Wednesday, May 21, 2014

'Sowing Seeds': A review of "Good Prevails" by Alpheus

Growing. We do often speak about development in terms of artist's coming of age and entering new stages within their careers as it can be an extremely interesting thing to follow. If you can, off the top of your head, just begin to trace back some of the things that some of your favourite musicians have gone through over the years, and how they have managed (if they did manage) to maintain and you can get a very brief 'clip' of just how compelling these situations can be and almost always are. And this certainly isn't a phenomenon which is only reserved for younger and up and coming names, as you'll find people who have likely been around longer than you have who are continuing to progress and go through various musical changes in their careers. You can mention someone like a Glen Washington who is currently, still, enjoying a renaissance within his career which is now being presented to… who knows how many generations of entirely loyal fans. And Washington's case, in particular, will always be fascinating to me because it was never as if he changed his style or something like that and there was never anything to really 'mark' the occasion -- fans just seem to, one day, begin to give his music its due and, a few years later, we haven't stopped -- and he can deliver that new album whenever he's ready! And when you begin to look at people of that same class of Washington's, some of  them have also achieved a lasting amount of success very deep into their careers, but nothing has been as abrupt when it comes to the successes enjoyed by individuals such as Beres Hammond and Freddie McGregor. But I think that someone who would make a very interesting comparison would be an individual who we first covered just a few years back and someone whose re-rise to prominence has also been very sudden, yet far more explainable than Washington's - the wonderful Alpheus. Though I wouldn't necessarily call him a 'household name' in Reggae circles (although, at this pace, you might be able to argue with that fairly soon), the UK veteran has had a very good career and, in 2011, he put himself on a map which, obviously, is going to take him a lot longer to get off of than three years. What he managed to do, for what it was, is probably one of the most remarkable surges in Reggae music's recent past. 

WHAT HAPPENED?! I'm referring to Alpheus' last album (which, I think, was his third), the MASSIVE "From Creation". The circumstances surrounding that album may've been one of a kind as word of how fantastic it was preceded its release date by a month or two [!] and when it finally did arrive, it was one of the most discussed Reggae albums of its time. Fortunately when we got to listen to it, fans were thrilled by the results and surely Alpheus made a whole heap of new fans based, solely, on the strength of "From Creation" and I was one of them. The album was a delightful old-school charged set which placed the former Studio One singer in his element and allowed him to shine brightest, fulfilling on everything that we had heard about it prior to its release and providing fans with a bit extra. The stars had aligned just perfectly and Alpheus took full advantage of the moment and dazzled!  
"From Creation" [2011]
So maybe they can realign? Hopefully that is exactly what is at work because Alpheus now brings forth his first album since "From Creation", the also much anticipated "Good Prevails". If you were going to try to maintain your best form, you might not want to change much and Alpheus hasn't as the new album finds him, once again, teaming up with the increasingly well respected Spanish producer, Roberto Sanchez and his A-Lone Productions imprint. This time, also at work is Liquidator Music and, thus far, all involved have done another stellar job in getting the word out as, once again, Alpheus releases an album which is promoted exquisitely well. I was very happy when I learned that Sanchez was producing "Good Prevails". As I said, when you go back and look at an artist's history, it's interesting to see them progress through the various stages and, though we can't see what happens in the future, perhaps years from now we'll add heat to an already flaming project and designate "From Creation" as not only a great album but one which began a very fruitful relationship between artist and producer. The fact that the two sit down to even do the second album (regardless of its results) shows that the moment wasn't lost on them and they also appreciated the work that they had done together and wanted to see if they could do it again. And I wanted to see as well! Personally - Alpheus is been someone who has been making full albums from when I was a kid and I'd always meant to listen to some of his work extensively, but I didn't get around to it until "From Creation" and that album was so good that you wanted to hear more of it and "Good Prevails" presents that opportunity. It is a condition you think of more in regards to 'mainstream' projects where an artist can explode internationally and then you wonder if any of those new fans that they made will come back for the next project or the next one after that, but I also think that Alpheus is experiencing that with this album and, seemingly, entering another stage of a very progressed career. So, with all of that being said, this album had no room for error. It had to be damn good and I didn't get very far into it at all before becoming aware that they had done it again! Let's examine.

Just like with its predecessor, on "Good Prevails" Sanchez provides Alpheus with old school and old school vibed tracks which play so wonderfully to his strengths throughout the album. Speaking of strengths, at the head of the album is a tune which is one of its brightest lights, 'Our Strength'. This song leads me into a major point that I want to make about this album. This is the type of album in which you can fully immerse yourself in the music and the vibes and if you do that, that's great - have fun. But be sure not to get so deep into that aspect of it that you lose sight of the lyrics which, at least in my opinion, are just as crucial as the music they feature across. On 'Our Strength', in particular, Alpheus delivers a message about taking pride in who you are and standing up for yourself when you have to. Most memorable are the first lines uttered on the entire album, "As long as there is life in we, we nah go let them treat we like dirt". 'Open Your Eyes' is another winner with a great riddim behind it. There is a wildly infectious DUSTY type of feeling absolutely engulfing this tune which is hard to describe (and I just gave it my best shot, hope that you appreciated it), which dominates for me, but if you dig deeper, and you should, you'll also find a very nice track about self-awareness and learning everything you can from your life experiences. And also infectious is the bounce of 'The Right One' which is a love song. I love that an album which sounds like this isn't brimming with selections like this, but you NEED a few of them and if they're of the quality of 'The Right One' they can actually be standouts and it is in this case.

Of a similar class to "The Right One' are the other love songs on "Good Prevails", the big sounding 'Secret Rendezvous' and the GORGEOUS and damn clever 'Pass The Test'. The former has a very unique quality to it. It's a love song but it kind of sounds suspenseful (and that may be the first time I have ever used that term in describing a song), which does play into the direction of the song. 'Pass The Test' is a fantastic song and NOTHING like what I expected from the title as Alpheus speaks about bettering himself and making improvements in his life so he won't lose someone very special in his life. The song may be one of the most unique love songs that I've heard in a really long time and I always appreciate originality when I least expect it and I didn't expect it AT ALL in this case. Big tune. That may have come as a surprise but something which certainly did not was the title track which takes top honours on the album named after it. 'Good Prevails' is a very interesting piece because it is just as much of a musical display that it is an actual song. There is a heavy focus on the musicianship and although it isn't the THICKEST song that I've ever heard (more on that in a minute), it is saturated in a star quality which is inescapable.

"At the end of  the day -
Good will prevail
The words of truth could never fail
Live good today and always
Live good today
Evil believes they've won the day
But time will tell through good leads the way
Live good today and always
Live good today"

Book-ending the title track are a pair of also outstanding efforts, 'Look In The Mirror' and 'Rudie No More'. In this case, the former is my second favourite song on this album, but the latter is also strong as it also combines big lyrics with a sterling composition. 'Rudie No More' is a song about someone attempting to fix up themselves and lead a better existence and, taking it further, I think that Alpheus presents a song like this to say that it is possible and if you are someone in that situation, you don't have to be like that for the rest of your life - you can make changes. It does not have that kind of a BRIGHT feeling that you typically hear on a song like that, but that's a good thing as Alpheus takes a serious method of delivering a serious theme. However, if you are actually looking for brightness, you can just 'Look In The Mirror' for a very intense light and another extremely clever offering. This is a song about self-esteem and liking the person who you are. I take a song like this on so many different levels (because I’m an over-thinker and can't help it) and while you can take it to a deeper step and deal with the mental side of the song, I like the immediate aspect also.

"Look in the mirror
Love what you see
Believe in the image
Never delete
Respect the reflection
For its yours to keep"

You could make the case that he is dealing with subjects like body image and people not being happy with themselves physically and not enjoying their appearance. In that case, I think that it is an even more crucial song because that is a subject RARELY explored in Reggae music.

The final third of vocal selections on "Good Prevails" continues to serve up delicious material including 'Reach For The Top'. This one is a full JOY to listen to. It has a very vibrant feel to it and it features Alpheus saying to just be the best you can be and enjoy your life as much as you can. It is kind of 'loose', but that is a nice feature on a song like this. Being too rigid here would have been… very strange. The tune which follows 'Reach For The Top' reaches even higher in my opinion. 'Show Some Love' is a similarly directed piece to the tune ahead of it and it, WONDERFULLY, has Alpheus, essentially, identifying love as a contagious element in the world. Saying that if someone shows some love to someone else, then maybe someone else will pick up the momentum and carry it for themselves (and even if they don't, you do it for yourself!). 'Stand Up' may feature the biggest bite on "Good Prevails". You need a song that has a little anger on it and though you could also feel that in the opener, on 'Stand Up' it is even stronger. 

"Now that we've pushed the past behind -
We ahgo stand up!
Nah go give up!
Now everyday is a struggle
But we nah go decline
We ahgo stand up!
Nah go give up! 
Sometime it's not an easy ride
And we slip and ah slide
But we nah go fall down, down, down"

And finally (not really), "Good Prevails" ends with the excellent 'Liberty'. This song is a fairly straightforward one with the emphasis being, obviously, more of a social nature, but Alpheus seems to deal with it on big levels [in terms of, literally, not being able to be free] and small ones [as in people pushing themselves into areas of your life where they do not belong] which is a nice touch. Another nice touch (two of them) are the pair of instrumentals which really do complete this album. 'The Shadow' is the same suspenseful and enthralling [WHAT!] piece backing 'Secret Rendezvous' which seems to have added a melodica to the display which is a great one. And there's also 'Soul Food' the riddim from 'Soul Food' (although every time I hear it, I immediately begin to sing, "I'm still in love with youuuuuuuuu"), which also heavily incorporates some melodica and is another very nice idea. 

So what don't I like about this album??? As you can see (hopefully), I really like it and I enjoy it so much that I wish that there was more of it! An album like this one which is of a type where the music is as much of the 'story' as the lyrics, should have more weight to it. I want to hear long extended instrumentals after the vocals on songs and while you do get stretches of that, eleven of the fourteen tracks are less than three minutes in length for a total playing time south of forty minutes (and because I know you're curious, "From Creation" was more than ten minutes longer). I'm a nerd, and I know it, but on some of these songs, you could have let them play and play and play and I would have LOVED it. 
Overall, I did love the album and, thinking about it for in respect to what it is for me, I'm glad I came back! Along with being just a great album, "From Creation" was kind a landmark release for Alpheus which well saw his profile increase and a lot of people like me took notice and on "Good Prevails" he begins the work of reinforcing his newly found fan base and pleasing his more longtime fans as well. I can't imagine that any from either group will be disappointed by what they find here, If you are a more established Alpheus fan then you (probably just wasted your time reading this) know what to expect and you know you're going to love it, but for those people like me, "Good Prevails", is not a large deviation from the previous album, but it is enough of a unique piece that you don't feel like these are just the next fourteen songs from "From Creation". I do have to, once again, mention the link here as well. I don't know what they're future plans are, but it would be awful if Alpheus and Roberto Sanchez never made another album together. It is so clear that the two have generated so much functioning musical chemistry with one another that should do another of these every two or three years. "Good Prevails" is both a big followup to a future classic and a strong album on its own merits which, again, finds Alpheus turning in a major performance when everyone is watching. Well done. 

Rated: 4.35/5
Liquidator Music
CD + Digital

Review #510