Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Can You Sing Some More?': A review of "New Scroll" by Cornel Campbell

With respect. Despite what may be a differing popular opinion, I am currently of the belief that Reggae music as a genre, in particular, does a fairly good job of honouring its elders and foundation artists. Though this may occur in several different ways I think that, on the whole, if you are going to choose a genre of music in which to become an aging artist, Reggae might actually be one of your first choices. And I wasn't always of this opinion, because so many times you see older artists have to travel all around the world to find their audiences, but the fact that they, ultimately, can find them in what is considered to be such a 'non-mainstream' art form, for the most part, is definitely a good thing and one much better than just having them, literally, fade away. Of course, the greatest example of the genre paying respects comes about when you consider the fact that even when he hasn't recorded a single not of a single song in more than thirty-two years, the undeniable face of Reggae music is still and will likely always be that of Bob Marley. I cannot think of a single style of music which is more closely associated with a single person than Reggae is with Bob Marley. An old friend of mine (biggup Youstice) makes the case that it is because the actual word 'reggae' really has no other even remote usage other than to describe music and while, linguistically, that may have something to do with it, what fans of the music and even the most casual of observers consistently do is pay homage to an elder by, so immediately, noting the association. You can also see it working with artists who are still physically with us and recently it's been happening a great deal with albums. There was, easily one of Reggae's most respected figures EVER, Beres Hammond, who delivered the wonderful double set, "One Love, One Life" last year and we've recently seen works from such esteemed names as Cocoa Tea, Maria Griffiths, U-Roy (more on him later), Freddie McGregor from earlier this year and others as well (like Captain Sinbad!). Also, coincidentally, fitting somewhere in there very nicely is a piece which should be quite popular amongst our readers from just last year by the name of "Masterpiece" which came from veteran vocalist, Glen Washington. Washington's case is most unusual because, though he may not be historically as popular as any of the names mentioned thus far, the singer has enjoyed a run of success and popularity in recent years, at such an advanced stage of his career, which has been one of the, if not THE, most impressive he has seen to date. Well, someone who played a very large role in that, altogether, and was the driving force behind "Masterpiece" is at it again with one of the most glaring fixtures in the history of Reggae music - the great Cornel Campbell.
Of course I am referring to the suddenly very active Zion High Productions and the always very active Zion I Kings (yeah, them again!) who have now turned their collective attentions in a most legendary of directions. Earlier this year (like a few weeks ago really), ZHP and the ZIK would deliver the very strong "Original Yard Food" ["sometimes things set awayyyyy. Can't forget how to prayyyyyy"] [BOOM!] by another veteran in General Jah Mikey and, even more recently, they'd join I Grade Records on the leading candidate of Reggae compilation of the year, The Songbird Riddim ["when I hear he songbirds I think of you"] [STILL! Even after all of this time! I still think of you!] and, wasting not a drop of time they return with a brand new album from one of the most unmistakable voices Reggae music has ever produced in Kingston native Cornel Campbell, one of the legitimate and very few living LEGENDS of Reggae music. 
 And they prepare a "New Scroll". Cornel Campbell is someone who, through a career spanning more than half a century (considerably more, he's probably been making music for almost SIXTY years at this point), has pretty much enjoyed every type of success that singing his brand of music has to offer and even some that it doesn't typically, as you would imagine. His name carries as much weight as any living Reggae artist amongst more hardcore fans and he also hasn't spent his recent years avoiding the limelight. He's kept busy recording (he actually has yet another album releasing in about a month's time) and he has already made his presence known with Zion High Productions. Just a few years back he teamed up, for the very first time, with the aforementioned Daddy U-Roy on what turned out to be, unsurprisingly, a very well received single, 'Babylon You Wrong', for the label. It would seem that the seeds were sown at that point for what was to come and we didn't have to wait very long for it at all. Though he has remained active as I said, I think that the "New Scroll" album is about as big of a move that Campbell has made in a very long time, musically. Someone with his laurels could seemingly, happily and fruitfully, spend the rest of his years in music singing decades old tunes to thousands of much appreciative fans, but here we have an album which, just as its title would indicate, is an entirely new set. It is a packaging and branding and Campbell's work as a crucial CURRENT artist and it is, sublimely, being promoted as such. I was so happy to see some of the press material for this album (biggup Josh from Soul of The Lion) finding this great balance between finely dealing with, but not dwelling completely on, Campbell's history and presenting this current album as something which is noteworthy right now and what you would hear after it also kind of combines the two styles. Furthermore, personally, if I needed even more to be interested in here (and I didn't), as she reminded me not too long ago when I told her of the forthcoming status of this album, Cornel Campbell is also one of my Mother's favourite singers ever [Hey Mama!] [Hi Mama!]. And my Mother (and the great Cassaruby) has very good taste so I hope this album is very good so she'll enjoy it. Is it? Will she? Certainly. Let's discuss!
"Babylon You Wrong" w/U-Roy [2010]
As I alluded to, the music on the album kind of mirrors its promotion as well. When you do something like this, you obviously are best off playing to the strengths of an artist and what happens here is a master class in doing precisely that as ZHP and the ZIK provide the singer with a sound which is very much emblematic of an era gone by. The results, as you would imagine, are nearly vintage and just so pleasing at points. Such a moment definitely opens "New Scroll" from the legendary Cornel Campbell, in the form of its most intoxicating title track. Along with just sounding amazing, the song goes a long way in setting the course for the rest of the album behind it as Campbell announces on what is, essentially, a praising track, that he is far from done and has come to continue singing to His Majesty, like no one else can (and the riddim on that song is amazing. Someone should really make the instrumental available…) And while he's here, Campbell is also going to do a bit of unfortunately necessary work and 'Weed Out Vampires'

"Dem ah gwan like dem did fight for I rights
Deh pon platform and mek a whole heap a noise
Cause dem stick I up, yes hold I up
Jah Jah know seh dem mek time look rough
What can I say?!

Weed out di vampire dem
Weed out di hypocrites dem
Weed out di vampire dem
Weed out di bad seed dem"

Here is a gorgeous marriage of message and vibes. The track, again, is immaculate and the vocalist uses it to deliver an idea of being aware and recognizing the actual intentions of people and of situations. A big tune. 'Evil Woman' is a tune that I fully expect to be a lasting signature moment from the "New Scroll" album. First of all, a credit goes to veteran singer Chet Samuel (who also does quite a bit of work with ZHP), who does an excellent backing vocal for the song, the first of four efforts featuring him in various roles here. Subsequently, Campbell goes on to speak about the fate of women (and people, in general) whose hearts aren't necessarily in the proper place and attempt to callously manipulate things in their favour. He paints a very sad portrait of what awaits them and does so on a piece which should be well received. 

To my opinion, "New Scroll" fully hits pushes things into a higher gear (and stays there!) in its middle portions which begins with an exceptionally simple song, 'People'. This song, on the surface, is just so damn straightforward and uncomplicated that it kind of drew me in, looking for something deeper, and I found it. The song isn't just a drop of Cornel Campbell's affection of the world and the people living on it, but it is really the direct opposite of the earlier piece, 'Weed Out Vampires'. After he has weeded them out - 'People' is what remains and on this tune, Campbell attempts to distinguish the GOOD in people. And it isn't wrapped up in some type of exorbitant sound, it's al very quaint and subtly set and make for a tune which may not immediately take you up, but very much grows on you and does so in a mighty way. 

"I'm looking at people
And some don't know who they are
A room full of people -
Some are big and some are small
But people is people
No matter how near or far
Yeah people is people
they're also wondering who you are
I love people
Whether home or abroad
Yeah, I love people
Yeah, I love people
Whether home or abroad
Yeah, I love people
Everyone a superstar

So many religions
So many cultures
But they all have their different songs 
Coming running from distant land
With all of their plans
And all of their ambitions
The world is going on 
I say, the world is going on"

Another winner follows 'People' in the form of the wicked 'Seek JAH Love'. This is the type of song you may've heard thousands of times, but placed in these hands, placed in this VOICE and on that track, this song does make an immediate presence because of just how instantly comforting and calming it is. It is a beautiful song and we're not done with it yet! 'Seek JAH Love' may be my second or third favourite song on "New Scroll" (virtually tied with the title track) and it precedes the highest ranker, in my opinion, on the album, the downright HUMBLING 'Chant It Out'. TEARS! I'm a very old and a very jaded man, but this thing made me feel like a little kid as Cornel Campbell and company push an unexpected traditional chanting style which eventually develops into something even more spectacular and it made me cut it off and cry with a giant smile on my face and come back and do it all over again! And after I finish writing this review (and probably before I finish it also) I'm planning on doing it several more times! 

"Carry it over mountains
Tell everyone for me
Carry it over waters
Jah Jah love is real
Use your voice and shout it
Let everybody hear
Jah Jah can move mountains
And this is reality

Loud and clear!
And have no fear!"

Ehh-ehmm! The familiarly vibed and extremely clever 'Gun Powder' is a selection aimed at not only the younger people of the world, but at the older ones who can negatively influence them as well. And it isn't the kind of clichéd 'children mind your parents and stay in school' type of thing either. It's more of a vibes on EVERYONE making a collective effort to, for the present and the future, look out for everyone else. 'Walking in The Rain' is the love song from the album and it finds Cornel Campbell taking on what remains of this particular riddim after the aforementioned Glen Washington absolutely destroyed it and left it for ruins with his magical piece, 'Fall On Me'. Campbell clearly does a nice job, as you would expect (he does a nice job with everything), but I don't think there will ever come a time when I hear that track and not starting singing Washington's tune. And finally, but not actually, we take a ride on 'JAH Highway', courtesy of Cornel Campbell. This one is really just about making the proper choices in life, thus trodding on Jah's highway. The vibes here are delightful and it probably has one of the best sounds to be found within this scroll. 

NOW! A very interesting feature added to the nine vocal tracks on "New Scroll" is the present of four additional offerings, which are all GOLDEN dubs of earlier songs. 'New Scroll', 'People', 'Weed Out Vampires' and 'Seek JAH Love' all receive the treatment and I think that it is a touch of genius to round out the album - giving it yet another bit of charming old-school feel. Without question the title track births the best dubbed out version. It is one of the best anythings you'll find here and by its end I was fully captivated and I might even make the case that it's close to, IF NOT BETTER THAN the original. It is dramatic and infectious and just a beautiful production! 'People' may lack that level of intensity, but it makes up for it in a very refined and organic feel. As for 'Weed Out Vampires', it does sound very familiar (it faintly reminds me of the Rootsman Riddim, which is almost surely do to the fact that I've been listening to it a great deal recently) and that is a good thing and this is probably a good spot to biggup veteran Wadi Gad, who adds a great deal to this album, including on this song. Lastly, and I mean it this time, 'Seek JAH Love' makes for a dub which is incredibly heavy, but versatile as well. This thing CRAWLS at points -- you almost think that it is going to stop prematurely -- but in the end, it also makes for another lovely and very compelling moment on an album which is in no shortage of either. 
Overall, while people like me certainly do overuse words like 'LEGEND' (and I will continue to, shamelessly), Cornel Campbell definitely qualifies as a bonafide LEGEND in Reggae music and the fact that he is doing any album is a big deal for the genre. However, the situation becomes greatly amplified when it is for a label such as Zion High Productions who have shown themselves to be wholly incapable of doing anything but really good music and, as I said, have also done very good at creating and generating a buzz for a project. All of that won't go unrewarded in this case because the quality meets the level of expectations. "New Scroll" is an album which provides a new school stage to shine on to one of the genuine masters of old school Reggae music in Cornel Campbell and it also gives fans another opportunity to show just how thankful we are to one of the greatest to ever do it. Very well done. 

Rated: 4.35/5
Zion High Productions
CD + Digital

Review #448

1 comment:

  1. I love the dubs. The stars align well on this outing. It's beautiful.