Thursday, July 4, 2013

'Can't Stop': A review of "Urban Jungle" by Brinsley Forde

For all times. As confident as I am in the current group of artists, I'm kind of thinking of inventing a time machine just to make sure that I'm on the right track. What I want to know, specifically, is whether or not the stars of today, twenty or twenty-five years from now, after the end of their musical primes, will continue to be capable of making music at or near the highest level. I want to know if Sizzla Kalonji can still toy with the spoken word in any way he sees fit well into his fifties. I'd like to know if Capleton's fire still burns as hot and as bright as it does now after six decades on the planet. And though you may not want to say it out loud (and I don't blame you), you know that you're interested in how a Lady Saw performance might look in 2035 or so. I'm suddenly curious because the more and more we see elder artists showing themselves capable of making top notch music in an era which began long after their own, I'm hoping that the current generation will prove just as fruitful in the years to come. Until then, however (or at least until I finish my machine), it is so nice to be able to hear such refined and accomplished talents succeeding on a level which, truly, shows their talents to be timeless. In just the past couple of years or so, we've seen so many gifted elders who have kind of eschewed the typical method of singing to fans their already classic material (and I'm not complaining about that, certain songs should always be sung by certain people) and, instead, have gone about the business of making new classics. Of course, most recently there was the brilliant Cornel Campbell, a man who has been singing Reggae music for nearly sixty years, who returned with a fantastic new set in "New Scroll" and also has yet another new album forthcoming later this month. As we discussed then, we've also seen releases from the likes of Freddie McGregor, U-Roy, Marcia Griffiths and others (like Trinity) who, again, though may come from an time long gone and were presumed to be past their best years - apparently no one bothered to let them know that. Fittingly, another pair of artists who we've heard from recently who would most certainly fit into that pack would be Earl Sixteen and Apple Gabriel from Israel Vibration. What do they both have in common? Besides being amazing Roots Reggae singers, the two have recently released albums for the increasingly flaming Dutch label, JahSolidRock and now someone else of GIANT note is taking the same route as the incomparable Brinsley Forde also visits the highest region. 
The label, which is more and more becoming identifiable as the place where veteran modern vocalist, Chezidek, does his best work (still fresh off the release of the MAMMOTH "The Order of Melchezedik" album) (in stores now) has also been keen to pay a heavy attention to forwarding the past as well. In 2010, they would give us "Teach Them Right" album from Gabriel and the following year would bring "The Fittest" from Earl Sixteen as well. These were and remain a pair of very well received sets from two very esteemed artists. Those albums, in retrospect, are very interesting as a pair because it shows just how much JSR believed in how viable those talents STILL were. It is one thing to maybe put Apple Gabriel on a riddim or feature Earl Sixteen on a tune on someone else's project, but to make two full albums for those artists in the 2010's, when what you do is make albums (and not kind of stumble upon them because you record someone on every riddim that you do and just kind of decide to compile albums from singles) really does say a lot about the label and their most recent move is also speaking volumes as Brinsley Forde, best known as the founder and frontman of pioneering UK Reggae outfit, Aswad, now takes us to the "Urban Jungle", courtesy of JahSolidRock. 

The first thing that struck me as interesting about this actual release (besides its cover, which is fantastic) is that it is actually the very first album that Brinsley Forde has ever done as a solo artist. To my knowledge, Aswad has been around for the last forty years or so and you kind of think it's somewhat automatic that, after such a period of time (like Apple Gabriel and like Bunny Rugs from Third World, who we also heard from in the last year), that he would have already had a solo release, but "Urban Jungle" becomes it and Forde could not have chosen a finer destination than JSR as a label which has not only done big things, but also one which has this delightful old school textures in their typical sound which figures to meld perfectly with the artist's.  Not that such a thing would be extremely difficult, given Forde's past. The man has literally done everything there is to do in Reggae music and pretty much held every position, so you would think (and you would be right) that such a track record would probably include the creation of a talent which could find a fitting home pretty much anywhere. And although he hasn't been extremely active in the studio in recent years to my knowledge (apparently loading up for this set), Forde has definitely done excellent work in recent years. Perhaps most notably his biggest efforts have come via the wonderful people at Necessary Mayhem from out of the UK, but he's also voiced for the once mighty Cousins Records and even Lockdown Productions for Tippa Irie (he also had a very nice tune, 'Inspiration Prayer', alongside Clinark a few years back). So, in the midst of everything else he does, Brinsley Forde has been mindful to maintain himself and his skills as a musician and, unsurprisingly it pays off tremendously on the new album and perhaps just being naturally gifted has something to do with it as well because "Urban Jungle" quickly shows itself to be exceptional. 

As I said, as is usually the case with JahSolidRock's output, "Urban Jungle" very much has an old-school type of vibes to it throughout and in this case, that comes via Marc Baronner and Manu Genius, of longtime JSR collaborator, Not Easy At All Productions. They make fourteen sublime tracks over which Brinsley Forde dazzles. Want an example? Check the album's sterling opener, 'Sodom & Gomorrah'. Though the tune starts off sounding like something out of a Godzilla movie (biggup Godzilla), it subsequently ascends into one SWEET composition (love the horns on that tune and throughout the album as well) which carries a big social commentary and antiviolence piece from Forde in reference to London. For me, this is easily one of the largest songs on the album and, particularly given its sound, a fine choice to begin matters on. The second piece, 'Whispering Tree', however, may be even stronger in some ways. The first song is definitely constructed to provoke thought and discussion and it succeeds in doing that, 'Whispering Tree', on the other hand, is to make you move and make you SMILE and just generally feel good and, again, it is a massive success!. BOOM! Next is decidedly modern 'She Don't Wanna Try'. If this came from someone like Ziggi or Benaïssa or Smiley, I don't think it changes much at all actually. As for the song, though it is very specific, and uses a story to make its point, I think that at its core 'She Don't Wanna Try' is a song about perseverance and not falling victim to things that catches so many people in life ["Don't we all make the same mistakes?!"] and to not give in at the first sign of rocky times. 

Though he surely does start well, to my opinion, Brinsley Forde really begins to find his way through this "Urban Jungle" in its middle portions and, essentially, continues throughout the duration of the album. 'Million Miles', for instance, is absolutely brilliant. 

"Why must the colour of man's skin -
Why must it always be denied?
Is there no hope?
Til love begins - mankind will never win
Oh why?
Why must there be? Tell me again -
First class and second class citizens
Until these things are made abundant
As long as this is - never a million miles away

I see the blood run down the street
Will they forever find the cause
Conflicts and rumours assuring wars
Never a million miles away 
I see them fighting in the East
I see them warring in the West
And though they dream of lasting peace
Wars and wars will never cease
Never a million miles away

I hear their screams I hear their cry
I hear the weak, they're asking why
Why must the strong, they loot and plunder?
Why must they raid and conquer?
Until these days come to an end -
Until all nations stand as friends
Until these things have come to past
No peace will last
Never a million miles away"

BOOM! The song is about as clever of a social commentary that I've heard in recent times, with Forde seemingly saying that a better way is there and it is attainable, but people treat it as if it is so far away. 'Million Miles' is a fantastic song and one of my favourites on the album - the only one which I definitely enjoy more, however, is the one which it precedes on "Urban Jungle", the MAMMOTH 'Chillin'. This selection is one dealing with the Afrikan Diaspora, one of my favourite topics and Forde goes after it HARD and with him he brings the legendary David Hinds from Steel Pulse (incidentally, having done albums for Israel Vibration and  now Aswad, are the prospect of a Hinds album from JSR.. inevitable???) 

"We were chillin
Just before the soldiers came
Now I am searching
But I don't even know my name
You came in your numbers, tried to surprise
Women grabbed children and ran for their lives
You put chains on my feet
Oh you bound them so tight!

Put aside the elderly -
They're no good for human cargo
Load your ships with the silver and gold
Then you steal away

You come to take I life away
Oh you are guilty, you must pay!
Now so many have gone astray"

The two, certain friends, make for a MIGHTY moment of a song and one which I feel well has the potential to do big things if given the opportunity to shine. 
'Can't Stop Me Now' & 'Baby I Love You Now'
Speaking of time in the sun, the two songs from "Urban Jungle" which have already received a bit of the gleam of the spotlight also manage to impress, 'Baby I Love You Now' and the album-closing 'Can't Stop Me Now'. The former, one of two love songs on the album, is basically saturated in an old-fashioned type of charm. It did take a minute or two to grow on me, but it should be said that this track may very well have THE best chorus on this album. 'Can't Stop Me Now' had no such a gestation period though. I well enjoyed it from the first spin through. Fairly self-explanatory, given its title, the composition thrives lyrically and sonically. It has a heavy message of being determined no matter what you may be forced to endure, but DAMN this song sounds so good! I always talk about how when someone is genuinely skilled at what they do, they can make a song whose presentation matches its sentiments and this is a perfect example of that. Brinsley Forde is saying that no matter what you do to him, you can't stop him and, as someone would when making such a declaration, he sounds HAPPY and CONFIDENT because he has the assurance that whatever awaits. He's full prepared for the moment. Big tune. Continuing on in the previous streak, 'Come Jah Children Come', which follows 'Chillin', is a stellar praising piece with a downright divine riddim carrying it. Forde embraces the spiritual side of things here (he has no choice with a title like that), but he wonderfully makes a more tangible connection to things as well. So you get a far more relatable and accessible offering to the masses - regardless of what path you may take in life. And have I told you how great this track is??? If they wanted to continue with it, I wouldn't have complained. 'Shewodun [Misguided]' was another set which took a bit of time to build up for me (and listening to it now, I'm wondering why that was exactly) (I keep telling you that I'm not all that smart), but I now rank it very highly as a highlight piece on "Urban Jungle". The song is really a challenge to listeners to question basically everything we think we know of the world. What I took from it, ultimately, is that it is call to action to become more socially active and concerned. I think it is one aimed at kind of taking apart apathy and indifference and replacing it with empathy and some sort of compassion for what is going on in the world. 

The album's other love song, the FARRRRRRRRR too relatable for me 'He Won't Love You' (that was a long time ago, but some things you just DO NOT get over), though maybe destined to be overlooked, is just as strong as 'Baby I Love You Now' and, at least for me, both of them being on the album make for a stronger project as a whole. And there is only one ganja song on "Urban Jungle", 'Blaze It Up', which may not be a favourite of mine, but what I will say is that I do like it significantly more right now than ever, so I'll keep working on it. Rounding out the album is a remaining trio of (and I'm still listening to 'Blaze It Up' and… yeah, not bad) tunes which are also amongst its best. In my opinion, the best of them all is the third, the LOVELY 'Shed No More'

"Not another single drop of blood
Heathen - shed no more!
Not another single drop of blood
Heathen - shed no more!
Not another single drop of blood
Heathen - shed no more!
Not another single drop of blood from the innocent

Watch babylon how dem ah try bun di youth dem!
Watch babylon how dem ah kill out Jah Jah fruit dem!
Persecute di youth and have dem bawling out!
Dem caah tek no more, dem soon explode, dem ahgo boom you out!
When hungry belly caan find food to eat, dem gonna tear you out!"

This song is a focused lashing out at corruption and those who persist and proper within it because they always do so at the peril of others. 'Urban Jungle', the song, also comes in here and fittingly, is as remarkable as a single track as the record named after it is as an album. And there's also another combination, 'One of Those Days', which features Forde alongside, Jah Son. I didn't have much of an opinion on this one from the first few times that I heard it, but it too has progressed. This isn't the type of track which kind of jumps out at you, you'll have to do a bit of work to get it, but I think it's worth it, particularly for more experienced fans of the genre.
Overall, unless I'm really forgetting about something (and I probably am), this is my favourite album that JahSolidRock has done with someone not named Chezidek. I do think that it is likely to find more of an audience amongst more longtime Reggae fans, though it is accessible, there is a clear lean here towards those who bring more experience (and if you've just read a review this long, surely you qualify) and for someone like that, You and I, there are gems to be found on this album. None of that, however, should be very surprising given the circumstances. Brinsley Forde's "Urban Jungle" is yet another in an increasingly lengthy queue of recent releases which demonstrate that ACTUAL talent does not come with a date of expiration. Now - time to get to work on that time machine. Very well done. 

Rated: 4.5/5
CD + Digital

Review #454

1 comment:

  1. I expected computerized love songs al late 90's ASWAD, I was wrong!! This album is HARD. Love it.