Thursday, September 26, 2013

'Bonded': A review of "Jah Element" by Chuck Fenda

Special mix. I think that we, as fans, often overlook certain smaller things which are almost always present when the wonderful music that we enjoy so much is made. Surely you may not want to get too involved or too educated (if such a thing is possible), but as a more studious type of listener, tracing and focusing on more behind-the-scenes details can be really advantageous for you. One of these very essential 'elements' which can lead to great results is a level of musical chemistry between vocalist and producer. Even if you briefly think about it, you almost surely have a favourite musician and you probably have a favourite producer with whom you most enjoy their his/her work with and even if you don't, throughout the years we've seen some really powerful tandems emerge who seem to bring the best out of each other. Right now one which definitely is going to jump into mind is the goldmine of vibes which the relationship between Tarrus Riley and Dean Fraser has proven to be. With Riley's skillset and with Fraser's already storied career, getting something strong from either isn't very difficult at all, but in each other they've definitely found a perfect musical partner. You would think as well of the most likely case of the peculiar Protoje, who just happened to be cousins with one of the greatest Reggae/Dancehall maestros of all time in Don Corleon and, in a relatively brief period of time, the two have already shown a fantastic penchant for working with one another, unsurprisingly. Also, going somewhat more out of the typical line, I do have to mention the very fruitful union between Chezidek and Dutch label, JahSolidRock. It's been quite a while from Chezidek's days at Xterminator and JSR has recorded full albums for a variety of different names, but when they work together something just seems to light up and the tracks sound brighter and Chezidek's pitch sounds perfect-er (still very, very strange, of course, but perfect) (biggup Perfect, new album, "Over The Top", in stores now). And surely you can't talk about musical pairs in this current era without mentioning Baby Cham and Dave Kelly. The latter is probably the greatest Dancehall producer of all time and the former will, one day, leave a legacy which is almost entirely directly tied to him. And there're many others which are not as prolific as those, but just seem to be very successful links which have done great things over the years and are still doing so. 

So when you find someone with whom you know make great music, what do you do next? Maybe you can make an album… even if it takes you two decades. Chuck Fenda is someone who has never really had a problem making friends and has spent a nearly twenty year career recording for some of the biggest names in Reggae music. And even prior to his days of swearing with the Fifth Element, one of his favourite was one of the very few who can lay a legitimate claim to being THEE biggest, King Jammy and family. Fenda would voice for the King, himself, as well as his sons and his musical children, Ward 21, during the very nascent stages of his career, when he still a Bounty Killer-ish (more on him later) Dancehall DJ. Within that he would, apparently, develop a great amount of chemistry with one of Jammy's sons, John John, who produced much of the DJ's early material, which may even include the very first song he ever recorded - that was a long time ago when appeared songs like 'Badman Talking', 'How Fi Dress' and the BIG 'War Dem A Defend'.  
also from Chuck Fenda
So, after that and a change in direction which would see the former Dancehall bad boy become one of the most in demand and upful Roots Reggae acts and reliable hitmakers of his time and would lead him to a very successful spell with the aforementioned Fifth Element Records (and four full album releases) Chuck Fenda now comes full-circle with his fourth studio album to date (he had a live set as well), "Jah Element", for John John Records. The release follows Fenda's most recent release, "Fulfillment" in 2009, which was produced by Kemar 'Flava' McGregor for VP Records {your laugh here}. These days, some of John John's work seems to be focusing on more HEAVY old school and old school sounding type of compositions and, if you look back at just how long they've been working together, it's very nice that not only has Fenda remained a staple in his output, but they've also taken that leap and done an entire (nearly hour long) album together. Yes, it's long overdue, but who cares - it's a new Chuck Fenda album and you're excited about it. The album also comes at a nice time as, if you are a fan of the music, certainly you've noticed the very large stretch of albums from big names which're arriving these days from the likes of Perfect Giddimani, Gappy Ranks, Chezidek, Lutan Fyah already and Lloyd Brown in a minute. It isn't a bad time to be a fan! For his part, "Jah Element" also comes at a relatively good time for Chuck Fenda as well. Not only has it been more than four years from his last album (although it doesn't seem nearly as long for me), he's also been experiencing a very strong run lately over the past year and a half or so and though it may not be what it was during the days of 'I Swear', were their any questions of his 'durability' (shame on you!) they've been settled as he continues to offer fans very strong music and is, seemingly, never far at all from his next big hit. Albums may be another case, but there's no more waiting there either, new album from Chuck Fenda, let's go! BOOM! 

The vibes on the album are largely what you might expect. It is a mixture of very heavy and old school-ish type of sets with songs with a much more modern sound. The results combine to make for a record which definitely is entertaining and is one which challenges both Chuck Fenda and the listener as well. Getting things started on the John John produced "Jah Element" is a pair of very familiar songs with a new spin, 'None Shall Escape' and 'Badness No Pay'. The first is a KNOCKING remake of the Johnny Clarke (who makes an appearance) original and is easily one of the strongest lyrical displays on the whole of the album from a fiery Fenda who has long tired of corruption ["That's why mi haffi bun dem inna mi song dem. Babylon and dem gang fi get condemn!"]. 'Badness No Pay' is another remake -- of a Leroy Smart tune -- which not only features Fenda putting a more modern light on it, but he is joined by the aforementioned Bounty Killer (I STILL get an adrenaline rush hearing Killer when he cuts through). It's very clever that, in terms of their subjects, the tunes are similar and both are amongst the very best to be found on "Jah Element". 'Cut Of All Ties' keeps the vibes going in more ways than one. Another big riddim from yesteryear underpins a song which tells all to keep your distance from negative people and influences. 

"Come mek wi cut off all ties with badminded people
Cut off all ties with all evilous people
It easier fi di righteous man through di eye of a needle than di wicked fi si Zion -
Cut off all ties with all evilous people
Cut off all ties with all devious people
You can't put vanity in front of people
No mek di ungodly impede you"

'Spiritual Warfare' is Fenda's cut of John John's recent Inna Rub a Dub Style Riddim (one of the biggest of 2013 to my opinion) and it also shines here. Junior Reid guests on the piece which has grown on me a bit and that entire riddim was something not to be missed. I was damn curious to hear route taken by the title track for this album and it does continue the nature of the vibes set from the start of the album. The song is an intelligent praising piece which kind of plays on the natural aspect of things -- not surprising from the 'living fire' -- as Chuck Fenda tells all that there is no limit on where he is willing to go for what he believes. Big tune.


"Jah Element" does begin to sprout of a bit of colour as it progresses and we start to hear, actually, a nice variety of songs by album's end. Definitely one of the most colourful is Chuck Fenda's bar of gold on the Heart & Soul Riddim from Notice Productions, 'Warning'. That song did very well and is probably given something of a 'second-wind' by virtue of being on this album. If you didn't pay attention the first time, you now have an opportunity to do so again. Also check the lover's piece 'Sign and Seal' which comes via Truckback Records. This song should do very well in my opinion and if it does it will owe a ton to that riddim which is a straight-forward piece of mastery. Later he also comes back with 'Stop Worry', which also has a nice track, this one being Diamonds & Gold Riddim from DJ Frass. It will likely never be considered one his strengths, but Chuck Fenda has done very well received love songs in the past (biggup Cherine) and these two are amongst his best in recent times. I don't what is going on with that thing behind 'It Pain Me'. It may be 'Garage' or something like that, but it sounds like something that was made fairly normally and then intentionally drawn in a different direction (which actually clearly demonstrates an intention to make a different sound for the album). What goes beyond being questionable, however, is Chuck Fenda's big performance on the spiritually backed social commentary. Also requiring a little sifting is the tune 'Miracle' which has an extremely pronounced presence of backing singers accompanying Fenda. I had to go over it a few times before it kind of settled down for me (it's also just a LOUD song), but I did find something with a big redeeming quality to it within. Eventually, it grew to an even bigger point and I can now say that 'Miracle' is one of my favourite songs from "Jah Element". Give it little time! Also spicing up the album is a combination of songs that you may not initially link together, but I certainly did. First we have 'For My Daughter' which is song for… Chuck Fenda's daughter. 

"I sing this one for my daughter
Baby hold yuh head up high
Stay away from the valleys and the drama
These things will only make you cry
I sing this one for my daughter
Baby hold yuh head up high
I don't wanna si yuh stumble or falter
Spread yuh wings like the eagle and fly

As Jah is my witness now
I was young as you are now
Never kneel!
Never bow!

Whenever you find yourself in deep trouble
Never recline, just stay on the double
Whenever you find yourself in deep trouble
Pray to Jah, He'll lead you out!" 

And then there is the biggest tune I hear on "Jah Element" which outlines exactly how much love Chuck Fenda has for his daughter and how much every parent (should) has for their children, the MAMMOTH previous single, 'Bun Up' [Grrrr!]. This deserved song is about people who unfortunately have problems with… math and have brewed atrociously misguided personal feelings. Fenda locates not on an ounce of mercy in his body and goes ahead as you might imagine on one of the best songs I have EVER heard him do. BOOM! The cool 'Foul Play' features Angel Doolas (whose name cannot even be successfully typed without the singing of 'Fitness' concurrently taking place) and though I wouldn't call it a favourite of mine here, it is a decent song, as is 'Best In The World' which is Fenda's tribute to Jamaica. This song is a step or two ahead, however. Its chorus may not be the best on the album (it isn't), but lyrically, otherwise, it is exceptional as Chuck Fenda calls on, amongst others, the likes of Usain Bolt, Bounty Killer, Paul Bogle, Bogle and even King Jammy. And also check the big Hip-Hoppish 'Man A Rasta', which is steered by Baby G. Typically such songs don't move me but, again, I do have an appreciation for the wordplay here as well. And just in case "Jah Element" gets this reputation of kind of being this lumbering type of project, there're songs like these which add another facet of sound to a record with a downright delicious foundational type of sound. 
'Bun Up' digital single [2013]
And there's more. Earlier in the album is a DELIGHTFUL old school track by the name of 'Hustle' which, should it get the opportunity to do so, really should shine in a bright way. The selection just speaks to the activities of every day life and though it is a 'hard' song, speaking on things such as poverty and hunger and such, it does have a light vibes around it which keeps the tune from ultimately getting too gloomy as it retains some very hopeful feelings for better as well. And finally (already?) check the wonderful 'Hurt Me Heart' which is all kinds of impressive.

"Seh sufferation, mi come fi kick it over
So many things dem ah hide up under cover
Si dem ah try fi get to mi, but mi a nuh pushover

BIG, BIG social commentary and I couldn't find three or so songs on "Jah Element" which I'd rate higher than this one which definitely carries the vibes of the album and is absolutely devastating work. 
Chuck Fenda
Overall, he only has four to compare it to (and technically, three) but "Jah Element" is one of Chuck Fenda's best albums and, I'd probably say it was no worse than his second best, with its only real competition coming from "Better Days" in my opinion. The album takes full advantage of so many little things that he does well and tough you have so many songs which may sound similar to one another, you never get bored here, as I said, it is an EXCITING release. Fenda's passion behind a very loud voice is what sets him apart (and he's a very underrated writer in my opinion) and he doesn't need much of a 'plan' when he chooses to use it. There isn't always a warning and this is the type of an album which holds up a certain type of old riddim and just - let's Fenda berate it [!] puts the listener in the mind that you really have to pay attention to full enjoy it. That isn't a problem for You and I and despite its sound, I'm also giving this one an unconditional recommendation for newer fans as well. So while you may not think of them in the same way of other legendary combinations, the work that Chuck Fenda and John John have done together throughout the better part of the last twenty years pinnacles and both shine brightly on "Jah Element" and you knew that they would. 

Rated: 4.20/5
John John Records
CD + Digital 

Review #469

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