Thursday, May 23, 2013

'We Ready!': A review of Soca Gold 2013

Differences. While we continue to wait (and wait, and wait, and wait) for the inevitable - the all kinds of infectious Soca music reaching and remaining in the eye of the 'mainstream' - it is becoming increasingly apparent that it is to the lost of the more mainstream eyes and ears that they have yet to realize what is going on. With each and every season that goes by in nearly each and every locale it seems to, in some way, add fuel to what is, in my opinion, the absolute most addictive musical fire in the entire world and when that time finally does come (and it will) when the rest of the world takes a big notice, what they will have already missed will be a whole heap of landmark moments which would have made an even greater impact than what it is they finally become greatly aware of. Similarly, you could well draw a parallel to Roots Reggae music and just think of when that genre eventually receives that large eye (and, again, it will) what will have been missed out on. If it isn't this current crop of stars, then the work of the likes of Etana, Tarrus Riley and others may go under-regarded in larger circles while whatever and whoever it is that opens the proverbial door may not receive such respect as they do amongst more hardcore fans (see Sean Paul). However, with that being said, for people such as You and I that won't be a problem, in either case, as we'll be paying attention and we'll be destined to be that most old and just as annoying person saying to youths 'if you like… then you should have heard…'. Damn I hate people like that! But I am most surely on my way to becoming one of them. In the case of Soca music, as I've said in the past, there're very few constructs and even stars who, more so than others seem poised to make that leap in a very strange manner. What I mean is that I could probably name you a dozen or more names who, to my opinion would seem to be 'ready', but most of them would have seemed so, to me, for at least the better part of the past decade, so I'm not really expecting it to happen for them anytime soon. The one exception to that, ridiculously, is an album and once a year arguably the globally most well known anything remotely Soca-ish jumps up and makes its presence known to many people who may not pay the music attention very much during the other 364 days of the year. 

Of course, it's "Soca Gold" and it's time for the latest installment of the long running compilation series courtesy of VP Records, "Soca Gold 2013". This year has been a VERY interesting one for Soca music thus far, with so much more to come and I was, as I always am, so damn interested in seeing exactly what VP brought together for what is, in my opinion, a fairly important edition of the series. This album, based on name alone, will likely sell more than any Soca artist's album (and 2013 hasn't necessarily been brimming with those) and definitely more than any other compilation that the genre has to offer and, as we saw last year, such things are rapidly advancing. The largest bit of 'competition' comes from Precision Productions' GORGEOUS "We Muzik" line which entered its second year of existence in 2013 and their latest effort, even after this album, is the best of its kind thus far but, again, it isn't likely to rival "SG2K13" in terms of sales or notoriety. So, as is the case every year, because of the amount of attention paid to this release, if you care about Soca music and its commercial health, you not only want to see "SG" do well, but you want it to do well in pulling together the absolute finest songs possible to present to fans who 'we' aren't likely to hear from again for another twelve months.  
"We Muzik"
In recent times they haven't done the finest job of that really, but as you may imagine for a label who has already delivered an Etana album that is, at WORST, the second best Reggae album of the year, and will shortly do the same for the likes of Sizzla Kalonji (whose new album, "The Messiah", is out a week early, so you can buy it right now) (review coming next week-ish), Morgan Heritage, reportedly Queen Ifrica and who knows who else for the rest of the year, sometimes VP does do very, very well (and not to mention everything going on with the increasingly active VPAL which just gave us a new Midnite album). Looking back across the landscape of Soca music from out of Trinidad in 2013, there were a handful of MASSIVE tunes which you would have liked to see on this album, but common sense (what very, very little of it I do have) and experience tells you that certain songs just won't be on this album. Most unfortunately, actually, would be just about any song by the aforementioned Precision Productions who, intelligently, reserve their productions for their compilations. The more casual head may not give a shit, at all, but you do hope that maybe they can work together someday on the same project. Also likely counted out is the BIGGEST of material from the genre's most well known star who, although he does make two appearances on "SG2K13" doesn't do so with his most popular hits and by my surely inaccurate count, has not done so for quite a few years, although in his case, he did release an album and a lot of his big stuff was produced by… yeah, Precision Productions (more on "him" in a second, obviously). Then there is the less conspicuous case of Fay-Ann Lyons who just hasn't appeared on an "SG" release in a few years and while it would seem unlikely that she NEVER would again turn up within its ranks (particularly because Mr. Fay-Ann seems to enjoy it so much) (Daddy Fay-Ann does too), her next time, whenever it is, will be her first in quite some time. HOWEVER [!], as far as what was more probable to be on "SG2K13" and eventually was, there were two tunes which simply HAD to be here and - they got them both. 

Soca Gold photoshoot w/Jennifer Skye

Before that though, there is the wonderful matter of the cover of this album. As is always the case with this release, appearing at the head is a beautiful woman and in 2013, the honours of being the Soca Gold Girl goes to one Jennifer Skye. The cover is fantastic (it almost always is) (it's like she's looking back at IT and is liking what she sees) (she should) and it should help to tip a few potential buyers in its favour (they should really just start putting beautiful women on the cover of EVERYTHING - albums, magazines… shoes… furniture). Not too surprisingly at all one of the previously alluded to "two tunes" which were necessary for the new album gets us started on "Soca Gold 2013" from VP Records as one of the greatest of all time, Super Blue, made a comeback for the ages with a tune for the ages, 'Fantastic Friday'. The song would tear a giant and downright cavernous hole in Soca Monarch in the process of netting him a co-title, the four-hundredth time he's taken the crown, and he walk the road alone, taking Road March by a massive margin. Of course the tune is virtually coated and cooked with nostalgia which was part of its appeal, but Super Blue hadn't gone anywhere and a few years ago his daughter, the fireball that is Fay-Ann Lyons gave him one legendary tribute (and made a grown man cry in the process) when she took all that was to be had with 'Meet Super Blue' - and I say all that to say that people hadn't forgotten about him and just waiting on the right, GOOD, tune for him to come back on. The frenetic 'Fantastic Friday' was THAT song. It was fantastic and made for one equally mammoth performance (NEVER seen an audience like that!). Also it should be mentioned that the tune marks the first time that a Trinidad Road March winner has appeared in this series in half a decade (which was, coincidentally, 'Get On', by Lyons).

Now! There're three songs between the opener and the next big moment on "SG2K13" and while they won't (and didn't) (and shouldn't) get the attention of their bookends, they're three big tunes from three big names. The first is 'De Boss', Iwer George who turns in the very clever 'Bubble'. I'm not the biggest fan of George's and a few years back I thought him somewhat passed it, but he's made a fool out of me (not a very difficult thing to do, actually) basically every year from then and I really enjoyed 'Bubble'. Next is someone who I am a big fan of in Denise Belfon who, I THINK, returns to "SG" for the very first time in a decade (it was a dozen years for Super Blue), with the lovely 'Wining Queen' and makes it worth the wait… actually no song is worth waiting TEN YEARS for, but I do love this tune, easily one of the best on the album and a favourite of mine from the entire season and biggup Saucy until it causes you physical pain! And then is one of the most beautiful human beings currently on the planet, the ultra-reliable Nadia Batson from SASS (mad time!), with 'Manager'. Few people in Soca, altogether, have been as consistent as Batson over the last few years (back from 'My Posse', in my opinion) and it was still true in 2013 with the infectious tune aimed at women with men who’re a bit bossy and controlling ["you don't have a man - gal you have a manager!"].

"We Ready"

'Differentology' by Bunji Garlin

And then there's the boom. Although it most certainly did take a few listens to grow on me, my absolute favourite tune from Trinidad's 2013 season (and pretty much everyone else's also) was the MASSIVE 'Differentology' by Bunji Garlin which HAD to be on this album after eluding every other CD bound Soca compilation that I know of. 'Differentology' is musical crack! It is probably bad for you, but I don't care and no one else does either! For me, it was THE lasting tune from Trinidad Carnival 2013, probably one of the best Soca songs I've ever heard and was the latest landmark moment in a career which is full of them. Good luck getting that out of your head. Whatever you try will not work. 

Though it is quite long at eighteen tracks and is kind of 'messy' in some aspects, "SG2K13" is probably one of the better editions of this series over the course of the last few years (off the top of my head I'd probably say it is the best from 2009's release). Of the remaining tracks there're some really big moments. The most sizable of them all is definitely the glowing 'Thief A Wine' from Kes The Band. To my opinion Kes hasn't done a finer tune since they were 'Wotless', a couple of years ago. 'Thief A Wine' was just really cool and nice Groovy Soca and one of the best songs that I heard this year. 

"Girl it don't matta what you do
I gone be right up on you
I going to come and thief a wine on you"

Of the four artists making multiple appearances on the album, it is definitely veteran Ravi B who makes the largest impact. His first tune, 'Prescription' is damn solid, but it is his second spot here, which is a feature on 'Ent Yuh Know', the hit from Rikki Jai, which also features supernova, Alison Hinds, which heads near the top of"SG2K13". Unsurprisingly, "Soca Gold" poster boy (who has only missed one of these albums), Edwin Yearwood, also has a pair of tunes on the new release, 'Pushing It' and 'Work That Thing'. The latter is a bit too… electric - for my tastes, although it isn't horrible. The cool former, I do like, on Monstapiece's Island Mas Riddim. The previously unnamed superstar, Machel Montano, also takes a double dip with two combinations. His finest is certainly his hard-to-shake spot alongside Drupatee, 'Island Girl'. That song is nearly brilliant as the two veterans link for something special. Montano also features alongside the other name you'll see more than once on this album, Lil Rick, also with King Bubba on the emphatic (they literally just yell it at you), 'We Want Drinkz'. It isn't a favourite of mine and, unsurprisingly, it features the same Popso Kings Riddim which you'll also hear powering Edwin Yearwood's 'Work That Thing', but I do not hate this tune either. Lil Rick's other combination on this album, 'Cyan Bother We', finds him teaming up with Benjai. I do enjoy this one a bit more, but I LOVE that riddim for some reason (more on that in second). I am, however, far more fond of Lil Rick's solo effort on the album, 'I Like Muhself' for Dwaingerous. Typical innuendo-laced cleverness from Lil Rick from last year which is probably my favourite tune from him in a few years or so.

Shal Marshall and Super Jigga TC team up for the 'moving' 'We Liming'. This tune I really do like, but it took me a few MONTHS to arrive at this point and if you have never heard it and are just encountering it, I'd suggest patience on the GBM produced tune (who also dio 'Thief A Wine'). Series staple and wife-winer Blaxx also takes a turn on the Island Mas Riddim and actually does better than Yearwood in my opinion with 'No Getaway'. Blaxx is someone who can always be depended on for something really nice and he did very well for himself with this tune (also check my favourite recent tune from Blaxx, 'Stink & Dutty' alongside Mr. Killa). Kerwin Du Bois tries his hand at the same Caveman Riddim which Lil Rick and Benjai also touch for 'Backazz'. Again, I think I like this tune because of the riddim, which is kind of gimmicky, but I just don't care. I really like that thing. And finally is a bit of a changeup via Basil Yarde with the very fun 'Bounce Around'. This tune has grown on me considerably from the first time that I heard it, to the point where, now, I really think it ranks as one of the best pieces that you'll find on "SG2K13" and I haven't heard a lot from Yarde, but this is a way to ensure that he stays on my radars at least semi-permanently. And, as is the norm for the series now, you'll also receive a DVD if you buy the CD which I have not seen yet, but is reportedly full of the usual Carnival footage and other things (those can be fun, because they catch really good moments sometime such as Skinny Fabulous trying to interview Fay-Ann Lyons for his own personal channel in 2010).

'Bounce Around' by Basil Yarde

Overall (I love writing these things, they're always so easy) (currently checking in at 2,577 words), like I said, I have no problem with this one and it actually is one of the better moments that this series has produced in recent years. As for critiques, I think my largest would be that they didn't mix it up enough to my opinion. The general vibe this year is a softer and more Groovy one, musically, which is fine, but unless I'm overlooking someone on the list, EVERYONE here is from Trinidad or Barbados. There is no Skinny Fabulous or Tallpree or even Busy Signal or someone from the Dancehall. That may've been intentional and it would be somewhat surprising that VP Records directly tried not to involve some of their other stars, but I still think a bit more OPEN look would've been nice. Still the story for "Soca Gold 2013" is that it did what it was supposed to do. It brought in the two biggest expected songs (and for the moment, you won't find any other official CD with 'Differentology' on it) and offered up a few other very noteworthy moments. So while I still have the feeling that something huge is in the very near future of Soca music, the present isn't doing too bad either. Pretty good. 

Rated: 4/5
VP Records
CD/DVD + Digital

Review #442

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