Tuesday, March 18, 2014

'The Bonus': A review of "Nuh Worry Unu Self" by Sizzla Kalonji

Half. Though I should probably feel worse about it than the not at all bad than I do, there is a very small group of artists from whom I will, somewhat happily and very much consistently, not only receive but celebrate material which is something less than their absolute very best. In the best case scenario, obviously everyone does the best that they can possibly do every time, but that never happens in anything and, even amongst my favourites, I find myself kind of 'tuning out' certain names who have stretches of making music which I just do not enjoy. Of course that doesn't mean that I'm no longer a fan, and as soon as they return to form, I'll return to pushing the results in the direction of anyone who cares, but as for a few of them, even in down streaks or moments which I expect nothing at all, I'm still somewhat pleased by the results. Definitely one of the most glaring examples of this would be Jah Cure for obvious reasons. At the height of his abilities the Cure is a surprisingly dynamic and melodically gifted artist who makes songs which're so captivating and impossible to forget. Farrrrrrrrr away from that level, however, he still has the greatest voice ever given to human being and for that reason, he can turn a song which is full-on BAD into one worth hearing, if only to take notice of what he does with his voice. I'd also put Beres Hammond into this category as well. In his case, he is one of the very most consistent figures that Reggae music has ever seen and because of that, if you do happen to find something which you do not love, it is acceptable because you know that the chances of you loving the next track are highly probable. There's also my fascination with Vaughn Benjamin who, through however many of his albums we've looked at thus far, does remain a very compelling voice when levels away from his best. You want to hear what he's going  to say next, (you want to decipher it) and, for an over-thinker like myself, Benjamin is THE most challenging artist in Reggae music today. And because of the FEEL of his music, where he can turn in songs which may not be his best but possess this unshakable kind of anthem-like appeal, I'd also place German star, Gentleman, into that category. Still, at the head, as he would be at the head of many lists I'd come up with, sits Sizzla Kalonji who still, even after all of these years, carries a final quality which at 50% is considerably finer than that of several of his peers at full strength. But even if he's lower than that - I'm still interested. 
"The Scriptures" [2011]
WHY?! In a much better set of circumstances than I place around Turbulence and someone like Norris Man (although the latter of those two has well shown himself to be more consistently reliable in recent times), Sizzla's work will always interest me because he's shown that his HIGHEST level is extraordinary. Not only is it his best, but it is also THE best that I've ever heard and, somewhere in the back of my mind, I probably go into listening to every single tune that he does not hoping that it will be along those lines of quality, but actually expecting that it will be and, even when it isn't the disappointments aren't great, especially not these days. And the same is well said in regards to his album releases where not only fans, but also labels (and the people in charge of writing press releases, in particular) use his previous work as large attracting points for current and even future output - offering a "vintage" level of Sizzla Kalonji. Meanwhile, something even "not-so-vintage" is good enough. 

 That is what happened the last time we heard from Kalonji on an album - the much discussed "The Messiah" from 2013 which was supposed to be the greatest album from… and… while it may or may not have been, the excellent record was more than good enough to warrant the attention it received and it would subsequently even net Sizzla a Grammy nomination. With as much as that album was talked about and hyped even prior to its release date, expectations were soaring and "The Messiah" fulfilled with class. But today things are much, much different. In a year which seems to develop more and more by the week when it comes to albums from Sizzla Kalonji, his first piece released for 2014, "Nuh Worry Unu Self", kind of trickles out to virtually no hype and early fanfare. And, for the first time in a long time that I can recall, I'm not really expecting anything in regards to this project. It does have a very strong history, however. Working the boards for the album is John John who produced a very strong set for the artist just back in 2011, "The Scriptures", which did attract a much higher level of attention than this set is. Also, it should be noted that "Nuh Worry Unu Self" isn't the only business that John John is dealing with these days as the son of the King, virtually simultaneously, is also launching an album from veteran singer, Mykal Rose ["Crucial World"], an EP from Sanchez ["In Your Eyes"] and a full set for his Shoot Out Riddim, so it doesn't seem as if a big deal is being made of this one, even behind the scenes. For his part, Kalonji has all kinds of business going on with albums in 2014 and this project figures to be the first of several this year and I should also mention the format here as well. "Nuh Worry Unu Self", at least as far as we can tell, is a digital-only release and if that should remain the case (and I would expect it to), as the great Dale Cooper pointed out to me, excluding a seemingly NEVER-ending line of re-releases courtesy of Flava McGregor, this may be the first time that has happened for a Sizzla album (though it was inevitable). On top of all of that (and probably because of most of that), I have absolutely nothing going on in the way of expectations of quality for this album (and that's yet another interesting trait for this one - that hasn't happened since… sans those Penitentiary things, it hasn't happened in a really long time). If it proved to be excellent, that's wonderful and if not, that's fine, I didn't waste too much time looking forward to it and waiting for the next album is only a matter of weeks at this point.  
Also from John John Records [2014]
But where is it? "Excellent" or somewhere else? Directly in the middle. The album is a blend of a few known and unknown pieces and even some of the more familiar sets aren't terribly so. Of course that doesn't mean that it isn't any good and, by its end, "Nuh Worry Unu Self" shows itself to be a very solid and decent release. Taking the lead is a tune with which I'm actually familiar, 'Reach For Your Goals'. Also known as 'Never Sell Out Your Soul', this song comes from a few years back or so across the Acoustic Soul Riddim. It definitely did have a nice vibes to it and it comes as one of those songs which hit on both and educational and entertaining level as well. Still, while nice things are said, it is definitely the sonic portion of the tune which is the main attraction - it has a very BIG sound. The title track comes through next and, like the album named after it, I didn't really know what to expect on the tune, but when it began I got really happy (I think that was at least partially because my brain was temporarily confused into thinking that we were about to hear 'Thank U Mamma') ["I'm here for a purpose: I'm here to rule"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!] and what followed, in its brevity, did not disappoint. 

"I see my people suffer and die everyday
Stand up my people, this is not the time to go astray
Reach out for greatness - within ourselves we've got the solution
Keep a smile on your face yes -
We've all been through the revolution

And nuh worry unuh self
Nuh worry unuh self
Jah Jah is your health
Jah is your wealth
Nothing beats time
Continue, show the love
Put away the crime and keep your head"

The song is a very interesting one for several reasons -- not the least of which is the fact that it, essentially, only has one verse -- but I did really enjoy it as the typically at least somewhat urgent Kalonji takes a change of pacing here and says to not spend too much time worrying over small things because if you live good, Someone will always watch over you. In next is the HEAVY and dramatic 'What's Wrong', which is also familiar to my ears. Musically speaking, there is an infinitely long line of sounds going on here which're downright dazzling (and although the riddim here is giving a chance to shine sans vocals, if they wanted to continue with that for another minute or two, they wouldn't have gotten a complaint out of me), but in the midst of it all is a very passionate Kalonji who reaches a point early in the song where he is actually dominating the track - a moment which is not to be missed in the late stages of the first verse. Unsurprisingly, the solitary combination on "Nuh Worry Unu Self" features the aforementioned Mykal Rose as the two attempt to "eradicate poverty" by telling you to go 'Look A Wuk'. This tune took a few spins, but I did warm up to it and I did so by taking it in a broader sense. It isn't about merely getting a job, it's also about remaining active and not opening yourself up to negative influences which often find refuge in 'the idle mind'. Pay a nice attention to this tune and do so beyond just appreciating the track… because it's very nice. The extensive social commentary, 'Keep Out of Corruption', was nothing like I expected initially, though it does pick up and makes for a selection which at least comes off as being FAR longer than it is (and it is the shortest song on the whole of this album). It goes from an almost Gospel-like sung opening, to a running deejay and in the latter stages, Sizzla just begins to TALK over the riddim, making for the highlight here in my opinion where he almost strictly deals with economics in the world ["And get work, gi di youths dem get handy. Wi no waan no lazy people ah walk round like zombie"]. One of the best songs on this album. And the first half of "Nuh Worry Unu Self" wraps up with a pair of mandatory offerings. You completely NEED a song called 'Thanks and Praise' on a Roots Reggae album and you also need a ganja tune and that is carried by 'Burn The Herbs'. The latter, obviously, covers no new ground, but it is delightful throughout, while the former, strange as it is (and it is), is shrapnel away from being excellent.

"In every little thing you do give thanks and praise
Don't follow the wicked man ways
If you do that then the fire get to blaze 
No wicked man can save
In every little thing you do give thanks and praise
Don't follow the wicked man ways
If you do that then the fire get to blaze 
No wicked man can -

Praise a God who can walk!
Praise a God who can talk!
Praise a God when He sit upon the throne of King David!
Thunder, earthquake, lightning spark!
Or praise a God weh creates all moon and stars
Wicked man dem just can walk -
Behind The Most High, have a chant, righteousness ah pour out"

It is the single best song I hear on "Nuh Worry Unu Self" and, alone, it's very good. Still it is eons from the best Sizzla Kalonji that you've ever heard but, as I said, that's not a problem here. And from the mouths of even some of his more talented peers, this is a celebrated piece in my opinion. For Kalonji, it's the best song on an average album.

You knew that it was going to happen eventually and the second half of "Nuh Worry Unu Self" actually begins with a quartet of love/love-ish songs. Between 'Come On', 'Squeeze Me Tight', 'Got It Going' and 'Tell Me the Reason', what you have are tunes, for the most part, built across classic tracks with two of them being the biggest stand outs of the group in my opinion. 'Come On' is and okay tune, though FARRRRRRRRR better than that thing of the same title on the "Welcome To The Good Life" album and I would say the same of 'Got It Going', which is just a step or two behind. However, both the fun 'Squeeze Me Tight' and 'Tell Me The Reason' have some extra value (especially 'Squeeze Me Tight', which may've been good enough to have found a place on the excellent and similarly vibed (King Jammy's produced) "Waterhouse Redemption" album from a few years back). 

"Sizzla Kalonji of the ghetto
Gal dem love mi and dem nah let mi go
Beat of dem heart, dem tell everybody so
Mi and her ah walk, that's all yuh gonna know
A good man used to a good woman touch
Keep mi -
Care mi, just as much
A good woman respect a good man fi real
Good type of loving she ah feel

Hug mi up, squeeze me tight yah mi darling
Hardcore loving till a morning
Hug mi up, squeeze me tight yah mi darling
Baby don't you hear mi calling?!

You belong - believe it
And your loving, girl, I need it
Nobody gone get me out
Sexy girl, hey, don't let me out
Hey baby girl remember this:
Sizzla Kalonji gi yu tenderness
Anywhere mi deh - sexy girl dem welcome

Though not quite as good as some of the others (and, as a whole, the first half of this album is better than the second), the very simple 'Put Down The Gun' is a solid social commentary as well. You listen to a tune like this and, as I tried to point out, you know that Kalonji can do billions of times better, but this is far from being a bad tune. It has something to it and I wouldn't be surprised at all if I grew to actually really like it at some point. And despite its maddening chorus, I do like (the rest of) 'Shake Dem Down'. There're flashes of full brilliance sprinkled throughout that song, but you'll have to sift through the chorus to get to them: Good luck with that. And finally, check the closer (it's a lot easier to write a review when you go in order - almost 2500+ words later) which is one of the album's finest, 'Suffering Mass'. If you toned this one down just slightly and tightened it up just a bit, it could have been a really special selection. As it is, however, it is still a very good effort about suffering in poverty and the mental mindset of those going through the struggle. The 'aura' of the tune often OVERWHELMS other portions of it, which is unfortunate, but there is a really good song in there for those willing to really tune it in, so definitely make an attempt. 
Sizzla Kalonji
Overall, you will not find anything even close to resembling "landmark" here, nor is this the album which is "taking things" to that ever-elusive "next level". Furthermore, if this is actually album #71 (because "The Messiah" was billed as #70), if there're… FORTY of them better than it, I would not be shocked. It is a solid album and nothing more. However, an average Sizzla Kalonji album carrying fourteen songs, especially at this point in time, is more than 'okay' with me. The album does what such a project does for me. While not making such a grand impact and not featuring someone at their best, it still manages to push a few very nice moments and, once again, demonstrate a MONSTROUS talent who is capable turning in decent records like this effortlessly. By what is to come, an album like "Nuh Worry Unu Self" figures to be lost in the proverbial shuffle (particularly if it really is digital-only). Though, for more passionate followers the album offers up more than enough to keep your attention until what is sure to be a radical year 2014 for Sizzla Kalonji unfolds. Not great, not even in the arena, but good enough. 

Rated: 3.25/5
John John Records

Review #498

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