which I had never heard which is damn impressive is 'Oh Jah'. It is another one which comes with a nice skit in front of it and what follows is another  fine praising tune - and one of a similar quality level of the aforementioned 'Jah Rule Always'. 

"His foundation is in the Holy Mountain
King of Kings, so dem crown him
I see the greatest of the greatest surround HIM!"

It isn't at all the most complicated of moments you'll find, but the melding of lyrics and riddim here is one of the most remarkable moments on the album and, much like as was the case with 'Murdera', what you see is an amplification of the song, in general, and what you end up with is such an EXCITING Roots piece that it cannot go ignored. What remains are a few decent pieces such as 'Woman Of Virtues' and 'Anytime You Need My Love'. They're not of the same class of the other pair, 'Let Love Control' and 'My Feelings For You', in my opinion, but they both have their moments. 'So Much', which has a skit, is a nice song which is FOOD for an over-thinker like myself. What I ultimately took from it was that it is a reflection of life - directly. Norris Man addresses so many different things in the tune, with the one unifying theme being that life offers and presents "so many different things" that, like this song, it is someone frenetic and chaotic, but in this instance, that is a good thing - because I think that was the actual intent. And finally, "Much More To Life" concludes with another strong acoustic set (which I think is the album's third), 'Ovastand'. This song is another one where you get the feeling that it just kind of organically developed into what it becomes. Although it isn't very complex, there're many different ideas expressed with the main one being to comprehend not only what it is that you are going through, but also to do the same and appreciate what someone else's situation may be. Although not at all surprising and, in fact, somewhat expected, 'Ovastand' is still a nice ending for this album.
Norris Man
Overall, I can definitely say that "Much More To Life" features Norris Man in a fine form. This is a "GOOD NORRIS MAN ALBUM" and as I said, such a thing, alone, should be more than enough to get your attention. If it isn't, then specifically what this album has going for it are several different things. Looking back, one of its more remarkable aspects is its versatility. It is very much a modern Roots Reggae record in the typical sense, but it is a subtly colourful one which is a big credit to both Norris Man, Sherkhan and Tiger Records. Also the skits really do add quite a bit here (which is a good thing, because there are so many of them). They're almost like six small interviews and as someone who really enjoys attempting to break things down, when you have the person who wrote the song doing that for you or at least putting you in the proper direction, it is a very helpful and creative addition to mix in. Following such a remarkable year that he had in 2012, Norris Man continues to make headlines in 2013 with one of the better album releases of his career, "Much More To Life". Very good. 

Rated: 4.35/5
Tiger Records
CD [I THINK] + Digital 

Review #428

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