Thursday, March 28, 2013

'Still Burnin': A review of "Bring Back The Vibes" by Lion D

I'd like to think that I'm not someone who is particularly easy to impress, especially when it comes to music. Although I LOVE music nearly as much as I love oxygen and, just as I do oxygen, I spend every second I can dealing with it in some way - it does take something more than a nice melody and turning a few clever phrases to really get my attention - and it takes infinitely more to keep it. So because of that, when I do find something or someone who does truly impress me and figures to have the abilities to do so in the long-term, as I've said in the past, you… have to try REALLY hard to shake me. Interestingly, if you look around here long enough, you see cases of precisely that, as this blog has really been a case of watching me absolutely fall in love with the music several artists. There was Messenjah Selah, when we first started, whose music really began to bloom when placed under a 'microscope'. There was Naptali, from 2010, and, of course, Toussaint, a soul singer turned Reggae head who now, two albums later, has yet to diminish at all. Women have also been well represented as, currently, I'm sure my next 'project' is about to be Jah9 and she follows the familiar stranger, Sara Lugo, and the divine magic joyness of Stevy Mahy. These people, whatever they do next and, in some cases, whatever they did last, are things of which I'll sing praises until they give me something else to talk about. Another name who certainly belongs in that lot and somewhere near its head is an all kinds of fascinating chanter from out of Italy by way of the UK who made a HUGE impression with his debut album a few years back. In retrospect, 2009 was a pretty good one for Reggae music albums. Queen Ifrica made her big time appearance with the flawless "Montego Bay" and that same year, superstar Tarrus Riley delivered what remains, in my opinion, his opus, "Contagious". Other big names such as Buju Banton, Sizzla Kalonji, Anthony B, Jah Cure, Gramps Morgan, Lutan Fyah, Pressure Busspipe, Perfect Giddimani ("French Connection", big album) and Mad Cobra all turned in mighty releases as did Ras Attitude, Black Dillinger, Tiwony and DEFINITELY Nereus Joseph. They all made excellent albums which I still listen to today and there were a few classics amongst them as well. HOWEVER, the single best album I heard from that year came from a most unusual source: The "fascinating chanter from out of Italy by way of the UK", Lion D.  
"The Burnin Melody" [2009]
With Italian label, Bizzarri Records, the Lion would make his presence known and place himself on my radars and DARE me not to pay attention on the strength of his MAMMOTH debut set, "The Burnin Melody". That album… That album showed me a talent which sounded like it in was inborn and though it had been well 'handled' by that point, it hadn't experienced a great deal of change throughout the years and seemed to just be a MUCH better version of what was probably there a few years prior. Lion D was, and still is, one of the most naturally gifted artists I'd ever heard. He didn't have this type of ultra-refinement (which, although it sounds bad (and it does sound bad), can be a good thing) (biggup Alaine) and was all kinds of rough around the proverbial edges, but it worked and it worked on an album without an equal in my mind in 2009. Following that set, Lion D didn't disappear either. He continued to make big tunes for Bizzarri and even made a full street album a couple of years on, the solid "Reap What You Sow", and he also did work for other imprints such as Goldcup Records, the mighty Irie Ites and Weedy G Soundforce. He's well kept himself busy and sharp, but 2013 brings us to a point where it just seems to be the right time to blaze again.  
"Reap What You Sow" [2011]
So they "Bring Back The Vibes". The Lion's style, inherently, is one which is, primarily, Roots Reggae, but it's one the Dancehall side because of this loud, but completely effortless delivery. Like its creator, the style is a very interesting and captivating mix of sounds, but it isn't one which strikes you as being so different or strange to any degree. It allows him to accomplish so much when he makes a tune due to an organic versatility and it also lends itself fully to an idea such as what happens on his second album. As the title suggests, "Bring Back The Vibes" is a project with its ears very much pointed to the old school sound and it wasn't a matter of coincidence either. The new album is billed as one for which Lion D specifically recorded every song in preparation of and idea for the new release and he and Bizzarri (who also didn't vanish and just align themselves with one artist throughout that same time and have maintained themselves as a relatively active label, with their latest offering, the Impossible Riddim, which featured the aforementioned Sara Lugo, having reached not very long ago) (Impossible Riddim, in stores now) (and biggup Bizzarri, at one point it seemed like they'd make a new track like every forty-five minutes or so and just give it away for free) seemingly planned everything out. The idea of such a thing occurring is fantastic news to my ears as it is yet another sign of not only how well artist and label do work together, but just generally regard one another. Like its predecessor, which was more of a compilation of tunes, "Bring Back The Vibes" has a decidedly 'loose' feeling to it and that goes beyond just Lion D's style. Song after song comes through and although, like I said, it was clearly planned out, it is SEAMLESS and I didn't get very far into it at all before I remembered exactly what I heard four years ago that made me really have to check this man's music. Four years have changed so many thing (I am now a very, very old man), but some things have stayed consistent such as Lion D's ability to drop a HUGE album. Let's examine! 

One thing that you can definitely say about Lion D is that he always has a lot to say (like me). The first album carried no less than twenty-one tracks and checked in at more than an hour and a quarter. For the new release, there're eighteen tracks (including an intro and two skits, both of which are audio clips from the film, "Rockers", adding to the theme of the album) and it comes in at just shy of one hour. It is that "intro", 'Can't Get Me Down' which gets us started on Lion D's brand new album, "Bring Back The Vibes" from Bizzarri Records and it sets a fine stage for the very first full tune on the album, the glowing 'As One'. This piece is, essentially, a social commentary and a delightful one. Along with carrying a significant and poignant message, the composition is a dynamic and entertaining one which makes this one a big highlight here for me and an excellent way to start. Next the Lion touches a popular subject (although, unsurprisingly, it's become a little more infrequently touched topic lately) on 'No Bleaching Cream'. Like you, I've heard a million of these tunes in recent years, specifically (I wonder why???) (no I don't), so it takes a bit to impress me, but I'm impressed in this case as he delivers one of the album's most lyrically striking moments while not focusing so much on actual bleaching, but instead goes more directly in the way of attempting to instill PRIDE in people of Afrikan descent and it also features a gorgeous harmonica played by the legendary Lee Jaffe. A big song. And speaking of inspiring and big lyrics, you have to check Lion D's call for all lazy people everywhere to get up, 'Work'

"No do tomorrow what you can do today
Cah you neva know what tomorrow brings
Hey boy, no seh you can't, just go for your goals
Watch the way you haffi sort out the thing
In life you reap what you sow!
Mek sure seh you know how fi use your talent and your skill 
Some boy too lazy and mi know dem no fit 
Dem no waan put their shoulder to the wheel 

Work is the order of the day!
Gwan do your things, that's what I say 
Work is the order of the day!
Go fi your goals, don't feel no way
Work is the order of the day!
Work is the order of the day!
Gwan do your things, that’s what I say 
Work is the order of the day!
Work is the order of the day!"

Loved this tune from the very first spin. Despite its rather serious nature, and it is, you can really tell just how much fun and how relaxed the vibe must have been when they recorded this track especially and for me it is a big favourite and I know I won't be the only one saying that.  
"Bring Back The Vibes" features a quartet of very solid and very colourful combinations as well which are sure to draw considerable attention and deservedly so. Check 'Nuh Ramp' which features the Lion alongside the quietly scalding Skarra Mucci. I am smiling a smile stretching from one ear to the other whenever I hear this tune. The two not only make a mighty pairing but, again, you can just hear how much fun they had making a song like this and hopefully we can hear them take it again (maybe on Mucci's next album!). Naturally, another staple of Bizzarri Records' releases, veteran Ras Tewelde also makes an appearance as the two give a tribute to the birthplace of the music they make on the nice 'Sweet Jamaica'. These two actually had a HEAVY song on Tewelde's album from a couple of years back, "One-Way Ticket”, called 'Rastafari Children No Cry' (there were some big names also guesting on that album such as Sugar Minott and Josey Wales) and this is another good one as well. Tewelde is someone who I always find myself meaning to go back and listen to more of and tunes like this make me think I'm missing something really special which is just unacceptable, so I'll get to that. Blacky Grace's may not be a household in Reggae circles YET, but if she keeps singing songs like she does on 'I Need Your Love', she and Lion D's cut of Bizzarri's You Don't Care Riddim. This woman has, by far, one of the clearest and most captivating voices I've heard in a long time! It is beautiful and she not only displays it here, but Grace also sings backing vocals (along with Nikki Burt and Empress Elisa) throughout the album. The biggest name to be featured alongside the Lion on "Bring Back The Vibes" does not disappoint at all as UK star, Gappy Ranks blazes on THE song I was most looking forward to hearing on the album, 'Weh Dem Fah'

"Weh dem fah?
A weh dem ah do yah?
Weh dem fah - si dem a informah
Weh dem fah?
A weh dem ah do yah?
Try stop di youth dem pon di cornah
Weh dem fah?
A weh dem ah do yah?
Si seh dem ah 'gainst the marijuana 
Weh dem fah?
A weh dem ah do yah?
A Gappy and Lion pon 'WANTED' poster

A tru mi name Lion, mi no fraid a dem
Any boy mi no keep dem friend 

A tru mi name Gappy, mi reach di top ten
Nuff a dem badmind try to cause problems

How dem fi diss Rasta, seh dem a imposta
Boy ah run him mouth like a informah
Mi get find out dem a old vampire 
Dem caan diss Selassie I, HIM run di whole empire
Emmanuel, him a di real teacher
Mek wi sail pon Garvey Black Star Liner"

BOOM! This one proved to be everything that I expected from it, just on paper, a then a bit more as the duo produces musical and lyrical DYNAMITE and one of the best songs on the album. 

The best??? Though I have quite a few favourites here and quite a few more which're still developing, at the front of them all is definitely the MONSTROUS praising tune, 'Blessings'. I probably took this song in a different way than it was intended, but what I come away from it thinking of is that Lion D is appealing to everyone to enjoy and appreciate the small things in life AND TO STOP WHINING SO DAMN MUCH ABOUT WHAT YOU DON'T HAVE. 

"I get that inspiration from the Everliving 
 I turn it into music and express my feelings
I got to keep it real and sing songs with meanings
Got to testify - what Jah has done for I!
Cause Jah Jah run things, from ever since
You shoulda know seh Rastafari forever-lives

Though less immediately pleasing than some of the other tunes here, given a little time 'Blessings' expands into this brilliant song which is amongst the Lion's very best! I don't think that is the type of selection which might receive a great deal of attention and there is another GOLDEN pair of selections which I love and may fall into a similar category, 'Babylon' and 'No Victim' from later in the album. The former, which may just have the single best chorus on the whole of "Bring Back The Vibes" and one of the best riddims as well (there's a drum in there somewhere which just sticks out so beautifully to my ears) - laid by The Livity Band who plays impeccably throughout the project - is a social commentary and, effortlessly, Lion D lays a comprehensive notion and you almost don't even notice, until you pay a great deal of attention. THIS tune best exemplifies what I meant when I said that the Lion is capable of accomplishing so much on a single song with his style. 'Babylon’ comes and goes and it leaves a smile on your face, but when you go back and REALLY tune it in, you notice that he's said so much and offered so many different ideas and perspectives over the course of just this one piece, but it all fits nearly perfectly under one 'umbrella' idea. HUGE! For its part, 'No Victim', another one speaking on the ills of society, is also very sizable and does so much in its time. The second verse on that song is powerful as Lion D begins well, but eventually turns it up into a higher lyrical gear. 
I believe 'Try Afta You' is being lifted as the single from the album and as soon as you hear it, it is clear why. The song uses a bit of the melody from Inner Circle's song, 'Sweat' (there isn't a person on the planet who calls that song 'Sweat', it is better known as 'La La La La La' or some variation thereof). It is very likeable and it stays with you, so its choice is no surprise at all. Another fine choice for the future might be (every other song on this album) 'Irie', which was the Lion's track for the Impossible Riddim (did I mention that SARA LUGO also has  song on that riddim???!) which is another creation that is very difficult to dig out of your head and, at least in this instance, that's a good thing (and you don't want to go digging into your head anyway, you might hurt yourself). I'll also say the same thing about 'Mumma', the album's obligatory ode to the greatest person in the world. 

"Jah know seh mi nuh really care what people waan fi seh
You'll always get my love and you will never get di hate
Long time daddy gone and mi nuh know weh him deh
But Mumma love is always there to stay 
I was a little youth, now I'm grown to be a man
I always put my trust in you, you never let me down
And each and every time you give me strength to carry on
No matta all the trials and the tribulation
You always have a smile for me, you never wear a frown
You never be unkind to me, no matta what a gwan 
Mumma you are mi real Queen, you have to wear di crown
Fi you, and you alone, I sing this song" 

Lion D turns his affections in a different direction on 'So Beautiful' and turns out another winner. The track on this song (another one by The Livity Band) is very interesting. There're so many different little sounds going on, including a ukulele which is quite dominant. It isn't the deepest song on the album (although it is still nice lyrically) and you do not expect it to be, but what it is, is a full JOY to listen to. And lastly, "Bring Back The Vibes" closes on a most familiar note as we get what is basically a streamlined version of 'Thanxgivin' from the "The Burnin Melody". As such a big fan of that album, I thought that this was an excellent move and an even better way to end the new album. 
Lion D
Overall, though I will resist the urge to compare the two, directly, "Bring Back The Vibes" is a massive way to follow its predecessor. And, really, I kind of feel vindicated slightly as Lion D now has two albums which, even if you don't rate them as highly as do I, are really of an undeniably high quality level and from someone who has been shouting praises of his talents from the very first time I really heard him, a second album also of a high level may be even more important than the first in some ways. Take that and combine it with a concept which was, again -- given his style, a sagacious bit of planning by the artist and Bizzarri Records and what you have is something so wonderfully carried through and so fitting for an artist of this style and calibre. "Bring Back The Vibes" is an album which wholly fulfils on all of the promise and potential that I heard soaking through "The Burnin Melody". And after having spent the last four years telling everyone who would listen just how good I thought Lion D was, after a release like this - I'll gladly spend the next four doing it all over again. OUTSTANDING.

Rated: 4.80/5
Bizzarri Records
CD + Digital 

Review #427


  1. Hi Achis,
    I am a newbie reggae fan from France who discovered your blog via your reviews.I used to go read them to get as much information as possible on that great music because I am originally an Hip-Hop fan and reggae appealed to me for a long time but I didn't know where to start to fully grasp the best that the music has to offer.
    That's why I thank you very much for all the great work you're doing to get this great music known and appreciated.
    I'm very lucky to have access to hundreds of great reggae albums via my local library but the ones I don't have I try to obtain in CD format because I don't like lossy formats like mp3 so I convert my CD's to lossless Flac format.
    If I am writing you this message it's because I read in the comments of your review of The Burnin Melody by Lion D that you are looking for the physical disc of that album.I just received my copy that I found on and there was another one available if you are still interested for like 19,50 euros (shipping from Germany not included).
    I just wanted to offer some help if you still don't have that CD and still want it.
    I may even send you the link because I had trouble finding that original album sold on the net.
    Thanks again for your great job getting us to know reggae music and Jah Bless.

  2. Thank you for all the nice words my friend. I am no longer looking for that album on CD, but again, thank you so much for reading and I'm glad that I could help.