Monday, September 30, 2013

'The Way It Should Be': A review of "Rootical" by Lloyd Brown

Proper. Though we will take terms and phrases such as 'mainstream' and 'major label' and set them aside for the moment, within the more terrestrial scene of Reggae music, there definitely exists a hierarchy in terms of being offered the best chance to succeed by working with the proper people. This is true in virtually all aspects of the music -- from linking an artist with a producer with a corresponding vibe to finding a label who will actually go far in promoting the output from such a link -- but it is particularly true when it comes putting together albums. Even today with an essentially unlimited avenue of knowledge existing, sometimes Reggae albums are lost in the proverbial shuffle and are never even afforded the opportunity to succeed or fail, if they must, and you end up with someone whose more fervent fans didn't even know they were working on a project when it just sort of appears one day (biggup Chezidek). Someone else who could definitely tell you more about that (and probably anything else you wanted to ask him as well) would be Achis Reggae favourite and UK Reggae pillar, Mr. Lloyd Brown. With a remarkable thirty-one years behind him in singing Reggae music and likely thirty-one more ahead of him, Brown has likely experienced all the joys and sorrows that this music has to offer, but up until very recently, it seemed as if he had really tuned in and was in the process of going through another prime of sorts, as we've seen from artists such as Glen Washington (more on him in a little while) and the likes. Up until very recently, Brown was surging - making some of the absolute best music of his entire career and, really, placing himself in a position as one of the genre's wholly most reliable and dependable entities. When November came rolling around, it meant a new Lloyd Brown album was in the offering and, whatever he brought was almost inevitably one of the better releases, from anyone, in a given year. Also, he had found great connections. He'd worked with labels such as VP Records and the once mighty Jet Star in the past and, retrospectively, in the relatively brief time in which they enjoyed a significant amount of prominence, Lloyd Brown was the 'cornerstone' of Cousin's Records. But times have changed and one of Reggae's most comprehensive and delightful of talents has changed with them and not always for the best.  
"30" [2012] & "New Veteran" [2013]
But things can still be set right. Interestingly enough, over the past couple of years or so, Lloyd Brown [Hi Denise!] has taken his music, or at least the presentation of it, in a different course. His last two albums, "30" from last year and "New Veteran" just a few months ago(solid pieces, both of them, especially the latter) were digital-only releases and, at least as far as I know, the latter remains only available on iTunes to this day. On one hand you're happy because he is still making fine music, but in that form I'm sure many of his more casual fans weren't even aware of either or both of those sets. And, as a ner… fan, I want people to be excited about the music I'm excited about and that didn't happen in those cases. Simultaneously as Brown's outward shift, someone else was wonderfully in the process of putting things together remarkably, however. The US based Zion High Productions has already had an excellent year in releasing albums from both the legendary Cornel Campbell ["New Scroll"] as well as the well respected General Jah Mikey ["Original Yard Food"]. And last year, they also checked in with the year's finest compilation ["Jah Golden Throne"] and one of the best albums of 2012, courtesy of the aforementioned Glen Washington ["Masterpiece"]. Just looking and thinking about it on the most immediate and superficial of levels: a Lloyd Brown album from ZHP would be… just a really good idea!

Why not do it? In a return to the big stage and, probably even more significantly, CD shelves, Mr. Lloyd Brown, WONDERFULLY, goes "Rootical" with Zion High Productions and the always flaming Zion I Kings. Over that same period of time that ZHP has flourished, I Grade Records has also hit yet another peak in their remarkable lifespan (and are hopefully are about to hit another one with a new Lutan Fyah album later this year) and done so, again, with the backing of the ZIK. They all come together to make a healthy style of somewhat old school spiced, but very appreciable in the modern sense, Reggae music which, at least on paper would presume to be right along with the type of music Brown typically makes and excels at (obviously). When I first heard of this album forthcoming, along with the fact that it meant another very likely well promoted BIG album from the singer (biggup Josh from SoulofTheLion, they do such an excellent job in helping so many labels do their promotion), something else that went through my mind initially was that "Rootical" would ultimately represent, at least to my knowledge, the very first time Brown would have turned over production duties on one of his albums in long time. I still consider myself a relatively recent fan of his, having taking a fuller notice just in the last seven or eight years now (you have to do some 'growing up' to listen to Lloyd Brown's music) (not entirely, just some) and over that same period of time, for the most part his output has been helmed by someone named Lloyd Brown on their Riddimworks Productions imprints. Music, clips, promotion, production and even all of those things for other artists came under the Riddimworks banner and though he had recorded for a variety of maestros in recent times, the notion of a new Brown album completely from anyone else was captivating and then you place ZHP and the ZIK on top of that and it magnifies even greater. And again, it wasn't as if he was suffering, musically, on his own because he was not. But what we're here to see is whether or not Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings can continue to work their magic… Actually we don't even have to ask that question. You know this album is good. Come on!  
Unsurprisingly, though the producer of the album is different, "Rootical" isn't at all a deviation from Lloyd Brown's output in contemporary times. Also of note is that Brown, himself (also unsurprisingly), takes a co-production credit for the entire set and the Riddimworks flag is flown high all over the new album. Also soaring is the opener for the new album, 'Live In Love'. Like you, I've probably heard a few dozen or so tunes with this title or with similar variations of it over the years and because of that, you kind of expect a certain type of vibe when you see it. In this instance, while Brown doesn't exactly surprise in terms of the nature of the song, what he does do is impress and do so in a major way. The song is a very upful one by the track, but when the vocals reach it hits an even higher point and really just makes me smile! The song kind of points to love as a key foundational element of life and what the singer seems to say is that, no matter what you do and no matter where you do it, if you are not rooted in love, then you are standing on slippery ground. I really like the open nature of  the song ["where we go from here, who am I to say?"] which fittingly compliments the nature of song, which paints a picture neither too perfect nor too gloomy and, ultimately, one SWEET song to start the album. Next comes to the first of two consecutive and four total combinations on "Rootical". In the recent past, he has collaborated with the likes of Dennis Brown, Tanya Stephens and even Grace Jones and his roster of guests is probably as big as anyone's not named Gentleman in the past few years or so. This time around he dazzles! First is ZIK favourite Jahdan Blakkamoore (2014 would be a LOVELY year for a new Jahdan album, wouldn't it?) who joins Lloyd Brown in telling all to 'Keep On Keeping On'

"So keep your head about you while others are losing theirs
Cause they've no right to judge you based on the sum of all their fears
Keep your wits about you for there are potholes at every turn -
Dug by those who nuh like you, waiting for you to crash and burn"

"The world we living in today, full up of ups and downs
Friend-enemies and badminded people all around
Everyday another situation fi tackle
Life is battle, now you really need a miracle
Tell yuhself go hold some ises, inna di tabernacle
You gotta be nimble leaping over life's obstacles
Some a dem will tell you seh di race is not for the swift
Haste makes waste, so be mindful you nuh slip
But when opportunity visit -
Try - don't miss it
It's all about your life and how you live it
[Live it!]
It's all about your love and how you give it
[Give it, give it, give it, give it]
So keep your head up to di sky and never say die
Hail the power of The Holy Trinity, Selassie I
Hold the faith and keep it positive
Love up yourself and burn out negative"

The song is one about remaining positive and determined in the presence of bad times and struggles in life and while Jahdan's portion of the tune is quite limited (you don't really hear him much outside of his verse until much later in the tune), the two combine to make for a very compelling moment and one of the album's best. Also on board "Rootical" is VI superstar, Pressure Busspipe who lends his considerable talents alongside Brown on the album's eponymous effort. I was very curious as to the direction of this tune and what I subsequently took from it is that Lloyd Brown's desire to remain living a positive and upful existence, but also one which is very much built upon a positive basis long instilled. To his credit, Pressure also follows in kind ["Jah inna mi thoughts, every still I walk. IF MI NO BORN FI LIVE, THAT MEAN DOG NO BORN FI WALK"] [BOOM!] and offers his typical brilliance to add colour to the otherwise HEAVY composition. 

Later, the (seemingly) very youthful Yisrael Emmanuel also makes an appearance on the stellar, 'How Could I'. This one is just about being grateful for the good things you do have in life ["from you can see, hear, smell and taste and touch, you're blessed with much"] and stop complaining about what you do not. Emmanuel does impress with a very captivating 'rough around the edges' approach so keep and eye and an ear on his future works as well. You should do the same in regards to the present, future and past of the final collaborant (not an actual word) to guest on "Rootical", Trini Roots Reggae empress and my choice as the genre's current most talented female artist, the walking divinity that is Queen Omega, who is featured on the unity tune, 'Together'

"Unity is strength!
Strength give much power!
Together we stand, divided we fall
Lets put hand in hand, one and all
To reach the top

Throughout the seasons of time I stop, watch and think
I see the chain is as strong as its weakest link
We need one another, no matter who we are -
Just like the night needs the moon and the stars 
We have to synchronize -
Hail one God and King -
The Maker of all things!
HE is the Ises, Supreme Creator
Let's dwell together in nature"

This song does precisely with concept of unity what the opener does with love and, as I've said in the past, the world is simply a better place when Queen Omega is making music and when she's doing it with Lloyd Brown, there're many people who are going to have a nice day listening to this song and You and I are two of them. 

Including some of them already mentioned (particularly 'How Could I'), "Rootical" features some really SMART moments from Lloyd Brown which stand out on a vivid and glaring level. Such a piece would definitely be 'What You Sow' on a bit of a different level. This song, very straightforwardly, makes it point of everyone correcting our ways and actions before it is too late, but if you really tune it in, you hear some very clever things, especially in the first verse, which give it a much deeper nature as a song. And the dense riddim behind it is solid gold. 'Winds Of Change' is another one which really promotes deep thought and it comes together in one lovely package. This song applies quite literally in this case because it finds Lloyd Brown saying that, whether you're ready for it or not, times change and you must change with  them or fall. This is a very unusual point to make in Reggae where, so many times, the ideology is to return to the ways of old, but Brown is steadfast in his idea to RESPECT change and the passage of time. You cannot always have things your way and even if you can "your way" will also change over time. It is a very gripping song and there is a flute or something in the background which just grabs my senses as well. Check 'Have I Got Through To You', which is Brown just catching up with the listener, making sure that he hasn't lost one or two of us and that we're still paying attention. If you are not you will miss an excellent song, this one highlighted by a gorgeous saxophone played by Jah Bless. Later is the genius 'Just One Time', a song whose intent I had no idea of prior to hearing it (I always like that feeling - when I do not know what to expect at all), and a big surprise. 

"Just one time we have upon this earth
For what its worth - make it work
A just one time we have to live this life
To make things right
Make it right

If your mind shut, you lose
No pressure, do whatever you choose
The road you take is the bed you make
Caught, now you give and take
You dun know life is short
Raise up your hear, love with all your might
Come mek wi live life

Don't you know
Life equals love
Don't you know
Life equals love"

This surprise is a nice one. On this song, Brown says to make the best of your life because, at least as far we know, you don't get another opportunity. This song is necessarily broad because improving one's life can literally mean an infinite amount of different things to everyone and the artist leaves it to you to outline what it means to you. Still, I have to say that the cleverest moment on "Rootical" and my choice (and probably only my choice) as the album's headliner is sensational 'Not From Me'. I took this song in a way in which Lloyd Brown is saying that if this album and its messages are ignored -- if no one lives in love, in unity and he hasn't gotten through to one soul out there -- there will still be negativity and nastiness and evil things in the world, but you won't be able to get a drop of it from Lloyd Brown! If you're looking for these things, they subsist in profusion throughout the world, unfortunately, but not from him. This, for me, is a personal song. It is a discussion between Brown and one other person and what he's saying is that you can continue to be a nasty person if you like, but he chooses not to and he hopes that you will also. Big credits go all around on this one from me, but especially to Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred from I Grade who plays a WICKED melodica later on in the tune (and biggup all the musicians here, particularly Alfred, but also Andrew 'Moon' Bain and Jah David) (the great Dean Pond also lends a hand as well). 

"If a badmind you want
You can get it if you want it
And if a hatred you want
If you want it, you can get it 
If a grudgeful you want
You can get it, but not from me
Not from me

See I got peace, love and overstanding
See I got peace, love and overstanding
Overflow with peace, love and overstanding
See I got peace, love and overstanding"

Rounding out "Rootical" is a nice trio of songs which also add a bit of colour and texture to the project. 'Na Na Na' is a tune clearly designed to get heads knocking and feet stepping (it works) as one of the most sonically scintillating installments on the project. It features a hypnotic guitar from Moon and is just a great song to listen to. The song which chases it on the album, 'I Don't Think You Heard Me', is kind of a broken lover's song where the communication of the relationship has vacated it and it spiraling out of existence. It still is a nice song to listen to, particularly as it progresses and various sounds are added and added. And lastly, the album's drum heavy closer, 'Can't Lose Sight'. While I can't say that the song is a favourite of mine, I do hear something here which is a quality compelling me to come back to it over and over (and you know I'll find it if it really is there). The song does have a great sound to it, again, and maybe that's it, but I will tell you to give it a while, whether you already enjoy it or not, before ultimately making up your mind. 
Lloyd Brown
Overall, I really want re-accentuate the fact that "Rootical" isn't at all a step outside of what Lloyd Brown usually does musically. If you enjoyed his past five or six albums or so, you're going to like this as well. If you didn't enjoy them, then chances are high that you (are a really bad human who is also unkind to small animals) won't find much here to like either. I wanted to go back and see if it was otherwise, but I could not find a connection between Brown and the label[s] here beyond the aforementioned "Jah Golden Throne", where he had a pair selections (neither of which are on this album, but one did appear on "30") from last year, but in a relatively short time, apparently both artist and label impressed one another to the point that they felt comfortable enough to do an entire project with one another. The results, on one side, is yet another sterling drop from Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings who continue to clearly demonstrate that when it comes to Roots Reggae albums in the current sense, they have very little in the way of competition as very few do it as well as consistently as they do. For Lloyd Brown, however, "Rootical" is not only a continuation of his mighty form of recent years, it is also a return to the spotlight where fans can fully know about, enjoy and celebrate his wonderful music: Back where he belongs. 

Rated: 4.35/5
Zion High Productions/A Train Entertainment
CD [October 8] + Digital

Review #470

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