Saturday, November 30, 2013

'Still Going Mighty': A review of "The Qabalah Man" by Luciano

Re-cover. Although there is something certainly to be said for having a supreme appreciation for someone who has, essentially, given an entire lifetime to making wonderful music and millions of people happy along with it, I think that doing it while one is still within the process is even more powerful. In music in general, but particularly in Reggae music where the indisputably dominant figure of the genre will likely always have as strong of a presence as in any other genre of music (I do not even think it possible to have someone more closely associated with a style of music than Bob Marley is linked with Reggae), we do tend to go through whatever is necessary to give a credit to those who have, functionally, already made their amazing contributions and that's fine. Still, I think it just as important to celebrate those who will, presumably, someday join them. Although no one rises to that level [DUH!] we do currently have a small group of artists who are for the most part widely feted and distinguished for their assistance in advancing Reggae music. One of the most interesting is definitely Bounty Killer who may just exist as the most influential Dancehall star of all time for those who were to follow him (it would be a damn arduous search to actually find a [male] Dancehall act who wouldn't count the Killer amongst his most inspiring figures in music). Beres Hammond also, easily, belongs in a similar class as he is someone in Reggae music who has had a career and a presence which is probably as close to being flawless as is possible for a human being. These two are names who, especially amongst more passionate fans, have established a very large amount of unerring respect even in the case of years and years worth of controversies in the case of Bounty Killer. Legendary Roots Reggae singer, Luciano, has also amassed such a grand level of admiration and esteem in his storied career and, these days, he continues to collect the accolades with no end in sight. Luciano has seen the risings and the comings and the goings of so many different stars and potential stars and has done so without ever really experiencing a definitive drop in terms of popularity which has been remarkable. And although the genre does carry a few names which have gotten bigger, I do LOVE the opportunities during which fans of Reggae music are able to show just how powerful the message of 'The Messenjah' remains. 
"Piece of The Pie" by Junior Kelly [2013] & "Bryan Art" by Bryan Art [2013]
Albums, of course, provide wonderful chances to do just that. It has been a surprisingly long two and half years from the last time we heard from Luciano on a full album release. That album, "Rub-A-Dub Market" from IrieVibrations, in retrospect, was amongst his very best records to date and was a borderline classic in my opinion. It was also very popular, naturally, and is still very well accepted for an album of its age (and it falls in that strange category where it isn't quite old enough to grab that kind of nostalgic attention) and deservedly so. It was brilliant. I wasn't at all expecting a new project from Luciano for this year ahead of it. Prior to "Rub-A-Dub Market", he had done both "United States of Africa" and "Write My Name" within less than a year and it didn't seem as if we'd get another in 2013, but thankfully that is not the case. 
"Tell It From The Heart" [2003]
Earlier this year the well respected Anthony Senior and Al.Ta.Fa.An Records returned to action and, most notably, did two albums, one was a self-titled piece for underrated and overlooked singer, Bryan Art, while veteran chanter Junior Kelly served up a "Piece Of The Pie" to fans, simultaneously. These albums featured material which was already decently known and were, basically, compilations (if I recall correctly, and I usually do not, the tracklist on Bryan Art's album was very similar to that of his debut set, "20ten"). And the label apparently hadn't given up on 2013 as they now return with a longtime staple in Luciano for his brand new album, "The Qabalah Man". Along with doing quite a few tunes for Al.Ta.Fa.An, Luciano had also already done a full album release with a whole heap of their input. Way back in 2003, Minor 7 Flat 5 pushed a set by the name of "Tell It From The Heart". And, as was the case on a great deal of their music, it was Al.Ta.Fa.An who did much of the work for that album. By its end, though unremarkable, "Tell It From The Heart" was a solid and decent, yet very well presented, album in its time (featuring combinations with the likes of Turbulence and Lutan Fyah). Because of just how prolific he has been and successfully so, it doesn't appear, at all, that it is difficult to make music with Luciano, but when you have someone who has worked continuously with him and are now at work on a new project, you would think that, perhaps, a little more attention would be paid to that album and that has definitely been the case with "The Qabalah Man". We have really enjoyed seeing just how much of early amount of buzz this album has generated. If you recall, the aforementioned "Piece Of The Pie" received a similar amount of coverage just ahead of its own release date and I think that definitely is a credit not only to Al.Ta.Fa.An Records as well as VP Records who distributes "The Qabalah Man" via their virtually overactive distribution arm VPAL (they literally put out all of the albums) (ALL OF THEM), but also to fans. As I said, we, as fans collectively, have yet to really allow Luciano to fade to any degree and… we probably never will. And he may never give us a good reason to either, especially if he keeps making music like this. Let's talk about it!  

Although "The Qabalah Man" does mirror its predecessors from Bryan Art and Junior Kelly as far as compiling together previously done tunes, it does feature (at least to my eyes) more in the way of lesser/un-known pieces which gives it more of a fresh vibe which is very good. That being said, however, the tune which begins the album, 'Create Our History', is probably the single most popular selection on the whole of the album. The song, which features the venerable Bob Andy, is not quite a decade old, but off the top of my head, I'd say it reached in ~ 2006 or so. That isn't a problem in this case. It was a beautiful unifying piece when you first heard it and it still is and one which age has really only helped along the way. 'Don't Sell Out', on the other hand, though it does sound well familiar, I can't quite be sure that I have heard it before and it is outstanding.

"I see them coming from afar to The Motherland
And many of them, though we don't know who they are, they all have a plan
First they came with slavery and now they're coming with their industry
But I know that they have a plan to vandalize out Motherland

Say Afrikans let's be wise and don't sell out -
Prevent us living from hand-to-mouth

They still want to work us everyday 
And still they barely want to pay
Cause many of these modern day investors are descendents of backra masters
Who would work us day and night, not giving us a bite -
And still denying our rights"

The song is a historical/social commentary which is meant to uplift people of Afrikan heritage and, in that, it blaringly successful and definitely one of the biggest highlights on "The Qabalah Man”. I'm also fairly certain that the next song on the album, 'Material World' is also new to me. I think I would have remembered a song like this where Luciano maybe, sort of seems to take a not too veiled aim at a couple of his waywardly behaving peers.

"Some man come round yah, come bawl fi Gaza
And ah bawl fi Gully and bring down disaster
Di Gaza bust and di gully come down -
Because their foundation was not solid ground"

Grrrr! Also, the riddim on the song is stellar and Luciano adopts a more direct delivery which is downright dazzling.

'Create Our History' w/Bob Andy

As for the songs on "The Qabalah Man" with which you may be already 'familiar', following the opener, there is song #5 which I was just really happy to see on the album, 'Weapons of War'. The anti-violence offering actually rides the gorgeous Soul Riddim, courtesy of Oneness Records ["You won't find the key to my door!"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!]. Al.Ta.Fa.An also grabbed up a Oneness produced tune for the aforementioned "Piece Of The Pie" album and we'll also hear from them again on this album. This particular song was one of the many standouts on the Soul Riddim (which just makes me SMILE on 'impact' these days) and it occupies a similar standing on this album. The wonderful Mark Wonder (speaking of Oneness Records) joins on the BIG 'So Long' which featured on both the original and re-vibed versions of his own album for Al.Ta.Fa.An, "True Stories of Mark Wonder and Friends" (maybe they should do another!). You don't even have to fully immerse yourself in such a song to know its quality (but you should do that anyway). It is a combination between Luciano and Mark Wonder and it is a gem of a song. And also featured is Achis Reggae favourite, Naptali, who lends a hand on the still STERLING tribute to The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, 'Black Man Government' [aka 'Seven Miles']. This song was present on Naptali's conquering "Long Journey" release from 2010 (for Oneness Records) and I was also happy that they chose to include it here as, at least presumably, it pushes Naptali and his wonderful music to an even larger audience than originally picked up his own album (which doesn't include you, because you have good common sense and already have it). Later we get another combination, 'Dis Yah Reggae Music' [aka 'Sweet Reggae Music'], on which South African chanter, Vido Jalashe (biggup Black Dillinger) guests. This piece is delightful with an old school charm to it and one which is not at all vacant of social and spiritual relevance. And that is it! The rest of the songs here I may be convinced that I know some of them from somewhere, but I'm not completely sure and, again, that makes for a more pleasant listening experience and, ultimately, an album with an ability to appeal to more familiar fans as well as newer ones. 

Of those remaining "newer ones", definitely the most attention-grabbing is 'Organize' which actually features Luciano alongside the legendary U-Roy and future legend, Statian supernova, Ziggi Recado. I'm sure that composition flowing behind it is somewhat derivative of an older Al.Ta.Fa.An piece, but I do not recall hearing this tune and it is outstanding. Recado absolutely shines amongst these pillaring artists and it comes together wonderfully. The song actually comes back and gets a later as a Dub and I'm really happy that such things are becoming more and more prevalent. They could've done this with several of the songs on the album and it would've worked, but just the one is a fine addition, still. Another tune which should probably attract a similar type of buzz as 'Organize' is 'Tribute To Dennis Brown' which Luciano does with the aid of Dub-Terian on the melodica. This song is, essentially, a cover of Brown's 'Stop The Fussing and Fighting' and it is a stirring rendition. Yet, despite carrying such an impressive cache of guests and doing big tunes throughout which're far more likely to end up in the spotlight, my absolute favourite song on the whole of "The Qabalah Man" is definitely the MASSIVE 'No Mercy'. TEARS! 

"I si dem rising up dem war-machine 
Warmongers cooking up another scheme -
To wipe the human population clean
But wicked man cannot fulfill their dreams
History is trying to repeat itself 
You can read it in their books, on their shelves
Just like Hitler and Napoleon
Mussolini and dem evil gang
They're trying to destroy Jah children
But Father God is here to mash up dem plan
And there's no victory for no evil man
Warmongers your lives will surely end

Wicked man yah gone haffi fall
In your blood - guiltiness
Only Jah can save us now

Because they let the devil intervene
They want to wipe away the nation clean
I si dem coming with their poison gas
To make the people blow away like trash
And now it's time that wi realize -
How many innocent get brutalized
Well what will happen is a big surprise

BOOM! This tune is spectacularly presented and it is kind of unique for a Luciano song. He doesn't often blend the spiritual with the tangible in such a powerfully direct way, but in this case he intertwines them in such a way that he ultimately paints a picture that one is literally dependent on the other which, again, makes for a song which has a wider range of potential fans. And though it may not get the biggest push (or one of any kind), this big moment really adds to the fuel of the album for anyone who takes the time to listen to it in my opinion. Doing the same on a slightly smaller level is a trio of pieces which round out the album. 'Speak Your Mind' is a very good offering which has a 'large' and sonically pleasing vibes to it. Because of its punchline ["You've gotta speak your mind, tell it from the heart"], it probably would have fit better on the older album, but it works well here as well as a tune really speaking on the danger of letting things build up inside of you without really just letting someone or something know how you feel. And later is 'Skull & Bone' on the classic riddim. It is delightful to listen to is an extremely straightforward song about staying away from negativity in life. Things dazzle later in this song, making for one of the more entertaining selections on "The Qabalah Man". And finally check the somewhat Jazzy 'Don't Give In'. It isn't amongst the album's best to my opinion, but it did grow on me just a bit through spinning it a few times. So be sure to give the song a real opportunity to impress before passing a final judgment.
Overall, I do want to stress just how pristinely done this album is in terms of how everything was placed together and eventuated. In that aspect particularly, it is one of the better Reggae albums of the year. As for the music, while I don't think that I would put "The Qabalah Man" amongst Luciano's top ten albums to date, it very comfortably would fit within that next group (and it would be one of the better in it as well in my opinion). What the album does best is what Luciano has done best throughout his career: It's very consistent. Finding a legitimately BAD song from the singer, in general is a difficult task (even with opinions being as fickle as they are), but finding one on this album is an impossible one. There aren't any. And, again, I do really enjoy just how much of a big deal has been made of this album. Big credit goes to Al.Ta.Fa.An Records for that and to Luciano who has once again given fans a reason to celebrate what has been one of the greatest careers that Reggae music has ever seen. Well done. 

Rated: 4.10/5
Al.Ta.Fa.An Records
CD + Digital 

Review #479

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