Friday, February 7, 2014

'Still Climbing': A review of "Love Situation" by Tarrus Riley

The peak. We often speak about just how wonderful it is when a particular artist or even a producer or label has entered a certain stretch in their respective career where their output rises above what they were previously doing. In some cases it rises even above a level of potential quality and they begin to make music which not even their most passionate of supporters thought them capable of. But these are stretches and, in many of those cases, if you suddenly see a revert back to previous levels, it doesn't come as the largest shock in the world. In others still, however, the stretch of good work isn't actually a streak of any kind at all and it is, instead, a significant rise to prominence and a revelation of talent which will see that individual assume and remain in one of the highest positions that the music has to offer for a considerable amount of time. And currently, as we look at music today, we can definitely say that few artists, if any at all (none), occupy as high of a standing in Roots Reggae than does Tarrus Riley. 'Streaks' do not last for the seven or eight years during which Riley has become an absolute pillar in the music and they surely do not last for the decade mark which he will soon reach without seeing the slightest bit of diminishment of either skill or popularity. He's just shown himself to be exceptional at making music and has well solidified his place in recent times. So after experiencing such a rise and generating such a level of reverence amongst fans (and if you really think about it, Tarrus Riley is rare because popularity is something which almost inherently births polarity in music -- you don't get very popular without making a lot of people love you AND hate you on the way up -- but he hasn't received such a grand amount of hatred amongst fans to my experience) what do you do next? You can continue on doing what you were doing. Riley, who I believe is just thirty-four years old, could likely spend the next fifteen years or so enjoying the prime years of making his style of music and if he were content to do that, people like you and I not only would not complain, but we'd celebrate it. But, he's shown himself to have more of an adventurous spirit in recent years and, even when he ventures outside of what made us love his music - he is able to find LOVE in different ways.

On his most recent album release, 2012's MAMMOTH "Mecoustic", Tarrus Riley streamlined a whole heap of his biggest tunes and produced an album which becomes more and more dazzling each and every time I hear it (an album which is well on its way to being one of the most sonically amazing that the genre has ever produced, in my opinion). It, obviously, was a step in a different direction and, though we have seen such releases in the past and will undoubtedly see more in the future, "Mecoustic" was quite strange coming someone at the stage of his career as Riley was. Presumably there was a greater market for a new studio album and instead of doing that project he focused on something which was clearly very personal and important to him and he produced a winner. So when Riley follows his heart musically - things tend to turn out very well.
"Mecoustic" [2012]
Now in 2014 and a shockingly long half decade from his most recent studio album, "Contagious" (which is a modern classic waiting to be written) (I've actually tried to do it in the past, but that album is a very unusual one to write for, for some reason), Tarrus Riley once again follows his heart and does so literally with his brand new album, "Love Situation". The album (coincidentally, like both of the two most recent albums that we've written about) is a tribute to an older era of the music and unlike Ward 21 and Mr. Williamz ("Still Disturbed" and "Set The Standard", in stores now) who both dealt with the Dancehall, "Love Situation" is Riley's tribute to the Rocksteady era: He's made a big love album. The twists and turns here, behind the scenes, are nearly as interesting as what you'll actually hear on the record. Thankfully something which had neither twisted nor turned is the presence of Riley's longtime musical maestro, Dean Fraser, who leads the musical direction for the album. Also present is the work of the venerable Shane Brown from Juke Boxx Productions. Brown, along with Fraser, manages Riley to my knowledge from last year and his presence is very welcomed on a Tarrus Riley project. It is also well worth mentioning that 2012 also birthed a similar album from the ridiculous Busy Signal (and I mean that in the best possible way, Busy Signal is a monster), "Reggae Music Again", which was the best album that we heard that year and was co-masterminded by… someone named Shane Brown. Also present (if you needed more) (and you did) are the wonderful and magical people of Zojak World Wide and the physical disc of "Love Situation" may or may  mark the very first time that the leading digital colossus has lent its name to a physical release, which is significant [even if it isn't the first time that has happened]. Also noteworthy is a particular absence. VP Records did not deal with the "Mecoustic" album and the label, who either released or re-released all of Riley's first three albums, is nowhere to be found on "Love Situation" as well - not even in its hyper-active VPAL form. What you will find, on the other hand, is another brilliant chapter in a career which has seen some serious progression in recent times. Riley, in my opinion, now occupies the same spot that Capleton did more than a decade ago as far as albums. Though you'll find others today that are more well known in the 'commercial' or 'mainstream' senses, just as were the likes of Beenie Man and others in Capleton's prime, Riley's albums may not be mainstream, but they are MAIN EVENT and despite what is turning out to be a Reggae album loaded first quarter of 2014, THIS is the one you want to focus on. Let me tell you why. 

…because it's just better than the other ones. While the circumstances surrounding the musical directions and background of this album definitely did intrigued me, what stood out even more and the main thing that I saw was 'NEW TARRUS RILEY ALBUM'. And that was far more than enough to get me excited and, of course, the album, like any other with that distinction, did not disappoint, and could not even if it tried to. An Bluesy intro/title track sets the tone for the album which follows. Historically, almost anytime someone puts any effort into making these things good -- they are -- and the one heading "Love Situation" is no different. The delightful and derivative '1 2 3, I Love You' comes in with a sweet vibe and it, even more so than the opener, really gets things set in the ultimate direction of the album. The tune is a remake of an older one, originated by The Gaylads and Riley more than pays a proper homage on his version. 'Lost For Words [Speechless]' is a similar situation, but it is a significantly better song and if you want to say that it is the finest piece of work on the whole of "Love Situation", you wouldn't get an argument from me. Riley has made some significant love songs prior to this album (a fact which makes its existence even more captivating) and to my opinion, 'Lost For Words' is well on the level of most of them. It's excellent and a future hit if given the opportunity. Following a brief skit, the first of three on the album, we also get the very nice 'Burning Desire' which holds the distinction of being my Wife's favourite song on the album and it doesn't require the greatest of explanations (… even though you know I'm going to explain it anyway).

"I'm waking up to your love
You fill me up
You give me vibes and I build you up
I sip a cup, eyes open up
And I've got the strength so I can face the world baby
See your touch - I need it much
Something extra special to pick me up
If loving you was wrong, better dem lock me up
Cause I can't do without my baby"

"The way you smell, it turns me on
It's like my favourite perfume you're wearing hon
You know just what to do to keep my calm
I can't do without you baby
Feeling for you - I need a hit
Like gravity, I'm pulling you towards my lips
I can't do without you baby"

The song is a BURNER of a composition and is straightforward love song mastery from Riley. It has this incredibly 'intensely cool' vibe to it which, alone, makes it a stand out and, outside of picking who she spends her time with, my Wife has excellent taste. 

Dean Fraser, Shane Brown and Tarrus Riley tap a very colourful group who come in to join things on "Love Situation" and although some of them weren't the names you'd expect on such a set, just about all of them and all of the songs turn out quite well. Fraser himself actually lends a direct hand on 'Cry No More'. This tune required some WORK from me because the first time that I heard it, I didn't particularly like it too much - I though it unexceptional, decent but unexceptional. A few spins through, however, and it's something much better than merely decent and one of the most joyful displays on the album. The tune just ahead of 'Cry No More', 'Five Days', most certainly is exceptional, on the other hand. This piece actually features veteran Big Youth and Hip-Hopper, Mr. Cheeks. You may recall the latter as once (and likely still) a very close friend and semi-oft collaborator with the Marley brothers and I was fairly shocked to see his name on this album, but he does well (and he generally does). The tune does have slight R&B-ish overtones to it, especially with the heavy background vocals at the chorus and it works with a very nice and open sound. The MASSIVE 'Special Occasion' places Riley alongside the always interesting Whippa Demus. This thing just made me smile! I love how free and flowing it comes through and the chorus may just be the best on the entire record ["I'm coming home tonight baby. Got to make it right with my lady"]. The legendary U Roy lends a hand on the final full selection on "Love Situation", 'Sail Away [Stepping Out]', which is very, very good and even Konshens shows up on the second of a pair of remixes on the album - 'To The Limit'. The original version of the song was somewhat colourful and diverse, so I was curious to see what they did with the remix and I kind of enjoy it more than the initial track. It's very fun and bouncing and, once again, is just a nice and free vibes. The album also gives us a remix of the mountainous 'One Drop'. This tune had no chance by comparison to its original (because it was perfect in every way), but it is a very nice selection and one which took me forever to listen to because I was constantly chasing it with the original. As far as combinations go, the obvious one which you would have expected to hear on "Love Situation" is with Tarrus' father, Jimmy Riley and I was well surprised not to see him here physically, but he does manage to make a major contribution to his son's new album. 

'Version of Love [My Story]' is one of the genuine highlights on this album and it was actually penned by the elder Riley. 

"There is many a story about love that's been told
But none hold the heartache that my story holds
It's filled with excitement from beginning to end
And every time I think about it, got to say it again

Somebody ought to write about it
I can't sleep at night without it
For me there's no doubt about it
I can sleep at night without it

If someone could write a feeling of the heartache and the pain -
The long days and lonely nights I've spent in vein
Of the few happy moments of my life she gave
And the way that she loved me, just to make me her slave

Somebody to ought to write about it
can't sleep at night without it
For me there's no doubt about it
I can't sleep at night without it"

This song is the second of a pair of later efforts here which really just intensify things on the actual love side of the album - meaning that if you've had a bad relationship or two in the past and you've done a lot of stupid things to a lot of good people, this is probably the portion of the album that makes you cry like a child [don't ask me how I know that] [… just don't]. It is an intoxicating piece and, as I said, it's the second song in succession here where things really get personal. The first half of that line, 'Thank You', is my favourite song on the album by the smallest of margins (there're about five songs here which are probably in that discussion in my opinion). This song is one which is absolutely humbling and as someone who has A LOT of thanks to give continuously and won't live to be the four-hundred or so years old that it would take to give them all, this song did so much for me and has already become one of my favourite songs from Tarrus Riley. Earlier on is another very nice pair of songs in 'Dem a Watch [Wanna See Us Break Up]' and 'Cum Get Your Ish'. They both focus more on the sour side of relationships and while the former required a little more time to grab my affections, the latter is nearly golden. And be sure to check the final track on the album, 'Food For Thought', which is just various individuals speaking openly and sagaciously on some of the themes this album is based on. 

I do want to say something in regards to the prevailing "theme" and premise of this album. I definitely read press releases and knew what to expect here and how large of a part it was in the foundation of "Love Situation". With that being said, however, my interest in that, specifically, kind of begin to bleed away after I really got into the music here. The same couldn't be said of the "Mecoustic" because you were dealing with new versions of songs with which you were already very familiar, but it is reminiscent of another album which was "Black Gold" from Toussaint. In that case the big aspect which was promoted was about how the artist was making music from a new genre, 'Soul Roots'. It was excellent but, a few years on, that particular facet of the album has become one of the least interesting features of it. I suspect that may be the case half a decade from now when we look back at "Love Situation" and it doesn't stand as this musical tribute and journey back in time and, instead, is just another fantastic album from Tarrus Riley.  
Tarrus Riley
Overall, I don't know if I've said this but "Love Situation" is just another fantastic album from Tarrus Riley. Something here which may not stand out and may not be given credit because of the unifying theme here really surprised me and that is just how varied this album is. Surprisingly, I'd say that "Love Situation" may even be one of Riley's most diverse albums to date and I think that part of that comes from the tone of the album. I go through releases all of the time and I look for certain moods and when I don't find them, I miss them, but that didn't happen here. This isn't an angry album, but it is a very subtly intense one and I think that speaks ultimately to just how important it was to everyone involved. So, while the back-story of "Love Situation" is as interesting as any we've seen in some time, the main occurrence here is that the album is another sterling jewel in the crown of a bonafide Reggae superstar named Tarrus Riley. EXCELLENT.

Rated: 4.70/5
CD + Digital

Review #491

1 comment:

  1. Check out this lyric video for Collie Budz new single “Light It Up” !