Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Vault Reviews: "A New Day" by Luciano

Nightly. When you are an artist who has a really high number of albums, it's always very interesting to go through and see exactly what makes particular ones stand out. Of course you have the polar ends. There're albums which will always be remembered for being great or… very un-great and, fittingly so, these sets have attained some level of immortality and when you look back on someone's career they are the ones which will rise most vividly and bring out the most passion, whether positive or negative. And, even more curiously, there are records which stand out for other reasons. Be it something as simple as an unusual cover or some other type of characteristic, or something as complex as a different type of producer, these albums also will likely never be forgotten and, again, for some atypical reason. Here, you're looking at albums such as "Words of Truth" from Sizzla Kalonji which was the album which had a full album and then a live piece attached to it. Sizzla's catalogue is ripe with such obvious pieces as you also had records such as "Burning Fire” which was (awful) released twice and (far more legitimate) others still, such as "The Overstanding". Another VERY nice way to distinguish albums, historically speaking (in the current sense, it doesn't really work too well), is with actual songs which headline a piece so grandly that, when thought of, they are the most immediate trait. Possibly the best example of this one is Midnite's "Let Live” album. In Midnite's case it's magnified because 'they' are almost exclusively known for albums and 'their' prolificacy in making them. So rare is it that a single song manages to capture so much attention that if you were to ask five fans their favourite five Midnite songs, you'd likely get twenty-five different tunes listed. But "Let Live" carried an inescapably fascinating piece called 'The Gad' which, all of these years later still dazzles fans… in a mumbling kind of way. And with personal tastes and opinions being what they are, you can likely come up with a list of your own of albums (and riddims, which may've been an even greater way to illustrate this point, but I don't feel like starting over) which you remember at least largely, if not entirely, based on the strength of a single tune. And it isn't to say that the rest of the album was rubbish or in anyway unremarkable, but the first thing that comes to your mind about it is one lasting song which has always and will always stay with you. 

Someone who is definitely no rookie when it comes to creating timeless material is the great Luciano. He is also someone who well qualifies for these set of circumstances as, throughout the years, 'The Messenjah' has a staggering amount of album releases to his name. And as we now may be moving into the situation of Luciano having now THREE generations of fans grow up listening to his music, he's made tunes which have no date of expiration and are to be regarded as the very best that the entire genre of Reggae music has ever produced - and many of them have ended up on albums, wonderfully. 
"Great Controversy" [2001]
Albums like "A New Day". The set, released way back in 2001, is one of Luciano's best albums ever. From beginning to end it was a sprawlingly BEAUTIFUL creation and one which has definitely not lost a sparkle of its brilliant shine in the near decade and a half following its release date. Surely that has a great deal to do with its director. Handling the production duties was the venerable Dean Fraser, a loooooooooongtime collaborator of Luciano's, dating back to when the duo roamed the releases of Xterminator Productions - Luciano as its biggest star at the time and Fraser as its musical director. 2001, in retrospect was an excellent year for Luciano and his fans as, not only was there "A New Day", but the singer also generated a "Great Controversy" on another for Jet Star, and probably more popular, set from the same year. That era, in general, was a very good one for the artist ( has been every single era in which he has participated, essentially) as other really good projects emerged from around the same time, when he was in the process of leaving and shortly after he actually did leave Xterminator. A personal favourite of mine, "Serve Jah" was just a couple of years on and, a couple of years back was "Sweep Over My Soul", which was an Xterminator album. So, Luciano was definitely in a fine form and that was also the case on this album. I should also mention the presence of VP Records. This was at least the third set that VP did with Luciano (they'd also go on to do "Serve Jah" and others, of course) and although it may not have enjoyed the type of popularity run as the aforementioned "Sweep Over My Soul" or "Serious Times" (which is my favourite Luciano album ever), "A New Day" is still well regarded and, looking back, VP did a fine job with it. Yet, despite such immediately impressive background credentials as those, "A New Day" is an album which most glaringly sticks in my mind for its carrying of one MASSIVE song. That song may just be the single finest I have ever heard Luciano sing (which is saying so much, coming from him) and one of the finest that I have ever heard anyone sing. And, looking back, it would have had to be that fine to single-handedly grab up so much of the attention here. However, as I said, this was one the artist's best, so it exists as the BRIGHTEST of several stars. Let's discuss!

'No Night In Zion'

Checking in at more than an hour spread across seventeen tracks, "A New Day" was a monster! And, though it may not be recalled as such, it was just such a sprawling project that, despite being headlined by a single tune, it was one of the most FULL efforts Luciano has given us to date. That fullness begins with the much aforementioned and downright DEVASTATING 'No Night In Zion'. TEARS! BOOM! BREAK SOMETHING! Luciano's abilities are maximized on this song in just about every single possibly conceivable way as he sings to the heavens in delivering this mountain of a tune. It is, of course, a spiritual piece but I've always seen a tangible application of 'No Night In Zion' as well: IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD! It is the musical embodiment of a smile, the signature moment of "A New Day" and absolutely one of the single best songs that I have ever heard from anyone. Charged with the most unenviable responsibility of following the opener is the very capable 'Oh Father I Love Thee'. Given the fact that it follows 'No Night In Zion', I've definitely heard this tune hundreds of times over the years and that's a good thing in this case. It is stereotypically highly spiritually aimed Luciano and a joy to listen to! 'Is There A Place?' may not be as good as either of its predecessors, but it's still quite strong. This a piece about persevering through tough spots in life, particularly in manners of love and relationships which may not be Luciano's specialty (it isn't), but this is a nice song. 'Happy People', also, may not be the best thing that he does well, but then again, it may be. I've always liked the way he unites 'people' and 'land' in this tune. - saying what is good for the world is good for the people that live on it and though it somewhat of a broadly written composition, it is another SWEET song on "A New Day". 'Road To Life' finds Luciano going Dennis Brown and doing so with a big tune in hand.

“If you're not matching then you're clashing -
No, you can't be right
If you're not watching, you'll be crashing -
Down the road of life

Take time to show someone you care -
Always be there 
Don't be unfair, give them a share of your time
Never forget!
Where you're coming from
Never forget!
Who you are
Don't disrespect!
Those who lend a hand -
Who helped you to reach thus far"

What I take from the tune is a message of simply being careful and showing some patience in all things, with the biggest fear presented being overlooking something or someone. 

Though 'No Night In Zion' may dominate the tracklist on "A New Day", as I said, by no means does it stand alone on the album. Including 'Oh Father I Love Thee', there're several tunes on this album which are wholly excellent. One of them would definitely be 'Nah Give Up' which is a tune actually produced by Luciano himself. This lovely creation is a piece calling to action people of Afrikan descent and its presentation, its MOOD and just about every other quality of it is golden. I also see it as a song just asking for better behaviour and upstanding life from all people as well and there are more than a couple of at least decent albums from Luciano on which 'Nah Give Up' would be the clear leader. Another of the biggest winners on this album would be 'African Skies' which is a CLEVER repatriation tune ["All mental scars will be dissolved under stars"]. This song kind of stands as a lighter version of the opener for me and it pinnacles in its latter stages where things slow down, the drums come in and, though in a chanting style, Luciano opens up and just says things from his mind. It is a BEAUTIFUL track! And speaking of nice things, also check both 'Spring Summer' and 'Tell Me Why'. The former is a cool song on which Luciano expresses the indomitable nature of his love and respect of The Almighty ["Spring, summer, autumn or winter, I will be loving Jah Jah. I will love Jah forever more"]. 'Tell Me Why', on the other hand, is a largely anti-violence (but he goes in a few directions) which calls for immediate changes in the world. Yet, I do have to mention in its instance that 'Tell Me Why' is also one of the most sonically pleasing selections on the whole of "A New Day", a feature which also surely brings it to my attention mightily. And there's also 'Traveler', which is probably my second favourite song on this album (this song is almost like a bonus whenever I spin this album. I come for "No Night In Zion" and then later remember that the same record carried 'Traveler'). 

"So I guess you know the story well
Oh Afrikans have been through hell
They were taken away to captivity 
They suffered the bonds of slavery
I stopped at the Gorée Island
And what I got to overstand -
Hundred-million or more packed like fish inna can -
And shipped weh to the Caribbean"


Well a longtime dem ah tell mi pure lie
And ah gwan like Afrikan dropped from sky
But enough things I man go deh go learn
Wi original and a dat mi confirm 
Well people there's a conspiracy -
To distort Black Man's history
And take away the anciency

Always love songs which deal so heavily with matters of The Afrikan Diaspora and 'Traveler' is one of the best of its kind that I've heard. Absolutely brilliant. 

And even some of the remaining efforts on "A New Day" are quite good with one being its title tune. The song kind of has that feeling that you would think of in a tune named 'A New Day', with a kind of a bright tone to it, and I actually well considered placing it in the previous lot of songs because it really is a nice piece and a fitting title track in my opinion (one of the best vocal performances on this album, also). Also nearly exceptional is 'Hardcore' (biggup Sizzla) which is one a pair of changeups on this album. It has somewhat of a different sound to it and Luciano's approach, at least in part, is almost deejaying at times and when he's done throughout the years, sometimes he's had some very impressive moments (check the title track from the "Rub-A-Dub Market"). 'God & King' is another borderline great song to my opinion. For me, this is a song about seeking a higher standard of life and the things you do in it. It also has this GLOW surrounding it and a really serene nature. Fraser beautifies it with his horn work at points and it makes for a fantastic display of a song. The same could definitely be said for the forward thinking 'Save The World' ["If you wanna save the world, you gotta save the children"] and the album closing, 'Journey'. It took me awhile to warm up to the latter (which is carried by an older riddim which isn't a favourite of mine and does sound somewhat awkward even here), but it has a typical Luciano charm to it, ultimately, which is unavoidable. Finally, check a pair of earlier tunes from the album, both of which are at least decent but not approaching standouts in my opinion. One is 'God Is My Friend', which is the other changeup. A remake of an old song by late R&B legend, Marvin Gaye, it is a suitable and solid cover, but unexceptional in my opinion. And then there's 'Only A Fool' which is just a quintessentially decent track from an album which is far better than "decent".  
Overall (what an easy review to write!), "A New Day" was a very solid set with occasional streaks of gold and one in particular. 'No Night In Zion' was and remains a PERFECT song and it will likely forever be the face of this album (at least for me), but it also is a doorway of sorts. I don't see a time in my life when I do not want to listen to this tune and to do it, I'll come back here and also get to relive songs such as ‘Traveler' and 'Nah Give Up' and 'Oh Father I Love Thee' and others. That, in full, is the legacy of an album like this one and I don't think that's bad. It is an indefinitely lasting positive attention and such concentration is how I'm sure Luciano wants his music to be appreciated. So, while he may (and he does) have better albums to his credit and will probably make even more of them in the future, "A New Day" is not to be overlooked. One song will get you here and it may even keep you here, but what else you find, collectively, may be just as good. One of the best albums Luciano has done.

Rated: 4.45/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Review #502

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