Sunday, May 12, 2013

'Step Into The Light': A review of "Original Yard Food" by General Jah Mikey

Generally speaking. Ideally such things would not be a problem, but unfortunately one of the greatest problems in Reggae music today is also one of the most important things in the music as well - promotion. From top to bottom and across so many different areas, one of the most significant lacking points in our amazing music is the inability to make things widely known. Now, I am not at all speaking in terms of steering more individuals, or even songs, to that mystical 'mainstream' spotlight - that's far away from what I'm speaking of - but what I do mean is even more crucial, in my opinion, because I think that a major problem has been even in letting actual Reggae fans know exactly what is going on and, more importantly, WHO is going on. If I had my way (it would just be…. I mean… it's probably best that I don't have my way, but if I did! -) everyone who knew the names Etana and Queen Ifrica and Jah9 would also know Reemah and Malika Madremana and Queen Omega! EVERYONE would have bought at least one copy of Sara Lugo's first album ("What About Love?", in stores now) (and because this is my world, she would have subsequently released eight more records), every Reggae head would at least respect the work of Bunji Garlin and people such as Ziggi Recado, Ras Attitude, and Black Dillinger would be appreciated and loved for their truly one of a kind level talents. Also benefiting from 'my way' would be a nice group of underappreciated but almost overly-talented group of Roots Reggae artists who simply, at least in my opinion, do not get the level of recognition that their talents would suggest that they deserve. In this group, incidentally, is someone who I feel definitely received more attention and more credit within the last year than he, arguably, ever did before, the incomparable Ras Batch. Just last year the musical wizard released his most high-profile set to date, the MAMMOTH "Know Thyself" for I Grade Records. In doing so Batch would also, deservedly, become the latest artist to grab the focus of the ever increasingly interesting  and flaming Zion I Kings who have done very well in giving “CREDIT" where it is due each and every time they've released an album. Now they have their eyes and ears set on someone who, like Batch and like The Nazarenes and like Toussaint and like Danny I, has well earned the opportunity and everything that comes with it, veteran General Jah Mikey.  
And we all can benefit from their work. Personally, until quite recently General Jah Mikey hasn't been someone whose output I paid a great deal of attention to. Certainly he was more than 'that-guy-who-I-always-run-into-when-looking-for-Mikey-General-music' (biggup Mikey General) (Dear Zion I Kings: There is a wonderful singer by the name of Mikey General…), but I'm just as sure that I wasn't amongst his greatest and most loyal of fans. So how really nice would it be if someone might come along and 'brighten' up the work of General Jah Mikey and give not only me a bigger taste of who he truly is as a musician, but a great deal of others as well? That would be really, really nice.  
Have I told you about the Zion I Kings? The collective of the Lustre Kings Productions, I Grade Records (who we'll be dealing with again in a little while apparently) and Zion High Productions have once again come together to push a large project for an artist and, as I said, they've chosen General Jah Mikey and are now set to deliver (or already have if I don't finish this review in the next two days) his brand new album (already receiving quite a bit of hype, apparently, "Original Yard Food". It is ZHP, specifically, who have had a great deal to do with bringing the music of GJM to the forefront and who also, are the actual label pushing his new album. As far as I can tell, "Original Yard Food" (and you'll notice how adroitly I avoid using words like 'delicious' and 'appetizing' in reference to this album, even though I REALLY want to) becomes the General's very first album in a decade, dating back to the "Jah Works" set. For their part, however, Zion High Productions have been far more active and are now coming off a very strong 2012 campaign where they struck with one of the biggest albums of the year in "Masterpiece" by Glen Washington and the single biggest compilation that I heard last year as well, "Jah Golden Throne". It was on that compilation where GJM made an appearance with an excellent song (more on that in just a second) and, just prior to that, GJM also had a single released via Zion High Productions (again, more on that shortly), so they clearly have had their eye on working with him for quite some time and it was maybe late last year where word began to circulate that there was a forthcoming full album from General Jah Mikey on the label. Going back even further (because I just figured this out and I think it is well worth mentioning), the artist was also on a fantastic album that ZHP did several years ago, by the name of "Rebelution" from the amazing Yami Bolo which (is still fantastic and this album now also gives me an urge to go back and enjoy it again) (and it is also still, unfortunately, Bolo's most recent set) originated way back in 2003. So even reaching beyond  the moment, General Jah Mikey and Zion High Productions have definitely accrued a history together and I don't know if anyone exists that would make a better sparring partner and next step in the careers of either as of May 2013. So, while such a thing really isn't in question, all that remains is whether or not "Original Yard Food" is really deli… good? Of course it is. Let's talk about it. 

General Jah Mikey's style is very straight forward and kind of heavy, which is going to inherently make this one a much more likely choice for more experienced listeners of the genre, however (as I'll tell you about more in closing), I do think a fairly wide range of an audience can enjoy this release. In terms of his actual sound, I'd put GJM somewhere in the 'class' of more old-school styled chanters such as Tony Rebel and Prezident Brown ["original blueprint seh mi no carbon, original fi di longest while!"]-- maybe even someone like a Junior Kelly (biggup Junior Kelly, new album "Piece of The Pie", in stores now). General Jah Mikey uses all of that old school style and charm to a delightful effect on 'Good Life', which begins his new album, "Original Yard Food", from Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings. In my opinion, when you begin an album you want to place not only a good song at the head, but also one which is likely to keep attentions focused and people wanting to hear more. If someone else shares that sentiment, then whoever had the idea to place 'Good Life' at the head of this record performed one LOVELY stroke of genius, as GJM goes all Cocoa Tea on the people. The tune sits on this album and literally GLOWS as a composition and is easily one of the best tunes I have EVER heard from the General and hopefully it gets an opportunity to shine at some point as he focuses on the positive and pushes up the best aspects of life. And I should also say that I LOVE the ending of the tune. It's a very nice touch which I won't ruin for you here, but check it as General Jah Mikey dazzles the piece out. Things take harder turn on the second tune on the album, obviously, 'Hard Time Pressure', but not really. Despite its title and its topic, this is another delightful song in sound and a pretty solid addition to the album. The very familiar economical commentary, 'Recession', is up next and, like the opener, is a big highlight on the album. The tune is kind of a unifying piece as it brings together and comments upon different groups of people all suffering, at least comparatively, in this economic climate. 

"Poor man have problems like the rich man do
Rich man him have problems like the poor man too
Sh… hit the fan and dem nuh know what to do 
Dem walk up and down feeling sad and blue"

Speaking of being familiar, there're a few other selections throughout "Original Yard Food" which, for one reason or another, were well recognizable to my ears. One such moment would be the previously alluded to single which reached just before the compilation album, 'Heartbeat Music'. The tune is also supported by a track you might recognize and is a very strong creation. In effect, I guess this might be the first single from the album and if so, it does a nice job of providing a catchy mix, but at the same time one of substance and something, again, that makes you want to hear more. There's also the BRILLIANT praising piece, 'Calling Ras Tafari' which shares a riddim with 'Make It Work', the sublime combination featuring UK heads, Tippa Irie and 'new veteran', Lloyd Brown (biggup Mr. Lloyd Brown, new album, "New Veteran", in stores now). I'd never heard this actual song, but GJM makes a fine usage of that track in giving praise to The Almighty and I hope that this isn't the final time Zion High brings up this riddim because it is excellent and kind of different as well. 'Make It Work' appeared on the "Jah Golden Throne" release, as did the other tune on "Original Yard Food", which registered with some familiarity to my ears, the golden 'Set A Way'

"No one is an island
No one stands alone
Each one help each other
Got to make it home
Fighting with conviction
Strong, strong motivation
We need more elevation
And a strong communication

Some time things set a way
Can't forget how to pray
So when you feel like running away 
So far away
Know, not today"

I can remember the feeling I had when I first heard this tune. It was one of thinking that part of the attraction to it was simply that I didn't hear much from the General, so when I heard something from him and it was good, maybe I overrated it a bit. I was wrong. This is a fantastic song. I don't care who made and how often I hear from them and, based on the fact that a lot of people are sure to have known it already, I can well see this tune, particularly, developing into a signature moment for this album. In terms of quality, it already is. 

Still, I have to say that the single finest servi… song on "Original Yard Food" is one which was wholly new to me, the MAMMOTH and hypnotic 'Inna Light'

"Jah Jah tell mi seh no worry bout a thing
Just stick to mi roots and keep chanting
Never go mix up inna no almshouse thing
Never go mix up inna corruption
Never go mix up in sin
You take another tip from me yeah -
Appointed by The Almighty yeah
Fi give to you physically
Internationally yeah!

If you look in yah inna light and see -
You si seh Jah don't make mistake
Shine yah light and let Jah whole world see
You know that Jah Jah HE is great

Yes I got you, where I want you
Yes mi couldn't let you get away
From entrap you, they done got you
Now with Roots and Reality
Dem like it
Nuff ah fight it
But wi give it nuff radio play

Tell my people this one more time:
Move forward and don't go rewind
Let's get together, this is working time
Don't kill each other for a nickel or a dime
Ah set to see and you will find
And don't you know it's revelation time
Man ah live like dog
Some a dem ah live like swine
Wipe out jealousy and badmind"

BOOM! This tune is a challenging one and one which I've already had a great deal of fun in digging into. Where I am these days is looking at it like the General is saying to do what it is that you are good at. Whatever it is - do it! In his particularly case it is music and, for him, 'shining' his 'light' is making great and upful songs just like this one which has no equal on this album and very few others in my opinion. I also REALLY like the tune which follows 'Inna Light' and is the album's closer, 'Rise Up'. You probably could not find a song which better personifies the word 'SOLID' more this one even if you tried, on a superficial and immediate level. HOWEVER, when you scrape just a bit closer to the center of the piece, it unravels slightly and comes very close to being a spectacular inspirational song and another highlight on the album. 'Easy Squeezie' is another favourite of mine and, at least in terms of its direction, it is somewhat similar to the opener. It is a tune which does mention the more negative things in life, but focuses on more positive alternatives in every scenario. This tune is one which is rising as well and if a year from now it were my choice as the best song on "Original Yard Food", I wouldn't be very surprised at all. Big tune. Also check another one which grew on me a little (though I did enjoy it from the first spin), the very poignant 'Love Yourself'. Although quite simple, this isn't the type of song which is very prevalent in Reggae music. I like how GJM speaks on the concept of LOVE as one which both given to others and to one's self. Of course, should you find yourself short on love, General Jah Mikey knows exactly where and to Whom you can go to get a refill. 

"Just through mi Black and mi comely -
I pray to mi Jah Jah from Sunday to Sunday 
And mi nuh care wah gallang deh
As long as there's life, mi ah beg Jah fi guide deh
Through Jah Jah love mi -
Always ah guide mi 
Anywhere we lost, you know Jah will find mi
All outta road when it sticky and it grimy
Know Almighty Jah is right here, beside me
You always there for wi
Always guide us
Always lead us
Have it good company

So why don't you love yourself?
Before you can really love anyone else
So why don't you spread some wealth?
You no see poor people need help?

Through mi dung inna di ghetto yah grow
Nuff likkle things weh di ghetto youth know
Yuh diss di man, you get a thunda blow
Remember what you reap is that you did sow
Mi know dis from morning
Seh no bodda wid yah hitchin and stallin
I hear di youth dem bawlin
Seh dem need some help today 

So why don't you love yourself?
Before you can really love anyone else
So why don't you spread some wealth?
You no see poor people need help?

No how di thing get so stagnant
Mi seh alla di young ghetto girls dem pregnant 
Now dem don't stand a dog's chance
By time you look around you no si a weh di man gone
Family is important
That's di only way to lay wi foundation -
Wid some unification
That's the only way  to save this generation
Wi need more cooperation
Nation fight against nation
And mi ah beg dem fi cool it out because wi all know right from wrong"

There is also the infectious 'Deal With It Crabit'. You listen to that tune one time, and only one time, you may not be a fan. Ten spins later, however, things have changed, so definitely don't pass an immediate judgment - good or bad - because it's probably better in either case. 

Finally, rounding out the album are a pair of tracks which are not necessarily favourites of mine, but are still decent in their own way. 'Love That Is Real' is the typical 'love song' on "Original Yard Food" and that is precisely what it is. It is a love song in every way. Nice and cool vibes, but there's nothing which sticks out too far here, with the exception of that GORGEOUS riddim behind it. And 'From Way Back' is a similar situation with its kind of 1970's R&B type of vibe. You hear that title and you know what it's about: GJM speaks about a day of yesteryear where music was a different thing and had a different purpose and a different sound. Another light, decent and delightful selection.  
General Jah Mikey
Overall, as I previously alluded to, this album is almost sure to find more of a home with longtime fans of the genre and the same could be said for any General Jah Mikey release in 2013 (or in 1913) and probably anyone from Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings as well. However, because of just how 'easy' this album is, purely in terms of the sound, I'm of the mind that it would be fairly accessible and at least some kind of GOOD to newer listeners as well. GJM's style may very well be straight forward, but in that he manages to accomplish a variety of different things which I think would be nice to the ears of almost anyone with an interest here. Personally, this album has served as a 'formal' introduction for me to the full work of General Jah Mikey and I'm impressed. Though I would have liked to have seen at least one combination, in full, "Original Yard Food" proves to be a fine stepping out for someone who is well deserving and READY for such an opportunity and hopefully it is successful and I'm sure it will be. Now if I could just get someone to do the same for someone like Prince Theo and Ras Mac Bean and… Absolutely delicious (Oh shit! I almost made it!). 

Rated: 4.15/5
Zion High Productions
CD + Digital

Review #439

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