Monday, April 29, 2013

'Preheated': A review of "Piece of The Pie" by Junior Kelly

I know you. On one side, there is something very powerful and very attractive and inviting about getting to know a new artist. Besides, most importantly, taking in their music and musical style, as fans we kind of get to know their personalities and their histories and, although very different, it is almost like making a new friend who, hopefully, will 'be' with you for many years to come. On the other side, there is definitely strength in traits such as familiarity and dependability as well. Already having gone through that 'getting to know you' process, there remains a very nice journey in remaining interested in and LOYAL to an artist who has become a proven figure in your eyes and ears. For example… I don't know, let's just use someone like a Junior Kelly today (all types of familiar!). Kelly has been around from forever but still very much is a modern artist whose career, as we'll examine, is a work in progress. And be it singles or albums, until very recently, he has shown himself as one of the most consistent stars of Reggae music of the era, a quality which has not seen him become THE biggest name in the genre, but has earned and kept him legions of hardcore fans full of people like You and I throughout his career. In terms of albums, Junior Kelly found his precise area and has spent the better part of the last decade solidifying it. The chanter fit perfectly into a group which has also included I Wayne, Gyptian, Busy Signal, Etana, Queen Ifrica, Tarrus Riley and others as the official artist roster for, still, the biggest Reggae label in the world, VP Records. There was also Capleton, Lady Saw, Mavado and Tanya Stephens - this group being artists who formerly did their album releases 'exclusively' on the album before subsequently moving on. That's a very interesting next step and of the four that I mentioned, only two of them, Lady Saw and Stephens, have taken it. For her part, Lady Saw (who might make for an interesting subject of a 'Discography' post someday) chose to go independent with her first album following 'walking out' from VP and in 2010 she released her most recent project, the aptly titled "My Way" which, if I recall correctly, did pretty well in terms of promotion at least. Stephens, on the other hand, just up and gave her next album, "Infallible", away for free and there have also been others such as Warrior King who have gone through that process, at least somewhat successfully, as well. Junior Kelly now joins that lot.  
Junior Kelly & VP Records
Why??? Because he completed his contractual obligation in 2010 to the label when he released his final album for VP Records, the terribly overlooked "Red Pond". By my (surely inaccurate and just damn WRONG) count, "Red Pond" was the fourth product of that musical relationship which was very fruitful for both parties - also including "Tough Life" in 2005, the gorgeous "Smile" two years prior and, of course, "Love So Nice" from 2001. With that being said, however, Junior Kelly would also 'release' (whether he knew it or not) (and he probably did not) a string of albums through the… mess that was Penitentiary Records and I won't even annoy you by naming those (although they weren't BAD albums, necessarily). But his next album, whenever it reaches, will be the first in a long time (and I read that his contract was four seven years, which would mean that it stretched from between "Smile" and "Red Pond" - and "Love So Nice" was prior to his exclusivity) which finds Junior Kelly not as a VP artist.  
So! For "the first time in a long time" Junior Kelly is doing things differently, officially, and now he wants his own "Piece of The Pie". Even before getting into the music, there're so many things which are interesting about this album. The smallest detail of which certainly is not the fact that it is the first Junior Kelly album in three years (not including that mess that was "What Will It Take" from two years ago). His albums typically register somewhere between 'very good' and 'spectacular', so it existing, alone and regardless of its maestro, is a substantial piece of news. I was REALLY happy to see when this piece popped up and when I learned a little more about it (not a lot more) (more on that in a second), I was very excited. That next particle of information which really intensified my interest in "Piece of The Pie" was the fact that it was being worked on and released by none other than one of my favourite labels today and one of everyone's favourite, the esteemed Al.Ta.Fa.An. (which is not very easy to type). Over the years they have done some incredible work and -- matching their star here -- if you've REALLY been paying attention, you've noticed that the label has been one of the most consistent houses of production (biggup House of Riddim) in all of Reggae music. Just last year they had a hand in the third best album I heard, the remarkable "Working Wonders" by Mark Wonder for Oneness Records (more on them later, too) and a week prior to this album, they also dealt the latest and self-titled album from vocalist, Bryan Art. So, theoretically speaking, a new Junior Kelly album produced by Al.Ta.Fa.An should be, at its absolute WORST, a good album and I'd still be really excited for such a project. But then I saw the tracklist for "Piece of The Pie" and it slid just a little. For his latest album, the very familiar Junior Kelly steps with the very familiar Al.Ta.Fa.An and does so with a very familiar bag of songs. Checking in at fifteen songs, I was already pretty familiar with just about EVERY song on this album, in one way or another, before hearing this album, making "Piece of The Pie" not a new baking, but an amalgam of… various recipes. Still, and again, such an album couldn't fail, even if it tried to, but it did, unfortunately, diminish a bit of my excitement. Still, let’s take a[nother] listen. 

Perhaps you can never really leave. Though it is Al.Ta.Fa.An who handles the vast majority of the production work on this album and it is their release, it actually comes attached to a subsidiary of VP Records, the exceedingly active, VPAL (which also does the latest from another former VP artist, Sanchez) ("Give Praises [Live]", in stores now). If you are unfamiliar with the style of Al.Ta.Fa.An's work, I should say that Anthony Senior and company make a very pleasing and entertaining brand of modern Roots Reggae and, as I said, I'm a big fan of their work so the prospects of them doing a full set for Junior Kelly was such a nice one, even though I knew, EXACTLY, what was coming as it turns out. Getting us started on Kelly's new album, "Piece of The Pie" is his cut of the label's GORGEOUS Addicted To Music Riddim ["Poverty still deh deh, still deh deh"] [BOOM!], the firm 'Rock Rock Rock'. This tune, like several present here, may be nearly a decade old at this point, but it continues to shine to my ears and is a highlight of this union of artist and label. The tune is also, from a sonic point of view, very indicative of what you can expect on the fourteen tunes which follow. The first that group, the huge praising piece, 'Creator', takes things to an even higher level and, in to my ears, rises to being the single most delicious slice of this pie. 

“Moving so fast and none a dem can break our stride
Realize, organize and then wi can centralize
Jah is with us, so who can be against us?
Who come in with a force so mighty?
Purification cause a so Jah Jah like it

Live the life you love and then feel the joy!
Hail up His Majesty and then feel the joy!"

The track literally sparkles on your ears and although there are several stunningly beautiful songs here, the rest of them are going for a second place because 'Creator' takes top honours. Next we have the first of a trio of combinations on "Piece of The Pie", 'Go Round Dem', which features the rough voiced veteran, Lion Face joining Kelly over the fine Security Riddim. Though not the greatest of standouts on this album, I always did enjoy this song. Kelly's delivery is very varied and it gives this song a looser feel to it, which is something the fiery Lion Face excels at.

"Protect us from di bomb, di gun
Protect us from disease
Protect us from di poison gas weh blow inna di breeze
Defend di Earth, di dirt, di bird, defend di fortress
Defend di river, di ocean and defend di honeybees 
Likkle children are like seed weh di farmer man go sow
Then again - depends on how you treat your crop - that's how it gonna grow
Then again - other words di children dem fi know what dem fi know
Mek dem know seh Ithiopia is the rightful place to go"

And just to conclude the moment : The other two combinations on the album are also very familiar to my ears. On 'Don't Say No', Kelly links with one of my favourite artists right now, the aforementioned Mark Wonder, on a tune which appeared on Wonder's fine album, "The True Stories of Mark Wonder and Friends", also from Al.Ta.Fa.An. Again, it may not be the best song on this album (and I'd love to hear those two make another tune together), but a pairing between Junior Kelly & Mark Wonder is guaranteed to be big and it does not disappoint. The other guest was an obvious one as always impressive Aruban star, Smiley (new album, "Traffic Light", in stores now), appears on a tune which greatly helped bring himself to major prominence, 'Dem A Wonder'. It IS one of the best songs on this album and, despite how well-traveled and familiar it is at this point (and it is both!), it's a personal favourite of mine and I was glad to see it not forgotten for "Piece of The Pie".

'Dem A Wonder' w/Smiley

Like I said, being familiar with something does have its charms and that is evident throughout this album as I found myself experiencing small DELIGHTFUL moments of nostalgia while listening through this set. Such a instance came on track #5, 'Working Hard'. This tune is balanced by what may be my single favourite Al.Ta.Fa.An track, the Senior Riddim. Kelly uses it to deliver a brilliant and beautiful song about survival and succeeding during hard times in your life. I'd forgotten all about this tune (also on that same riddim were stellar tunes from Ziggi Recado, Chezidek and others) and being on this album has definitely given it another life for me and I'm sure I won't be the only to say that. A similar situation would be the KNOCKING 'Save Your Soul' which is underpinned by what was left of the Hold A Medz Riddim after Ziggi and Gentleman collectively drowned it with 'A Better Way'. This was another one which kind of has a loose and free-flowing nature to it and is another winning song to my opinion, highlighted by its wonderfully chaotic latter portions. 'Still A Hold Faith' is another one which I hadn't heard in a minute and although it isn't as strong as some of the others in my opinion, I don't actually remember it being this good - across Al.Ta.Fa.An's syrupy Lover's Rock tinged Tabla Riddim.

Of the newer/not as (but still not entirely un)familiar, there is further interesting and impressive material to be found on "Piece of The Pie". Definitely the one which leaps out highest on paper is 'Heads Up', which was Junior Kelly's effort on the Redeemer Riddim from the aforementioned Oneness Records (biggup Oneness Records).

"Poor people keep ya heads up
All the warriors keep ya heads up
Survivours keep ya heads up
Dig deep, find strength and don't you stop
Baby mothers keep ya heads up
Freedom fighters keep ya heads up
Youth progressive keep ya heads up
Hustle and earn an honest bread, don't you stop

Been through war, so wi full a scar
Ya haffi go through weh wi go through fi know who wi are
When yuh si di bare feet pon di hot tar
When you si di homeless out deh ah hustle hard
Let my focus pon di rise and dem no watch no fall
Youth and youth stop beat di shell dem and go lock di arms
Push on far

Poor people keep ya heads up
All the warriors keep ya heads up
All survivour keep ya heads up
Dig deep, find strength and don't you stop
Baby mothers keep ya heads up
Freedom fighters keep ya heads up
Youth progressive keep ya heads up
Hustle and earn an honest bread, don't you stop

Well wi ah try fi be more!
And go further than before!
Yah si di youth dem weh ah sleep pon di floor
Deep dung inna yah core
Just tell yaself -
Free yaself, yah waan more
Force to be reckoned with
Ya pride - no step pon it
Leggo di talk!
When physical is happening 

So poor people keep ya heads up
All the warriors keep ya heads up
All survivours keep ya heads up
Dig deep, find strength and don't give up
Baby mothers keep ya heads up
Freedom fighters keep ya heads up
Youth progressive keep ya heads up
Hustle and earn an honest bread, don't you stop

Don't be foolish
Don't you think that if wi fall wi won't get up back
Sun above mi head and sweat ah wash down mi shirt back 
Waan mi prove it - Seh a regular wi go bed wid no dinner
And still no rob no one and buss no shot and tun no killa
Wi can do it -
Though pocket dry and bankbook thinner
No cover on wi bed and rockstone a wi pillow
Si how dem foolish -
Ah talk bout dem no si wi when wi deh yah
Gimme di key, mek mi buss out di door open"

MAD! It had been a minute from last I spun the Redeemer (a situation which you know I remedied after hearing this tune) and this was one of its best and IS very much one of the best on this album also. 'Fly Away' is an older tune which wasn't the most popular, but I did recognize it by the chorus (and the riddim, the Vista. Another good piece of familiarity is here as I may have NEVER heard this song again had it not been brought back into my memory on "Piece of The Pie". The song, essentially, speaks about leaving all the negativity and nastiness of the world behind. It gets very broad and expected, but it also goes into specifics as well, making it a definite contender for the best lyrical effort on the whole of the album. I don’t know the riddim behind the somewhat 'moody' and Sizzla Kalonji-esque 'Bun Babylon', but I do know the tune also appeared on Al.Ta.Fa.An's BIG compilation from a few years back, "Roots Rocking Reggae Vol. 1" (as did four other songs from this album). It is kind of odd with the delivery, but it also has grown on me somewhat throughout the years. Junior Kelly had a couple of selections on the Jah Children Riddim from Nowtime, one was the riddim title track and the other turns out to be this album's obligatory herbalist tune, 'Lots of Herbs'. It is a decent piece, but they chose wrong, 'Jah Children' was MAMMOTH (and you can still find that - Chezidek and Mark Wonder were on it as well).

'Been There'

The LOVELY social commentary, 'Been There', was a bonafide hit from Junior Kelly last year and its presence here is certainly a nice coup for Al.Ta.Fa.An. It is a piece which doesn't need a resurrection and won't get one here, but anytime you can take such a song and spread it to more ears is a good thing. 'Piece of The Pie', the song, another excellent social commentary, also came in just last year and it would appear on another of the label's compilations, "Driving Through Jamaica". This song will get a whole heap of needed attention from the album named after it because it is a powerful and intoxicating and DRAMATIC song which finds Junior Kelly just asking for a deserved piece of the proverbial pie from the poorer class and oppressed people of the world. In terms of DISPLAY, it is the most memorable moment here and, as a title track (and a good title), it is what it should be (if you name an album after a song, even if the title is a catchy and 'sexy' one, it should be a GOOD song, above all other possible qualities). And finally (I don't know how long I've been working on this thing, but it seems like I just started writing it fifteen minutes ago), the last slice of this pie, 'Win or Lose' is exquisite one just baked up within the last year or so (you may not want to actually eat a year-old slice of pie, but you should surely listen to it).

"Woman mi seh mi love yah, cause yah love Far I 
And you sekkle fi di likkle and yah well satisfied
Never murmur, never grumble when di cupboards dry
When mi look dung inna ya eye, mi si seh you bonafide
Nah go mek no peer-pressure mek ya cheat pon I
Woman ya sign up, join up and ya twine pon I
Sweetness di Rasta get when yuh wine pon I
Well ah giggle, mi ah giggle when you climb pon I
Yow, what dem talkin bout dem nah know seh Kelly got ya covered
What dem dealing wid - dem nah know seh Rasta is your lover
Fight dem ah fight wi, a dat mi discover

Junior Kelly doesn't mind sharing the final slice with his special one who is the main point of interest on the infectious album closer. 
Junior Kelly
Overall, I have to say that after breaking it down for the sake of this review (well over three-thousand words at this point because I included the entire lyrics to one song) (no behaviour) (NONE!), "Piece of The Pie" is probably better than I gave it credit for being after listening through it. And also, if you haven't been following the work of Junior Kelly and Al.Ta.Fa.An. as closely, then you won't, at all, have the issue that I did when I just looked up and down the tracklist. It'll be new to you and if I can be impressed after being so familiarized with so much of this album, then surely you will be. If, however, you are in the same situation that I am, yes - the experienced will be diminished a bit and the excitement as well. Yet, while you have tasted and digested so much of this one already, you'll soon discover that it isn't exactly spoiled and is a fine and suitable "next step" in the career of one of the greatest doing it today. Very nice. 

Rated: 4/5
Al.Ta.Fa.An Records
CD + Digital

Review #435

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