Friday, May 30, 2014

'Business As Usual': A review of "LB50" by Lloyd Brown

Comfort. Though the saying 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' typically rings true, the occasional changeup can definitely be a good thing. In whatever it is that you are doing, sometimes deviating from your standard route can be disastrous, but other times it can be fully rewarding. Applying this to music, of course, things begin to get cloudy because you can apply it in a multitude of ways. Perhaps at the most basic of levels we see things such as an artist recording a song which is either of a different genre of music or one which incorporates sounds and textures from different styles than the one (or more) that they normally do. This, too, can be either worthwhile or… just wrong as I'm sure you've heard such tunes and have had both happy and full-on disgusted reactions. Taking things a step further, in Reggae music where we have individuals who see another old saying like 'less is more' and run straight through it, we've seen full albums deviate far, far outside of the norm from certain individuals and those results have been mixed in terms of quality, but almost always interesting in most cases. The best example in that case is definitely Sizzla Kalonji who, in seventy-three albums now, has pretty much done everything within his range and maybe even a few things outside of it. Albums such as "Rise To The Occasion", "Soul Deep" and "The Overstanding" stand out most vividly but they certainly have not been alone and though they were not the best albums, they do stand out as wholly fascinating moments in his legendary career. Today we take a look at someone who, arguably just as interestingly, recently took a step outside of his regular routine and is now set to return to business as usual. When you've spent the last thirty years making music, I suppose that such leaps are damn difficult to make, but just last year, UK veteran, Mr. Lloyd Brown broke with his recent tradition and reaped the rewards for it in the form of pushing one of the most well regarded and well known albums of his entire career. But if you listened to it (and you did), what you noticed was that the album didn't stretch the singer at all and, instead, found him stepping outside of his comfort zone in a truly one-of-a-kind way. 
"Rootical" [2013]
Of course I'm referring to the beautiful "Rootical" album from just last year. That set came via the flaming Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings who have been absolutely tearing their collective way through the music over the past few years or so. Lloyd Brown's was a name which had previously been on their radars and he had done music with ZHP, so the fact that they made an album together wasn't entirely surprising. HOWEVER, the difference appeared when… well, when they made an album together. If you've paid attention Lloyd Brown's career in recent times what you've noticed is that Lloyd Brown's albums are usually done by someone named Lloyd Brown. He very much and probably more than anyone in the genre today and DEFINITELY more than anyone of his class and prolificacy, maintains an 'in-house' approach to production and it had been a LONG time from the last time he had turned over those duties to anyone else. And, as I said, it was an excellent choice. It's also well worth mentioning that over the past couple of years ahead of "Rootical", his albums -- particularly "30" (which, I believe, remains an album which is only available on iTunes) and "New Veteran" -- weren't getting the attention they deserved and, again, that surely wasn't even a possible problem with "Rootical" as all of the ZIK albums are exquisitely promoted and deservedly so. So along with making a nice album with someone else, the "Rootical" album also brought Brown's talents back to their warranted spotlight. It was excellent. 
"30" [2012] & "New Veteran" [2013]
And eventually you go home. Off the top of my head, I don't think that any of the artists who have had albums done by the Zion I Kings have gotten to their next album, with the exception of Danny I who came back with a Spanish language album following the MAMMOTH "To Your Majesty" and definitely I'm curious as to what the next step will be for all of them following such an excellent feature. For Lloyd Brown, however, it was less of a mystery as he, for so long, has ran an apparently successful and clearly fruitful operation to which he now returns with his latest and eighteenth album, "LB50". Through albums such as "Silver" which (is probably still my favourite LB album) marked his quarter-century involvement in music and the aforementioned "30", five years on (I think you can figure out what that marked), Brown has well shown himself to be someone who just does not miss a milestone moment and "LB50" celebrates his completion of fifty years of life. The album comes via Brown's own Riddimworks Productions imprint which had helmed virtually all of his recent releases ahead of "Rootical", as well as Phoenix Music International who, I think, also handles the business for the catalogue of the once mighty Jet Star Records which is Lloyd Brown's former label. Like both "30" and "New Veteran", "LB50" is a digital-only project which is becoming less and less of an issue these days with artists such as the aforementioned Sizzla Kalonji and especially Vybz Kartel -- a pair of the biggest names in the genre -- also taking similar routes recently, but I'm really hoping that this album gets a nice push and is successful. And I should also mention, from the musical side, just how impressive Lloyd Brown has been in recent years. I go back to when I really became a fan back with the "Said & Done" and "Silver" albums and, over that time he's done some well impressive work and though not all of it has been as popular as I would have thought, by far Lloyd Brown is one of the most consistent and dependable Reggae artists today. So, with its back-story being so damn interesting and the stage being set for another strong release -- I know it is good, I don't even have to listen to it to know that -- but how good is "LB50"???

Very. It's very good. In a year marked by outstanding contributions from artistes such as Sil Cunningham and especially Ras Elijah Tafari, another one makes yet another fine gift as Jerry Neville, who also penned the covers of "30" (which was one of the best album covers I have ever seen) and "New Veteran", also takes care of the new album in his inimitable style. For his part, only because he knows I'm going to attempt to talk about all of these things, Lloyd Brown uses Neville's downright divine artwork to wrap another MONSTER. His brand new album, "LB50", is eighteen tracks long, which doesn't include a nineteenth bonus track, so we better get started. Although this album isn't loaded with combinations as a few of his other sets (I think it was the "Cornerstone" album, in particular), Brown does get "LB50" up and moving with one of the four tunes featuring guests, 'Fiddy', alongside Sarjant D. I don't think that I'm familiar with Sarjant D, but perhaps it's time that I became acquainted because he turns in a very strong performance on this song, given it a serious bite. I look at this tune and kind of take in the perspective of being about Brown's musical approach. Of course it is set within the context of his age, but I think that the idea is that he's devoted his entire life, all 'fiddy', to music in some way and he has this COOL way of showing it here ["It's not about the money or the house or the car. Mi come fi push di envelope and raise di bar"]. The much more relaxed 'Standard Procedure' picks up where the opener leaves it in dealing with Lloyd Brown's musical approach. This composition also, at least for me, can be likened to the big tune 'Not From Me' which was on the "Rootical" album where Brown talked about all of the nastiness and hatred in the world and how he had nothing to do with it. On 'Standard Procedure', he kind of talks about how he manages such things - by spending his time making his music for his fans and everyone who appreciates it. This is definitely one of the best songs on this album and one which requires a bit more in the way of attention so pay close attention. You could also probably use some of that concentration to the delightful 'Ain't That Peculiar' which features Danny Sprang and US R&B great, Marvin Gaye who originated the song (which I learned from my Father) (biggup my Father, reigning coolest man in the world). This is a difficult song not to like. You're going to have to try really hard to do that and, even then, I don't know if you could pull it off. A very nice touch by Brown. 'Million Dollar Baby' is not a song about boxing, but it is a piece about someone chasing the 'finer' things in life at virtually any cost, while letting the most valuable things in life go to ruins. Though almost entirely specific, it is still a relatable song and I also like the almost Zouk-ish track carrying it. And rounding out the opening of "LB50" is another big song, a remix of 'The Sound', featuring Patrick Anthony (and David Rodigan). This song has a crystal clear directive and it dazzles! A big credit goes to Anthony who plays the horn for the tune which may just be the most sonically pleasing selection present here. 

"Beads of sweat drips down my temple -
In a scene that resembles, 'Lawrence of Arabia'
Solitary figure inna di distance
Putting up resistance to resignation and to failure
Still I keep on trodding on
With hole in shoe, between a rock and a hard place
And as I pass a next mirage -
It won't be long until water touch my lips again

Thought my cup was broke out in this open space
Suddenly [there you are]
Suddenly [there you are]
Suddenly [there you are]
Suddenly [there you are]

My shirt is soaking, weighing my back down
Still I won't back down
I'll wring it til it dampened 
Keep in motion, the will that's inside me
Jahovia beside me
For He won't deride me
Still I keep on trodding on
With hole in shoe, between a rock and a hard place
And as I pass a next mirage
It won't be long until water touch my lips again!" 

TEARS! BOOM! SHIT! The next batch (biggup Batch) of songs on "LB50" actually begins with my favourite song from the album, the MAMMOTH, 'There You Are'. This song, which also features work from Patrick Anthony, is golden! What I take from it is not only the idea of persevering through tough times, but also the notion of being able to accept help and to ASK for it when you need it, because it may be available in the most dire of situations. Probably one of the best songs I've EVER heard Brown do, 'There You Are' is not to be missed. An easy singing Courtney Brown (who may actually be Lloyd Brown's son) (biggup Bredz) makes an appearance on the lovely 'Faith', which follows 'There You Are'. You almost never hear credit given for this, but I'm going to do it: Placing this song on this album, right after 'There You Are' was just a REALLY good idea. It carries a similar sentiment and does so also with a spiritual inclination. Together, they make for one of the strongest stretches on this album and I'm well looking forward to hearing more from Courtney Brown in the future. The familiar sounding 'Hurt No More' is Brown's moving tribute to all of those who have passed on. What I like most about this one is that it isn’t somber and sad. Although sung in a respectful manner, it clearly wasn't Lloyd Brown's desire to fully depress his listeners on this song because although it almost always seems as it is, death doesn't have to be such a gloomy thing and I well appreciate Brown making a song like this which does contain some bright spots (and biggup my own Grandmother who transitioned in January). 'Get It Right' is actually one of two tunes to find its way to "LB50" from the setup that produced "Rootical". This song is a production of the Zion I Kings and, as you are expecting, it is fantastic. Here, we find Brown building a message of taking advantage of every chance that you have in life because you never know when it will be your last chance to do what you want to do. It fully features something that I've always said that the singer exudes in his work and that is a whole heap of COMMON SENSE. It is likely better aimed at young people but everyone can get something necessary from a song like this.

"My time equals my life
And I don't waste them for nobody
Intolerant am I of all the BS and your mockery
I see it as I find it, for I must keep it real
Who nuh hear me, they must feel
Just remember when you link me"

And rounding out this lot of tunes is the candy-ish 'Out Of This World'. It is a song which isn't completely without substance, but is SURELY best appreciated as a song on the album which is going to get heads moving and feet tapping as Brown find himself in the very familiar position of being hypnotized by a pretty face (and this is coming from me - someone who has years and years and YEARS of experience in doing DUMB stuff for pretty faces). 

The next group of songs on "LB50" actually begins with a pair of sublime love songs, 'Three Words' and the very clever 'Do You Feel Me'. The former is a sterling track centered around three almighty words. And I started to dig deeper on this one and not just take it as a 'love song' (even though it declares itself as such  early on), but I get from also just the notion of telling someone that you love them and how important that can be to you and to them. It's a beautiful message on a song which is just as easy on the ears. For 'Do You Feel Me' (also produced by the ZIK), Brown turns things up even higher and delivers a downright glowing composition.

"Strong is the feel of devotion
Dwells in the heart of I most everyday
My heightened sense of emotion -
Shows no signs of abating, not today
The love inside of me -
Let it circumnavigate he shape of your heart
You're a sight to see!
To coin a well-known phrase: A human work of art"

This one is just a bit more straight-forward than its predecessor here but, together, they make for another excellent pair (more on that in a minute). 'Happy Earthday' is a song which I'm sure than I know and it finds Brown teaming up with constant collaborators, the wonderful people from Joe Fraser Records (and wouldn't it be nice if they made a new album together!). On an album like this, this song was guaranteed and while it isn't the greatest thing on "LB50", it certainly doesn't do anything but help the record and it is not the only time we hear from this tune. And on 'On The Gravel' and 'Greeting Song' both see Brown mining classic tracks for his work. The latter is a solid offering about BEING NICE TO PEOPLE. It does takes things a step further but that is the prevailing message that I took from it - Lloyd Brown saying to treat people well and being happy for someone and staying away from things like jealousy and such. The former, on the other hand, is undoubtedly amongst the best four or five songs on this album. It also mirrors the theme on some of the other tunes here (and throughout Brown's career) as far as doing whatever it is that you want to do and, most importantly, not paying mind or EAR to negative people and obstacles standing in your way. 

The final stretch of songs on "LB50" (despite being huge, this is pretty easy album to write for) continues the form of the previous couple of songs as 'All About You' features another track from yesteryear. This tune, a love song, had to do some work on me. I didn't particularly enjoy the first few times that I heard and while I still cannot call it a favourite of mine, I do like it more now than I originally did. It's a decent song. The R&B-ish and fully CRAWLING 'You Just Don't Get It' (it has a very unusual pace to it) had a similar set of circumstances for me, but it did ultimately win me over. This one has a different type of sound, which always catches my ear and, after listening to it more than a few times, I did well find something here to enjoy and it is a highlight on the album for me (and biggup Mikie Blak, who also guested on the "New Veteran" album for his guitar work). Based on its title alone, 'Your Recipe' was a song I was greatly looking forward to hearing and it didn't disappoint. I did figure that it would be a love song and that's precisely what it is and it ranks highly next to any other similarly directed song on "LB50" in my opinion ["You bake the sweetest cake I know"]. And lastly, as I alluded to bringing the album to its conclusion is the bonus track, 'Happy New Year'. This song is, essentially, a remix of 'Happy Earthday', with the focus being that we've all made it to another year [DUH!]. It actually made me smile and, as far as 'bonus tracks' go, in general, this is a PERFECT selection. I do want to just expand on something else that I mentioned earlier and that is the situating of the songs on this album. Again, I don't know how much attention that we pay to such things, but "LB50" is SEAMLESS in terms of how the songs flow so well together and not just in their subjects but things like sounds and welcomed surprises are also so nicely affixed together. And I don't know if I've ever given an album credit for that, but it stands out so well here.  
Overall, "LB50" continues the winning ways of Lloyd Brown albums and you knew it would. As I said, I'm really hoping that this album does well because I think that Brown may even have relatively passionate fans who may not even be aware that "30" and "New Veteran" existed and I'd hate for another album like this one to follow that form and this music, all of it, is just too damn good for that! The "Rootical" album, as well liked as it was may help this one along a bit and when those fans who enjoyed that album come here, what they'll find is a veteran, once again, doing what he does best. Lloyd Brown makes good albums. It doesn't take him a very long time to do it either and I'm of the belief that almost any type of fan can pick one up and enjoy it from beginning to end. "LB50" is neither a deviation or a return to form as far as that goes (because you cannot to return to something that you never left) what it is, instead, is another exciting example of the multifaceted and sterling talents of one of Reggae music's most consistent of champions: Mr. Lloyd Brown. Sublime.

Rated: 4.30/5
Riddimworks Productions

Review #513

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