Sunday, September 8, 2013

'Roam Free!': A review of "Over The Top" by Perfect Giddimani

What works. Isn't it always so nice to find something that you are really good at? Be it making music or writing music reviews which are entirely too long (albeit ones with an amazing vocabulary), there is something very powerful to be said for discovering something that you do well. Even better, however, is finding a great way in which to augment and then to utilize your skills, no matter how unusual or rare they might be. Musically speaking, when it comes to mastering and growing the unique, we can look at quite a few different names from Reggae music. Let's take, for example, someone like… let's just use Perfect Giddimani for today. As we go further and further in witnessing his career, out of so many names of whom I am wholly curious of in the same way, I may MOST wonder exactly how history will regard Perfect Giddimani and his music. Surely he has much work to, still, do before we of the present turn him over to those of the future, but when we do, I absolutely cannot help myself but to speculate on what they might think of him. On one hand, I've always been of the mind that there will be this easy way of categorizing the era and you could (inaccurately) push him into a certain group of stars and just wrap it up by saying that he made music like Sizzla Kalonji and Capleton and Jah Mason and Lutan Fyah and other immediately and similarly identifiable names, but that would be wrong. He did not. There are dissimilarities between all of them and there are even greater differences when you compare what they do to what Perfect does. He is in a class all of his own and his only actual peer is the man that lives in his mirror. When we last checked in with Perfect he was in the midst of, arguably, the single strongest and most defined stretch of his career thus far - he was the most perfect version of Perfect that I'd heard. This has been the case over the past two or three years or so and, wonderfully, he's remained very active and maybe even as active as he's ever been as far as recording and Perfect has even managed to reach up with a couple of albums during that time as well - both of which, unsurprisingly, have been two of his best to date. 
"Back For The First Time" [2011] & "Journey of 1,000 Miles" [2012]
Make it three. Last year Giddimani would return and take us all on a delightful "Journey of 1,000 Miles", courtesy of Dynasty Records, while the year before, the Lustre Kings would help him in coming "Back For The First Time". Both of these projects and the music around them which weren't on the albums just seemed to represent some significant type of progression in his abilities. He hadn't left his roots at all -- which saw Perfect become this… very, very strange light whose most striking quality was the fact that you didn't at all know what he was going to do next -- but instead had found a way to harness them and use them more concisely, in a way he hadn't prior to that and they were fantastic releases. For his next trick, however, apparently the idea of harnessing anything has gone away and now Perfect Giddimani goes "Over The Top"
Helping this time (as it says on the cover), is the well-esteemed Austrian imprint and band, the House of Riddim. The album actually follows the much celebrated 'concept album', "Born Dead With Life", from a few years back for IrieVibrations, as Perfect's second with a label from out of Austria. If you do not know about the House Of Riddim (you are probably a really, really wicked person) they've been around for quite awhile and along with producing several top notch tracks, they've also done at least one album which you likely know, "Born To Be Free" by the woefully underrated Natty King back in 2010. HOR has also done extensive work with Perfect, going all the way back (at least) to 2009 when the label orchestrated the infamous 'Big Fat Ganja Spliff' tune. So first of all, the fact that it is them behind the new album, Perfect's seventh by my count, is no surprise at all and it also shouldn't be too shocking when you hear what you hear on the fittingly named "Over The Top". For an album which checks in at twenty tracks and rolls on for north of seventy-one minutes, as you might imagine, there is a whole heap of ground covered and it is covered in a way in which that it becomes quickly apparent that HOR, basically, just let the explosive chanter do what he wanted to do! This album is all over the place and, because of its immensity, that is a good thing! And, again, because Perfect has developed himself so well and especially recently, such a situation these days is a delicious one on paper. On that as well, I should also say how apparent it is that Perfect has worked hard in not just recording, generally, but also at becoming better at what he did and he now makes songs which aren't greatly deviated from that early raw talent that he once was (and still is in many ways) (more on that in just a second), but actually sound like an older and wiser flair at work from that same wholly unusual foundation. I'll always have this image in my head of Perfect helping Mischu Laikah (biggup Mischu Laikah) vibe a song for the aforementioned IrieVibrations [I THINK] and how she just seemed to be taking everything in at the moment and really learning not only that one tune but gaining musical experience in general. So it is clear that he's picked up a lot over the years and he's also likely picked much of it from working with the House Of Riddim so an album between the two, would likely be a very big deal and "Over The Top" is exactly that. The album features Perfect with a variety of different styles (although he hardly, if ever at all, leaves a Reggae-centric arena) and, ultimately and once again, he turns in a genuine highlight for his quickly and vastly improving catalogue. This should be fun.

Speaking of fun, though there're many serious complexions and tones on the album, that is the prevailing vibe I got from this one. This record seems like it was an utter joy for everyone involved to put together and that is always something which is reflected into the actual quality of the music to my opinion. Want an example? Check the very first song on the new album from Perfect Giddimani, "Over The Top", the very clever 'Still'. You may recall a tune which amounts to something of a classic from Perfect these days by the name of 'Nuh Bodda Mi' - years ago. This song does not have the fire of that song (most songs don't), but it is that same determined-to-make-a-point vibe to it and it is PERFECT in exhibiting what I mean when I say that, musically, even someone as volatile as Perfect Giddimani has definitely matured as a musician. The song is a broad one, but absolutely outstanding and a likely hit to my ear if it ever got the chance. World's fastest man, Usain Bolt, fittingly introduces the next full song and title piece which chases an interlude featuring the athletic great. The song is a RIPE one with ideas. What I took from this one is the idea of success being so 'fragile' and unexpected, that what Perfect is saying is that you have to go even further to win. A decision is not enough. You need a knockout to remove all questions. The piece also has all of the kind of 'atmosphere' that you would hope from a title track for a big album like this one. 'Love To Be Loved' will likely be accepted or dismissed as just a love song because… well, that's what it is. But it's a very good one and a subtle one. Perfect doesn't do subtle, typically, but it works in this case and that  track carrying this song is a GORGEOUS one so don't just pass it by. And then there's the BOOM! 

"I hail Jah!
Wicked man no got nothing to prove
Like a mountain Jah love can’t be moved!"

Perfect links with the blazing Pressure Busspipe to give "Over The Top" my selection as its best moment, 'I Hail Jah'. This is a MAMMOTH praising piece and, on paper, it was the song which most grabbed my attention initially and it does not disappoint! 

The second quarter (you make a giant album, I do it in stages) of the album also gets going with another big highlight and potential signature track in 'Double Wrong'. Though the riddim here is also a really good one, the real stars of the tune are easily the lyrics. I didn't take this one as hard as I think other may. My idea here is that Perfect is saying to do better and correct your mistakes. It is kind of dark, but there is some light here and it isn't too difficult to find either. 'Better Days', on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the spectrum and is damn bright as Perfect gives a very quick ode to Buju Banton before beginning. I don't think you can help but to enjoy this one. It has such a nice presence to it and the message behind it is one of perseverance and maintaining oneself through troubling times in life. Also, as he does occasionally, Perfect provides a bit of colour to the composition by doing just a little Marvin Gaye melody in the midst of things. Again, that is typical, fine tuned Perfect Giddimani. You just, consistently, have no idea what he is going to do next. 'The Best Thing' keeps a similar vibes as its predecessor, but is a better song to my opinion. The title explains it all. It is a love song -- the best on this album -- and another sweet and laidback composition. There's also 'Greatest Friend' which wasn't a favourite of mine through two or three spins and while I still feel that there is 'greater' material to be found on "Over The Top" (because there is), I'm warming up to this and I'll well continue to work on it. Still, just as it was in the first quintet of tracks, THE dominant selection here is the final, 'Marcus Garvey'. If you can recall back to the days when Perfect Giddimani was called Mr. Perfect, he did what remains one of his biggest songs to date in the form of the MASSIVE 'Talk Black Marcus' and while I wouldn't put this piece on that level (yet), it is another towering tribute to the legendary leader and I'm sure it won't be the last from Perfect also.
The next five songs represent some of the strongest on the whole of "Over The Top". The biggest of these in my opinion is definitely the album's second combination, 'Lost', this one sublimely linking Perfect with Ras Attitude. You listen to this song, when Attitude begins to sing and you'll come to the same conclusion that I have for the last few years or so: Ras Attitude really should think about singing more and more. And I recall an interview where he said that his Mother, Gospel singer Harella Goodwin, actually thought the same thing. He has an outstanding voice and I don't know that I've ever heard it sound as clear as it does on this song. 

"In this time, free yourself 
And also free your mind
Leave behind all covetous things and all that's unkind
Let's live in Jah love
Let righteousness rule overall

Dem lost without righteousness
Running around, trying to find a way out

How man ah own airspace, control waterway
Divide and rule the earth
For everything there's a price
Everyone want a slice
Black Woman and Child be alert
It is a slavery device
Slave master's choice -
Enslave us through school and church
Blindfolded people walking
Still skylarking
Watch dem ah lurk"

I believe the two have toured together in recent times and it shows in the musical chemistry on a song like this and, I don't know if I said this before (actually, I know I did say it), but Ras Attitude - sing more! Also of definite note here is the booming previous release 'Country Cousin' from the Downtown Riddim, courtesy of Riddim Wise. This is a very, very fun song as Perfect goes through the differences in growing in rural environments and more urban settings and says that no matter how big your city is, YOU have a country cousin (or a giant country family, who you tend to meet new (GROWN) members of every two or three months or so) [WHAT!]. I also take this one as a more broad song as a unifying piece as he goes everywhere with it and shows that despite the surface differences, they are just on the surface and what is the same is beneath. BIG tune. You'll also find in this lot of songs the infectious 'Ribbi Dubang Skeng'. I could elabourate on that one, but you already know what's going on from that title, I'm sure. This is one to get your head rocking and your body up and moving and it serves its function and then some. An excellent changeup of the vibes and a song which I can just see Perfect and HOR doing all of a sudden just to provide some colour for the album. Mission accomplished. And though they may not be likely to attract a great deal of attention, check both 'Proud To Say' (which fittingly follows 'Marcus Garvey') and 'Never Fall'. The former, as the title would indicate, is a song about being proud of who you are, in this case specifically, Perfect talks about taking the Bobo Ashanti path in life and how striking that initial look is and how rewarding it is for him to present and maintain it. 'Never Fall' is another case of nomen est omen as it is a song about staying firm and acknowledging your shortcomings, but never letting them conquer you fully.

And finally (I say "and finally", but I have five more songs to talk about), things get a bit cloudy in the atmosphere (FINALLY, I thought this was a Perfect album!) as no album or handful of random songs from Perfect Giddimani would be nearly complete without one ganja song. Here we find 'Chronic Intake' which is growing on me, but you'll have to forgive me because the last song in my mind that I compare it to was the DEVASTATING 'My Chronic' from the "Journey of 1,000 Miles" album. It isn't THAT good, but it is a solid piece still. And the smoke doesn't stop there, as Perfect enlists the help of the well talented Menny More (who appears on Giddimani’s recent Barriers Riddim) (as does Ras Attitude)  on 'Smoke Billy'. I'm not going to ruin what happens here, but I will just say that it is another interesting moment from the star who once did a similar trick with a song from Canadian folk singer, Alanis Morissette. He is boundless. HOWEVER, both of songs are dwarfed by the next song, the HUGE 'Silly U'.

"Silly you -
To think that I -
Would walk away from Selassie I
How much I love Jah
So much I love Jah

Silly you -
To think that I -
Would walk away from Selassie I
How much I love Jah
So much I love Jah"

I predict that  the chorus on that piece is going to stick firm in a few thousand brains when the masses get a listen to this big track on which Perfect steadfastly says that his faith is of an unwavering ilk. Also pay an especially close attention to hear some wonderful guitar there as well. Instrumentation is also of keen interest on the LOVELY 'Looking Glass'. I don't know it for certain, but the riddim on this tune sounds very similar to the one which backs Chezidek on the golden 'Search and You Will Find' (from the new album, "Order of Melchezedik", in stores now). Like Chezidek, Perfect also makes a fine usage of the track for his effort which gives the listener a view of a very important conversation between the chanter and someone very important to him. And lastly (really?) is one of the best three or four songs on "Over The Top", the closer 'Africa Bound'. The sentiment here is a simple one as Perfect looks to make a move home on a song the type of which, you've heard many, many times before, but what makes this one such a standout is the CONFIDENCE exuded here. In Perfect's mind, it is clear that the move is a forgone event. It is on its way, he's packed his bags and is ready to go. The song, obviously, does also come from a place of humility, but when I first heard it I smiled and I still am. 
Perfect Giddimani
Overall, I do not like to directly compare albums, especially ones so close, but I do make exceptions occasionally and here is another: "Over The Top" is a better album than the fantastic one that was "Journey of 1,000 Miles". It isn't significantly better, but it is a step ahead in my opinion. The real quality here, as I alluded to, is just how FUN this album is and how unrestrained it is. If this were 2008 and someone made an album like this from Perfect, I would imagine a much different and downright WILD sound and there're certainly elements of that here, but Perfect roaming, presumably, completely free in 2013 sounds different and excellent and a big credit goes to House Of Riddim for that, it is one of his finest to date. "Over The Top" is a record that shows that although Perfect Giddimani may have hit an even higher level of quality in his career lately, he's not content with that just yet and one of Reggae's most vivid of talents continues to find new ways to thrill us. Very good. 

Rated: 4.5/5
House Of Riddim
CD + Digital

Releases on September 10

Review #464

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