Ammunition. Looking back, just as it was for a variety of different sources, 2012 was an amazing year for Reggae music from out of the Virgin Islands. Besides maintaining a general level of consistency which has seen it become, by far, one of the most dependable outlets of Reggae music in the entire world over the past fifteen years or so, we also saw some truly big VI albums which made an impression lasting right into the new year. To my opinion, the biggest of them all was definitely Ras Batch's MAMMOTH "Know Thyself" for I Grade Records. However, just as Batch would return, also returning was a conquering Bambú Station with the heavily anticipated "Children Of Exodus" as well Harry Mo with "On My Way". Not enough? Ras Attitude and Mada Nile would also turn in big work and we, potentially, witnessed the coming of a major new impacting artist as the blazing Reemah would check in with the second best debut album I heard from anyone (biggup Jah Marnyah), "Check Your Words". WHAT! And, of course, Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite were ever-active as well and delivered two winning moments in "In Awe" and "Children Of Jah". And that's just the albums - while he didn't have a full set, Pressure Busspipe may've just had one of the strongest years of his entire career and also active and impressive was NiyoRah. DAMN! The year would leave rather large shoes to feel and cast an even larger shadow on the year to follow, but as we take a look at the concluding first quarter of 2013, it has maintained and it has been a joy to listen to! Again, Midnite has been active and has delivered a big moment in "Free Indeed" (more on that in a minute) and a dubbed out version of the aforementioned "Children Of Jah" - and we likely won't complete another quarter without the releasing of two further Midnite albums, "Lion Out Of Zion" and the followup to "In Awe", "Be Strong". Ancient King also shot out with "Ethiopie" and even Abja has returned with "Songs Fa Jah" (which I really need to get because I haven't heard it yet). Also very worth mentioning is Empress Ima, whose debut album "Ah We Deh Ya" also arrived this year. If it was December and we were saying this things, that would be a good year in my opinion, but something REALLY nice has also reached as esteemed vocalist from out of St. Croix, Army, now returns with his own first album in half a decade.
|"Rasta Awake" |
Army's name is one which is synonymous with CLASS. He has a way of going about making his music which really just sets him apart from almost everyone else in the genre. It is a style which has taken awhile to grow on me but now, at the relic-like old age of thirty-one (…when did I get so damn old!), it is one of which I am very appreciative. Although the singer previously had four (now five) albums to his credit, it was within the time frame of the most recent two when I became a fan. Back in 2005 he would deliver the mighty "Rasta Awake" for the aforementioned I Grade Records and a few years later he would come back with the arguably even stronger "Zion Soldiers Chant". Both of those albums would see him, largely, working alongside the most venerable Tuff Lion, who may actually be back this time (we have the digital version) (but this music here is GORGEOUS, so I think I'd be somewhat surprised if he does not play on it), but for his new album, Army takes us in a most familiar direction in 2013.
|"Zion Soldiers Chant" |
Following releases from the aforementioned Midnite, Ancient King and Abja, who else has their hands on Army's new album??? Of course it is Ishence & Higher Bound Productions (FAR and away the most impressive label of the first quarter of the year) at work once again as they help to bring "Dredlocks Time" to fruition. I had absolutely no idea that this album was even in the works (which is odd because HBP has also done a strong job in promotion this year as well) and it just seemed to pop up, credited to 382 Music (which, I think, is Army's own label). That's absolutely fine, however, and it comes as a very pleasant surprise in the still young year. Army's style is one which certainly took quite awhile to grow on me (I had to become wayyyyyyyyyy more mature in order for that to happen) (though I still have very far to go), but these days I'm a big fan and though the time wasn't very long from the time I heard of it until the time I actually heard it, I was well looking forward to "Dredlocks Time". Although the connection in terms of his delivery is relatively easy - Army does sound a bit like his close friend, Danny I (who also has a new album, which I believe is a full Spanish language set) - his actual style is one of a kind. The supremely gifted vocalist is a poet who makes music. I'm still at a point where I am full-on dazzled by Jah9's MASSIVE new album, "New Name" (and I do not figure to be leaving that state at some point) (and that album is in stores now) and she is a literal poet who makes music, this isn't the same thing. Army is someone whose roots, I believe, are as someone who very much intended to become a musician - he just has this amazingly effective poetic quality to what he does which is so unique and so COMFORTING that it is something that kind of leaps out before you hear it. I saw 'new album from Army' and I immediately thought of how nice it would to be able to hear that once again and, as was GUARANTEED, he doesn't disappoint. Like the "Rasta Awake" and "Zion Soldiers Chant" albums before it, "Dredlocks Time" proves to be DAMN strong throughout and, though it'll likely take you more than a few spins to find out exactly HOW strong it is, the trip through will be worth it. Actually, I'm taking another - you can go with me.
Army will almost surely never make an album which is a great deviation from the sets which preceded it. Because of that, which is a good thing in his case, you get the feeling that his music is always a part of a bigger and continuing theme. The latest 'chapter' of it, "Dredlocks Time", gets started with a piece which kind of made me adjust my expectations for the entire album which was to follow it. 'Push De Limit' is GOLDEN.
"So much criticizing
Love no exercising
How you gonna find the calm?
We won't be here to stay
No matter what the size is
Got to realize this
You've got to take this on
That we for sure will pay
Likkle youth better hear me now
No bodda go disturb the town
Nuh tried get pained and sorrow
Make sure your promise keep
Not like snake inna grass ah keep
Don't you accept defeat
Some people push the limit
They're sitting on the edge
Waiting for time
Some people go on turning round
Round and round
But they keep on tripping over
Some people push the limit
Sitting on the edge
Waiting for time
Some people go on turning round
Round and round
But they keep on tripping over
So much likkle warriors
Cowboy, gun followers
Ready now fi tek it on
Out in the streets they play
Is dem fi exercise and you fi minimize
Is dem waan fi eat di corn
Yours will come soon one day
All your food come from di ground
Nah bodda mind dem circus clown
THEY ALL WILL FADE AWAY
Make sure your roots are deep
Cause late night dem still ah creep
Your goods they'll take away"
It isn't the case that I was not expecting much from this album, but as soon as I heard its opener (which is probably my third, or so, favourite song on the album), I thought that maybe Army had outdone himself. Let's continue. Next up is another fine effort in 'Jah Will Guide' which, at least to my opinion, has all kinds of 'hit' potential. The track is a dynamic one and it is one which Army uses to really deliver an excellent message telling people to be mindful of what they do, of course, but to actually DO it, because no matter what you do, if your intentions are righteous and if you are prepared ["Fittest of the fit survive"], Jah will guide. I should also mention the wonderful FREE vibes of that song. It is a quality I'll speak more on later, but you definitely get the feeling that Army was feeling really good when he sang the tune. 'Can't Pause' is a song which took a bit of time (the first of its kind on "Dredlocks Time"), but eventually did get on to me. What I take from this song is that is one which, at its core, is about being prepared for things which happen in life. I think Army is that if you do well IN THE MOMENT, then that is the best that you can do, because you can't slow down or "ease" every situation, so it is best to as prepared as you possibly can be. This song might keep my mind busy for a few years and I'm not complaining as it rounds out what is an excellent start for the new album.
Now is as good of a time as any, I suppose, to make my prevailing point in regards to the music on this album. THERE IS NOT A SONG ON THIS ALBUM - NOT ONE - WHICH ISN'T AT LEAST 'GOOD'. The body of "Dredlocks Time" really shows itself to be full of songs of a seriously impressive quality. So much so is this the case that I don't feel the need to block and categorize this review in the way that I typically do (because it's fun) and instead, I'll just continue to go right down the line and review the next twelve songs sequentially, as I did the first three. They're all some sort of fantastic. So, next would be 'Run Run Run', which is in the upper half of songs on the album in my opinion. This piece is a call to action, but it isn't one in the way I would typically use such a descriptor. What Army is saying is to, essentially, participate and be more active in life in general.
"If you say you inna di race - well start fi run
Cause di man weh start di thing ah press di gun"
He takes it in different directions, but through it all he's calling for people to make attempts and persevere when you have to, to survive in life. Now, after you've done all of that running, Army is mindful of you 'Tripping Over', which is the next song. What I took from this piece was probably something a little different than its original intent by the artist. I think it is a song about staying focused and thus NOT "tripping over". He uses the idea of people putting their trust in more material things and then ending up in situations where money either cannot help or it, specifically, fails you ["try fi roll di dice, but di dice no tip"]. And then there is 'Blood Deh Seek'. PROBLEMS! First of all, the riddim on this song is SO beautiful and bouncing (and I would love an instrumental), that I had to listen to it several times to get to the point where I could actually tune in to what Army was saying and what he was saying was just as crucial as the building track behind his vocals.
"Jah gave us the rain, so that the crops might grow
He gave us the land to share, so let his people go
Your foolish pride believing that you - Your king
YOU'VE JUST BEEN TALKING, BUT YOU'RE NOT LI…LISTENING
Beg you Jah fi release dem deh demon
Some a di youth dem, dem no tink, dem no reason
It's so easy fi dem trigga finga
No pause fi no cause, dem no linga
It's a struggle, it's a battle fi dem hearts dem
Babylon, you know, won't just release dem
It's soon time for facing di judge, whose begging the pardon
Mi seh run!
Mad man inna yuh city, wid dem weapon no boy coulda hold dem
Politician dem ah laugh, you dem sell out
Rasta know seh only money control dem
Blood deh seek
Oppress di meek
All the spoils they keep
Blood deh seek
Oppress di meek
All the spoils they keep"
It registers very highly here and is definitely one of the biggest pieces on the whole of "Dredlocks Time". Next we have the cleansing 'Tru Luv Come Down', which definitely takes its time about it, but does grow on the listener after awhile. It isn't, at all, the type of piece which I imagine generating a great amount of response, but if you really tune it in, especially lyrically, it unravels itself and is one beautiful piece. 'Tru Love Come Down' is not, however, as good as the tune which it precedes on the album, 'Slow Down'. I hesitate to call this one a love song, but that is basically what it is. Where this track differs from most of its kind is that it is very specific, although relatable. I suppose it is Army's style to take such a course, but where 'Slow Down' really makes its statement is in its sound. This song is so COOL that it is candy to your ears if you follow along (and you do). Things continue to be nice to the senses on "Dredlocks Time" as 'There Is Life' rolls in next. Another winner - 'There Is Life' is a composition which, again, has a big message and a wonderful song melding together to the tune of one of the best songs on this album in my opinion. And wrapping up the album's first two-thirds is another impressive piece in 'Stayin On The Line'.
"Fast car in a fast lane
Dem still nuh find it strange -
Looking through dem windowpane
Running every hour, dem ah try fi chase it down
But still face di ground, dem still ah run it round
High stakes, caan run in vain
Got to realize, things won't be the same
Go now, it's truth and rights
Got to check some speed, got to strategize"
For me, this was a piece about just taking your time and being PATIENT in life and, particularly, in the decisions you make. And while I do not know for sure, but I think I've listened to enough of the man's music to say that I would be some form of surprised if Tuff Lion isn't on this song and not just because of the dominant guitar throughout (and it is dominant),
As for the final lot of tracks on "Dredlocks Time", to my opinion they hold quite a few very interesting moments, including its prevailing moment. First, however, we get the song after which the album is named (sometimes I just get tired of saying "title track"), which despite checking in it a blind and CRAWLING pace, is a genius piece of music. This one is just about being proud of who you are and your lineage ["tell dem dis dreadlocks time. Ithiopia you stay in mind"]. Of course, it goes further than that and Army mixes in more than a little social undertones (like I said, he can be very specific), which makes for a very unique composition. 'I'll Return' can be rather complicated, but I take it as a repatriation song of sorts. Just as in the case of 'Slow Down' and 'Run Run Run', however, I can't say that in the usual way in which I would use such a term. I think even more so than an actual physical repatriation, here we find Army singing about a mental one to a way of more unselfish and familial/community type of thinking. Also, 'I'll Return' is not entirely without its own more 'shiny' gifts. It is a very nice song to just listen to which goes purely instrumental, and THRILLINGLY so, in its latter stages. I was REALLY looking forward to hearing 'Bid Dem Goodbye' and it doesn't disappoint in any way. As its very nice title would suggest, the song is about letting negative influences and people in your life go and, by extension, stripping away respect and power from similar forces throughout society. You get that and you get it over such a clear and lovely backing track as well. And then things go even higher.
"Mama Afrika, to you I must go one day
Land of milk and honey - well it no dun deh
They say it's not a deal, but won't drop dem guns deh
Wasting all your time, tell you bout 'some day'
In dis ya modern life
Dis ya modern world
Dis ya modern life
Dis ya crucial time
Modern world, modern time
Modern world, modern time"
'Modern World' is a song which GLOWS so brightly that you can hear it (and that makes no sense, not even a little, but I mean it!) and to me it not only takes top honours on this album, but is one of the best songs I've heard from anyone thus far in 2013. Finally is another excellent track - 'In Time' - which wraps up "Dredlocks Time" in a fine style. This thing is HEAVY and really finds a sound which is somewhere in the middle of the album, which is strong and, in terms of its quality, it's closer to the head than the tail which is saying a lot here.
I did want to just mention something about the entirety of the vibes of "Dredlocks Time". As I alluded to in reference to one song, 'Jah Will Guide', this album has a really nice and easy feel to it. Army isn't necessarily the most emotive of vocalists anyway and his music tends to follow a more familiar course, for the most part (you know what to expect when you buy an Army album), but this project seems exceptionally unplanned and un-programmed - and I mean that in a good way - it seems more like an album which was just vibed and organically created.
Overall, did I mention that it was also fantastic? To my opinion, "Dredlocks Time" is all the album that "Rasta Awake" was and it's very close to "Zion Soldiers Chant" (a borderline 'modern classic' in my opinion). It does hold its own place as well. As I said, Army's continuing themes are generally quite similar, so I don't think he'll ever make something which so greatly leaps outside what he typically does, but this album has different qualities which will identify it apart from either of its two most immediate (great) predecessors. "Dredlocks Time" is big and although I have to give it a somewhat conditional recommendation (because I don't think newer fans should make this their starting point), I'm going to have a hard time believing that the name Army won't be mentioned by many in December when deciding the best albums of 2013. Exceptional.
382 Music/Higher Bound Productions
CD + Digital