To be thankful. As we say our partings to 2013, of course we begin to look ahead to all of the wonderful things next year has in store as well as looking back on what has been a pretty solid year for Reggae music. While the year 2012 was absolutely fantastic in retrospect and 2013 hasn't been that good, we have definitely enjoyed this year and if 2014 can be just as good, it will be excellent as well. So, while now is the time that people like You and me start to compile lists of 'best of' this and of that and begin the discussions concerning who had a great year and who had… a something else kind of a year, some things remain the same and simply do not require a great deal of analysis (but you know I'm going to give it to you anyway!). As certain as it is that Vybz Kartel will continue to make headlines and controversies for one reason or another, just as sure as it is that someone new will come along and make everyone take notice of their amazing abilities and just as of little doubt as it is that Lady Saw will make an X-rated tune and Machel Montano will tell someone, somewhere, to jump and wave something, it is a guaranteed lock that Midnite, in one form or another, will be delivering multiple quality album releases and 2013 was no different and neither will next year. Though not exorbitantly active by their standards (four albums in a year for anyone else is ridiculous these days, four from Midnite is… expected), Vaughn Benjamin 'and company' continued to not only put on full display precisely what makes them one of the most curious entities in the whole of Reggae music history, but they also continued to feed their morbidly obese (yet never quite satiated apparently) and constantly swelling fan base with more and more vibes. And, as we end the year, the plans have already been set in motion for what will probably be the most anticipated Midnite album in three years as relatively early in 2014, we should get our hands on "Beauty For Ashes", the latest in a lovely string of albums from I Grade Records. Before that, however, we've still got a bit of work to do in wrapping up a fine 2013 for the group.
The first three Midnite albums of 2012 definitely offered a wide variety of sounds and textures. The first of them, probably the best, "Free Indeed", in retrospect, was a pretty popular album for what it was. Though I wouldn't say that it was their best work (because it wasn't), the interesting piece for Higher Bound Productions, like its followup, was the type of release which progressed on the listener the more and more you dealt with it. Next was "Be Strong" who not only to follow "Free Indeed", but also had a large role to fill because it was the first album released on Fifth Son Records following 2012's MAMMOTH "In Awe". It was good immediately, but I sure that I have yet to drain everything which is to be had from that record (and I could say the same for "In Awe" as well). There was also the dubbed out version of last year's "Children of Jah" album, which was fairly well received for a Dub album (and I might actually review that album) and, as early as February, there were rumours of yet another Midnite album in 2013.
|Midnite in 2013|
There were two of them, actually. One actually turned out to be the aforementioned "Beauty For Ashes" (which, now, may be album #50) from I Grade Records who, almost certainly acted wisely in delaying that until the new year but there was also a buzz building in support of the next 'real' Midnite album for Afrikan Roots Lab, "Lion Out Of Zion". Certainly you can call it the most delayed Midnite album in recent times (and maybe of all times, 'they've' never had problems getting albums released) because people have really been waiting on this album for the majority of the year, even before "Be Strong", if I recall correctly. Typically that can be a bad thing because you can have a situation where people actually begin to forget about your album or they assume that it already had been released in some type of form (especially amongst the more casual fans) (biggup Jah Cure), but it seems to have actually helped "Lion Out of Zion". I can even remember how this piece unfolded as they started to 'leak' more and more of the COVER. Songs leak. Videos leak. Full albums even leak sometime. But I cannot remember PORTIONS OF A COVER leaking to the public and in this case it worked because this album cover is spectacular. Furthermore, when you deal with albums which come from ARL and Rastafaria, especially, they don't tend to receive the greatest of promotions. It almost seems as if those labels (and probably correctly so) intensely believe that the only people who will pay attention to those releases are the more seasoned type of Midnite fans who simply do not require much more than "new Midnite album" and "produced by Ron Benjamin" to have their collective attentions peaked. And this album has already likely generated more pre-release hype than any of its recent ancestors such as "Anthology" (which didn’t get much at all and remains at least somewhat forgotten) and "What Makes A King?", which was excellent. Also the band apparently did an eponymously named tour for "Lion Out Of Zion”, so they really had high hopes for the album and perhaps that was the reason for the delay - to allow it to be promoted in such a large way. I Grade Records does an amazing job in promoting their work, but next to them, the way this album was allowed to gradually build and build, may have created one of the bigger streams of momentum for any recent Midnite release. This is normally the part of the review where I'd say something like "now the only question which remains is if the album can live up to the hype" - but I don't have to do that here, "Lion Out Of Zion" is nothing more and definitely nothing less than what you knew it would be: It's a Midnite album.
|"Beauty For Ashes" |
I also got really caught up in the moment for this album personally and, as recently a week ago or so, I was damn confident that we wouldn't see it until next year and it used to be the trend for Midnite to kind of frontload the year with multiple sets and it seemed like 2014 would go back to that with both IGR and Afrikan Roots Lab releasing projects. And, of course, we've been continuing to work our way through reviewing much of the band's back catalogue, so a new album from them is one which, these days, is very interesting to me and just as sure as I was that I'd have to wait until next year to get it, I was extremely happy to be wrong about that. The first piece of evidence of my incorrectness which rings in "Lion Out Of Zion" is a the journey that is 'Be Mindful'. The opener is a selection which requires some work. Though I do enjoy the vibes, the song is one where Benjamin doesn't go too far out of his way to synch his vocals with the riddim, but you won't care about that at all. What you most have to concern yourself with here are the tune's lyrics. The chanter weaves a historical foundation on which to plant his message of inspirational self-awareness and he goes on to deal with a wide array of subjects including, amongst other things, physical fitness. I cannot foresee a time when I'm listening to this album and not working on comprehension of this tune and, at least for me, that's a good thing. 'Force & Flames' is a piece which sounds familiar to my ears, though I don't know why exactly and am far, FAR too far lazy to see if it appears on another album. It is a sonically nice song which likely has a far deeper sentiment to be expressed than the one I clung on to. I take the song as saying, merely, to treat one another (and one's self) better and with more respect. The figure of 'force and flames' connect to a harshness and detachedness to the world, but what Benjamin seems to be saying is to take more care and concern with dealing with everyone.
Next is definitely one of the best songs on "Lion Out Of Zion", 'Things To Be Thankful For' which, THANKFULLY, kind of speaks for itself. Appreciate everything which is worthy of appreciation is the message behind this one, no matter the size or importance, because the act of being appreciative is an important one. I also love the sound of this one which definitely gives it a bit of individuality from the two songs it chases on the album. Check the downright FERTILE praising tune 'Jah In I'. This song is CANDY to my ears. It definitely carries a poignant significance, but I would LOVE to hear an instrumental of 'Jah In I'. It is backed by the best riddim on the album and, coincidentally, it precedes the best song on the album as well because the title track of "Lion Out Of Zion" is a monster. It is a MASSIVE delivery of pride of identification for people throughout the world saying that you are a consistent representative of yourself and your heritage, no matter what situation you are in. It also focuses on the Afrikan Diaspora and just how far the sons and daughters of Afrika have gone, but how we are all still connected. It is a STUNNING composition and though you'll hear songs on the subject, you won't hear one even remotely similar to it in sound from anyone else. It is quintessential Vaughn Benjamin.
The second half of "Lion Out Of Zion" is much more dynamic than its first and it, too, features some mighty moments. Such a moment comes through as Vaughn Benjamin attempts to inject a little positivity into the world with the lovely 'A Simple Heart of Love'. Alone, this is a very nice offering and one sure to get fans moving in response to it, but when you place it directly ahead of the one which follows it, it becomes even better. That song, 'Pass It On' is the second best song that I hear on this album and not only because it a day and a half long (and it is). Together these songs just make you feel good with the latter focusing on spreading joy everywhere you go. Feeling good is contagious. You'll rarely find only one person feeling good in the midst of depressed and sad people ["Every time you hold a good vibes, Jah happy"]. Quickly, whatever it is that is making that one feel good will 'infect' the rest of them and that is what is being pitched around on this song. The song also features an extended period after the vocals have concluded and we just get to hear that SWEET riddim for more than three minutes and it is a LOVELY touch here. Again, take these two as a pair and they do even bigger things in my opinion. 'Humanity Cry' kind of spoils the good mood, but only because of how it is, not because of what it is, because it is a big tune. I took this one as a reassuring piece for people who are facing or who have recently faced disaster and catastrophes. As Benjamin goes on to say:
"Not every outcome will be worth your tears"
Which is (a fantastic thing to say) an excellent way of saying that better things will come and it will not always be bad. Ultimately I think such a tune will be lost here, but when you get around to it, definitely pay it a nice attention because it is a very good song. Arguably even better, however, is the penultimate effort from "Lion Out Of Zion", 'Two Worlds', which may also be destined to be overlooked on this album. It has a delightful sound, one of the best on this album, and the idea behind the sound, just like its title, is very interesting.
"Two worlds live and commute and drive away, apart
With different aspirations of the talk
Some have dem preserve earth nature walk
SOME HAVE MATERIALISTIC LAWS SEEDED INNA DEM HEART
Shout that asunder equality of demand no depart
Haile I Selassie Jah Rastafari bring all
All who willing to love and overpower all
With a walking, deep powerful to voluntarily release song
GOOD SITUATION AND LESSONS AND WILLING PARTICIPANTS"
The music on this one is nearly spectacular and Benjamin doesn't waste the moment and, instead, pushes a vibe on the separation of ideas in the world and the different ways of life. I don't think that he is, inherently, calling one bad [despite the lyric "some have materialistic laws seeded inna dem heart"], but what he is doing is saying that one side is trying to infiltrate and eradicate the other which really just wants to be left alone. And the album's closer, 'Value Life', is another winner.
"Generation on a journey
A journey worth a couple lifetimes
Jah know same things we never see in light-
The arrogancy of self-absorption
On a compare-scale is how we see light
Looking for the front that's acting like the lead
There are forces i-vine
Out of the range to minuscule minds -
WHEN THE TRUTH AND THE NEWS COMBINE
A little control we have over time
Catastrophic events overnight
When the morning of new shine -
AND THE FRAGILITY OF MORTALITY REMINDS
When the noose screws - our entrance denied
Don't want to see enemies rejoice
There's a new day of shocking we prioritize
WHEN HIS MAJESTY TALKS, THE FULL IMPLICATIONS UNDISGUISED
IT WAS A BLUEPRINT FOR A BETTER MANKIND
Ultimatum offer must comply
If I and I value life
There is not another song on this album, not one, which is considerably better than 'Value Life' was the best of them all, I'd disagree with… I might not even disagree with you at this point. It is a wonderful piece (which I just spent the better part of an hour listening to) and not to be missed.
Overall, while I didn't mention it before (and if you didn't figure it out), "Lion Out Of Zion" is a NEW MIDNITE ALBUM! Besides just being interested in it, alone, for that reason, 'Midnite' has been on a roll lately with their new releases and this one has surely not ended that wonderful stretch. The album also follows the aforementioned "Anthology" and "What Makes A King?' projects with class and something which was quite expected and fitting to be an Afrikan Roots Lab album. While I do hesitate to do this, I am going to cautiously recommend this one to newer fans, while it can be tedious at times (and if that's problematic for you, you may [will] want to find someone else to listen to), I don't think it'll be a big deal in most cases and the music on this one is quite impressive as well. More experienced fans will probably read this review, but they didn't need to. Again, "new Midnite album" is more than enough for you and in the case of "Lion Out Of Zion" we can amend that to deservedly read "GOOD new Midnite album" - which works even better. Now on to 2014!
Afrikan Roots Lab