Wednesday, May 8, 2013

'Stripped Away': A review of "New Day Dawn" by Gentleman

Streamlined. When you reach the highest level of pretty much anything and prove that you can maintain and stay there with some type of consistency, you have done a variety of remarkable things. Musically speaking (because that's what we do here, but the same is true in practically any walk of life), this is something which is most immediately exemplified by someone's style. Of course, you can have a big tune, or a few of them, and be on your way, but for someone who reaches the top and stays there, they have demonstrated themselves to be the very most capable and dazzling artists around. No matter what you do to them, they still do whatever they do better than anyone on the planet. For instance, when we speak of dazzling in Reggae, we can go in a whole heap of different ways, but definitely somewhere at the peak of all things Reggae is superstar Tarrus Riley. Riley is someone who makes such an intoxicating form Roots Reggae that it has, arguably, lead to a point where he has become the current face of the genre, if you were to place it in a single direction. His case is very interesting for these purposes because, just last year, Riley would show exactly what would happen if you took away things from the outer reaches of his style when he delivered the master class that was "Mecoustic". The result? Nothing much. He was still wholly brilliant. Richie Spice would do a similar thing with his "Soothing Sounds" and you know who else would? Busy Signal's "Reggae Music Again", the single best album of 2012 in my opinion, was also devoid of his typical… adventurous… Busy Signal-ness and in a year of magic, he was the ace magician. Well, now we add someone else to that group who takes his latest offering in a slightly similar direction, German Reggae superstar, Gentleman. Well before you even get into his music, Gentleman's is a very interesting case, on paper. He's probably the single most popular current Reggae star from out of the whole of Europe and he has enjoyed that status, recording with some of the biggest names in the genre (and even some outside of it) in terms of both producers and vocalists. So much so has that been the case that, probably more so than anyone else in recent memory is known for making truly amazing combinations and his roster of artists with whom he has recorded is more impressive than anyone that I can currently think of.  
The solo albums of Gentleman
But what if all of that vanished? What if Sizzla Kalonji, Capleton, Luciano, Bounty Killer, Anthony B, Tanya Stephens, Jah Cure, Morgan Heritage, Queen Omega, Junior Kelly, Ziggi Recado, Mark Wonder, Mikey General, Diana King, Ras Shiloh and the rest of the RIDICULOUS lot of artists with whom Gentleman has collaborated in the past were not available? What if Bobby Digital didn't have a track? Or Pow Pow? Or Al.Ta.Fa.An? Or Black Scorpio? And what if Don Corleon was infinitely on the road with Protoje and just didn't have the damn time?! What if this man couldn't even find Daddy Rings' and Jack Radics' phone numbers??? What might happen if all of that occurred (besides a black hole opening and devouring us all)? 
"Live Your Life" w/Richie Stephens [2012]
What might happen is a "New Day Dawn". Yes, Gentleman does have some of the finest connections in the history of Reggae music (and a pretty good reputation to go with it, obviously), but that is not all he has. He also has developed a perfected a style in which, when at his best, modern Roots Reggae has all the immediate and attention-grabbing appeal of the commercially more friendly Dancehall. Gentleman's command of melody, even on slow songs, is amongst the very best of anyone we have on the scene today. Also, he has something which I don't think he gets nearly enough credit for (and he never has): Gentleman may be one of the better lyricists in Reggae today and whenever I really tune in his music, even some of the material which I am not in LOVE with, this becomes crystal clear. I'd sum it up by saying his talent, on the whole, is a spectacular one and one of the most well-rounded skill sets of the era. To date, he has utilized it all in a great way - through now six solo studio albums, two of which, "Journey To Jah" from 2002 and "Confidence" four years on, form a pair of the best albums I have EVER heard (I'd likely have the latter somewhere in my top ten even) from anyone. Most recently was the packed "Diversity" album from 2010 and, just last year, Gentleman would return on a combination album (big shock!) with longtime friend and musical sparring partner, Richie Stephens, "Live Your Life", for Stephens' Pot Of Gold imprint. The release of "Live Your Life" definitely blunted a bit of anticipation for Gentleman's next solo venture (despite the fact that Stephens, himself, actually released a solo album last year), but if you go by what happens on "New Day Dawn", perhaps that was a pretty good strategy. In the absence of combinations and big named producers, the new album is helmed by Gentleman which is the first of its kind. He was reportedly involved in every aspect of its construction, so although it lacks what its elder siblings had in the way of anticipations and expectations, surely it is a very personal release for the actual artist. It also comes with more of an 'independent' and 'free' type of a feel to it - almost as if Gentleman just decided to write some songs and hire some musicians and make an album. Coming from someone who did the "Confidence" album which had none of that going for it (and subsequently was spectacular in every conceivable way), I think it is a very nice bit of deviation and while I have mixed feelings about its existence on the whole (more on that in closing), "New Day Dawn" is still a Gentleman album and while that may not have meant a great deal in 2003, in 2013 it is HUGE deal and it does not disappoint. Let's discuss!

Of course, from a selfish point of view, the biggest drawback of a more 'aerodynamic' album is that I'll now have to wait even longer for the inevitable Gentleman/Sara Lugo MONSTER combination. Presumably it should happen at some point. But until it does and the world performs the single biggest act of common sense since the invention of hands and feet what we have is the sterling new project from Gentleman, "New Day Dawn", which begins its journey with… 'The Journey'. BOOM! The album, sets itself in a major way with its golden and jovial opener on which Gentleman tells all that, no matter the opposition which awaits, he is prepared for what is to come.

"So many time dem diss di order
Dem waan mi fi stop, but mi ahgo push harder
And even when di road of life get broader
Mi seh mi still ah claim dis yah reward yah
When di journey get longer
And nuff a dem ah get weaker

Hold on for a second
Unuh wait a minute!
Di thing just ah start
Unuh think it finished!
Mi no just come inna di ting a long time mi inna it!
So when you hear mi pon a riddim, you no hear no gimmick!
Mi nah back down inna di race because I'm bound to win it
All who care bout life just give it and live it!
And if di music take mi higher, I am with it legit!"

This is a song which very much identifies both of Gentleman's best attributes in my opinion. It features such a wonderful and ENTERTAINING melody that you almost don't want to move on to the second track (even though it's very good also) and lyrically, it is so well written and it also is written in a way which not only captures, but utilizes the vibes of the song. A glowing start, with the single best tune on the regular edition of the album. Things slow down on that next tune up, the heavy 'Road Of Life'. I labeled this one a 'social commentary', but it really isn't. Despite its somewhat solemn approach, 'Road Of Life', at least to my ears, is an inspirational selection. It is most about maintaining one's course in the eyes of the bad and oppressive forces that we face on "the road of life". From those bad things, Gentleman also wants you to 'Walk Away', which comes BOOMING through following 'Road Of Life', on which it builds wonderful. This tune is so intense but, like the opener, it is written in way in which the lyrics (regardless of their delivery) (although it matches as well, of course) match the nature of the tune behind it. It doesn't seem like the type of song which would receive such a large amount of attention, but for me it is EASILY one of the best songs on "New Day Dawn", where Gentleman says that no matter what your situation is, there is always a better and more sensible route to take. 

"Mi nah tell you fi tek dis honour
A fi yuh life, you can do what you wanna
But if you draw fi di guns and di hammer
Next thing mi know, you ahgo draw fi di bomber!
Take a check and sort out ya grammar
Sentence nuh right, boy you need a few comma
But if you don't stop and stammer-
Then you haffi talk in front of 'your honour'"

Though I may not be wildly fond of every tune on "New Day Dawn", I do have to say that there is not a single piece on this album which is not at least GOOD. At the head of the remaining is definitely the tune which is receiving the lion's share of attention and deservedly so in my opinion, 'You Remember'. On a strictly sonic aspect, 'You Remember' is absolutely flawless. If such a thing exists as a perfect song, then it would be such a thing on that specific level. Gentleman's vocal additions - on how much the world has changed - take it even higher and make it a crystal clear choice as a song to receive the push it already has. I also wouldn't at all be surprised if the title track would someday be up for a similar promotion. It also has a very forceful sound to it, but I might say that lyrically it's even stronger than 'You Remember' in some respects. This song was of obvious great interest to me because the title is one which could lead you in so many different directions, one of which is kind of clichéd, but it doesn't go there and, instead, the artist makes a statement of change and an impetus of change (on one song!) and I think if they really take it in, this tune could help a lot of people and You and I might be two of them. Also ranking on that level is another offering which has already generated considerable buzz (I hate that word, "buzz" - I truly hate it), 'Where Is the Love'. In terms of it's subject, this piece isn't too dissimilar from the title track, but I do think that it's slightly better of the two. I'd tell you to REALLY focus on what is being said here and, by extension, every song on this album because THAT is the real star of "New Day Dawn".

'You Remember'

I'd also the sterling 'Closer to The Light' in that category of top ranking tunes on this album. No other song here is as straight-forward of a praising piece as this one and it well shines in that role.

"Time fi release di tension! 
Talk di words wi neva mention!
Go so then and bun out dem invention! 
Dem evilous intention!
Dem gather up at dem convention!
Si dem waan decrease people pension
Wi all need redemption -
From dem oversized clip extension
Tell dem fi put it pon suspension
Haffi pay attention -

Gentleman is someone who I have to give credit to for this because he routinely does something which I always complain as being lacking in the music in terms of the writing (as does Malika Madremana coincidentally) (new album, "The Race" in stores now): He makes songs praising The Almighty, but he does it with a way that features tangible world connections, so it becomes accessible and meaningful to people from a variety of faiths and different walks of life, which should be the goal in making a song like that, in my opinion. 'Another Drama' is a favourite of mine as well (with that diamond of a riddim beneath it). An obvious social commentary, this track is one which I'm really high on as improving more and more the more you listen to it and I wouldn't be surprised if a few years from now it stood as THE best song on "New Day Dawn" to my ears. And speaking of stuff improving, I also hesitate to mention 'Memories' here. It doesn't grade as high as these other songs on me, yet, but it may soon be reaching there. 

Rounding out the album is a trio of selections which I'm not as fond as the others but, as I said, there are no bad moments on this album. 'In My Arms' is probably the best of them and you can hear it, it is a good song and a kind of a colourful lover's song and one whose presence does make the album a stronger one. There's also a song called 'Wings To Fly', which is decent and has a beautiful sound which is certainly growing on me, but this tune has a situation which I'll speak on more later. A good piece still. Lastly is the closer of "New Day Dawn", the acoustic 'Homesick'. I've spent a bit of time on this one and I haven't reached the point where I can say that it is on the 'incline' in terms of my appreciation of it just yet. But even it is a decent song and, perhaps, in a different situation (again, more on that in a minute), I might even enjoy it more. 

Of course, things are not that simple as on "New Day Dawn", just as was the case on the "Diversity" album, there is a Deluxe Edition, which features five more tracks, including an instrumental. One of these songs, 'Humanity's Glory' is my absolute favourite song on any edition of this album. It is a MASSIVE song about accepting and hailing the finest aspects of living life, while smashing the negative. You listen to this tune and the track is simple enough, but the lyrics explode vividly and on an album with more than one song of a similar topic, THIS is what happens when things move perfectly. 

"Bless up the people who ah step up inna life
Working for humanity's glory
From you know what you doing is right
Time is gonna tell di story
Nuff a dem, wi si dem living up tight
So dem gonna fret and ah worry
From you know what you doing is right
Time is gonna tell di story

Heart haffi clean, mind haffi pure
Lock di machine, no skull nuh fi bore
Wi deh pon di scene and wi waan feel secure
Cah di people caan take it no more!
Mi seh gwan fly di gate and open up di door
Revolution in di street
This is not like before!
If a hate dem ah come wid, wi got love and that's the cure
And glorious things can never be ignored

Bless up the people who ah step up inna life
Working for humanity's glory
From you know what you doing is right
Time is gonna tell di story
Nuff a dem, wi si dem living up tight
So dem gonna fret and ah worry
But you know what you doing is right
Time is gonna tell di story

Nuff a dem a shark, nuff a dem a whale
Dem don't have no heart and dem waan si yuh fail
Dem lock up inna di dark and dem waan curtail
But dem caan stop that ship from sail
Certain people neva change, dem love to blackmail
Dem waan kill di righteous wid dem hammer and dem nail
But one day dem chain will come offa di rail

Bless up the people who ah step up inna life
Working for humanity's glory
From you know what you doing is right
Time is gonna tell di story
Nuff a dem, wi si dem living up tight
So dem gonna fret and ah worry
But you know what you doing is right
Time is gonna tell di story

Mi seh bless up, bless up, a dat mi seh
Just bless up, stress up, go search fi a way
Nuff waan give up and mi seh dem gone astray
Dem no waan be around to see another day!
When mi sing a song - ambitious and be focused
Dem waan fi treat you like you inna circus
Dem si you and dem don't know yuh purpose

The song hits new lyrical heights on an album which, generally, already exists in the clouds. Check the fun 'I Keep Going', which adds more than a little bite to "New Day Dawn" and continues to provide a crucial message. There is the flashy 'Push Come To Shove', which isn't a favourite of mine here and that it makes it all the more frustrating that I can't get this damn song out of my head. And finally (I mean it this time) (kind of, but you know I have more to say) is a very, very good song and a damn infectious one and a great idea, ‘Heart of Rub-A-Dub'. This tune finds Gentleman turning back the proverbial clock and observing the old school days of Dancehall and placing it in a very modern and very BEAUTIFUL package. This song may not get a significant push (because it is only on one version of the album), but if it did, I think it could do some significant damage. 

Okay! A couple of things stand out in my mind in reference to "New Day Dawn". The first isn't my original idea, so I'll give credit to the source. One of our absolute favourite readers, Steven (biggup yourself Steven) (hear from Steven usually maybe once every three or four months and he always has something really interesting and INTELLIGENT to say), who is a big fan of Gentleman's and has taught me a lot of things over time. He made an excellent point when he made a connection between this album and the "Another Level" record. That piece was the first album after "Confidence" (which was the first album after "Journey To Jah"), so it had a great deal to live up to and while it didn't hit those lofty levels and isn't remembered as having done so, it was still a really good album and, like Steven, I think "New Day Dawn" is a better album than "Another Intensity". The other thing that I wanted to say is my critique of this album is its mood. I alluded to it in reference to 'Wings To Fly'. That song sounds like quite a few on this album in terms of its disposition and pacing, but there are a few which're just better at it, like 'Road Of Life'. So I think if we look at it as a seventeen track album, maybe trimming it down to thirteen or fourteen may've made this one even stronger. And I want to say that those songs that I might cut out aren't bad and as I tried to say for 'Homesick', if you plop them on a different album where they aren't around so much similar and better material, maybe I enjoy them even more. 
Overall, "New Day Dawn", is very good. Like I said, despite the absence of so many things we normally see, including huge expectations, this is still A GENTLEMAN ALBUM, which virtually guarantees its quality will be high. However, I don't learn a great deal from this album and it isn't one which builds his legacy in such a monumental way (unless, of course, Gentleman turns out to be this amazing producer who just starts turning out albums for so many different people) (like Ziggi Recado). I already knew he was exceptional and there's nothing here which comes as a surprise. I knew he was capable of THIS eleven years ago. Yet, while "New Day Dawn" may not break a significant amount of ground, it comes through as yet another glowingly apparent example of precisely how talented Gentleman is. At his best or at anywhere near it, he remains one of the genre's most compelling figures and is so because of his SKILL. It doesn't really matter what you give him or what you take away. Very strong and rising. 

Rated: 4.60/5
CD + Digital

Review #438

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