Monday, May 26, 2014

'Staying In Touch': A review of The Way Back Riddim

Highlights. In music, just as in any other forms of business, building a brand is very important. Be it an artist in the process of building or rebuilding his/her reputation or a player of instrument doing the same, when you can successfully make your name and, immediately, have it attached to a certain quality with fans, you have made your road in music a lot smoother. Presumably, the ultimate goal would be to have people just see your named attached to something and have some type of inherent reverence for your skills and your class or your ability to excite them - you want to make a positive impact on them. And while artists can exist very happily for a very loooooooong time if they're capable of stringing together a few occasional hits and, in my example, musicians can find perfect situations and do the same, definitely building a name in the lasting sense is most important for producers and labels. Normally they make more music than anyone else (and have a lot more to give to fans), and for the labels who are able to build up a solid reputation and can get the attention of fans like you and I on their name alone, before we start to consider the artists involved, it is a big deal and can earn them a very large fan base. Today we're very fortunate to have a considerable size of labels who have already gone through that process and are currently enjoying the fruits of their labour. At the head we look at people such as Don Corleon and Stephen McGregor who now able to… pretty much do whatever they want in Reggae circles have it be at least somewhat successful. On the occasions that they do devote themselves to a full project it instantly becomes one of the most discussed and popular in the genre and though it seems like they are, neither Corleon and especially not McGregor (who isn't even halfway through his twenties, I believe) are very old people and both are in the position to reap MAMMOTH rewards for decades and decades to come. Branching out, I also look at labels such as, of course, I Grade Records who, ultimately, are likely to be regarded as having played one of the greatest roles in developing Reggae music from out of the Virgin Islands. And I'll mention a great example of a label currently doing a very good job in building their name amongst fans and that is JahSolidRock who has spent the last few years flaming! 
The Vitamin & Highlight Riddims [2010]
And, as I said, they're many more labels in an era for the music which absolutely does not get the credit that it deserves for being as good as it is to us. I look at personal favourites of mine like Oneness Records and definitely Zion High Productions, both of whom have also been very impressive lately (including this year!) and maybe we can even include a favourite we made a few years back by the name of Akom Records and Dub Akom. Making "a positive impact" can come in a variety of different ways and though they haven't seemed to be the most active of labels, Akom Records may've forever made a fan out of me back in 2010 when they dropped what remains one of the best riddim albums I have ever heard, a combination set featuring both the Vitamin and Highlight Riddims. That album was DAZZLING and it not only linked together a pair of big tracks, but it linked them both with a handful of very talented vocalists and though I had heard of Akom prior to its release, the Vitamin & Highlight Riddims album 'officially' made me a fan of theirs and a few years later, I'm still damn interested. 
Also from Akom Records
Since that time, Akom Records has been active in making singles, but they've also pushed three more riddim albums (one per year) -- for the Bonafide, Full Swing and Heartwarming Riddims, respectively -- and they're now back to present their 2014 offering, the sterling Way Back Riddim. Along with the Vitamin & Highlight release, the Bonafide was also really, really good so I do place Akom Records in a group with just a few others, including Oneness, who have very little in the way of room for error when it comes to their riddim albums. For me, they've already proven how excellent and inventive they can be in that particular area and I'm well looking for it each time they bring forth something new and definitely the Way Back is no exception. In making riddims as single songs it may not be as important, but surely one of the most crucial things about making them into an album is to have an impressive line of artists and that has always been one of the greatest strengths of Akom Records. Their tastes often mirror mind, apparently, as the label has recorded tunes with very talented but not the most obvious of names such as Black Dillinger, Rebellion The Recaller, Natty King, Ras Mac Bean (new album, "Inlightment", coming soon) and others who will appear on this release. But Akom has also been careful to include the BIG names as well and have also voiced the likes of Beenie Man and others. It is more, however, than just packing together interesting names and placing them beneath a nice cover (and biggup Akom Records for always having nice covers, the one for the Heartwarming, in particular, was outstanding), you also have to have great tracks and they do that as well. This time around, as the title would suggest, I was fully expecting the Way Back Riddim to be some type of old school vibed set and when I saw the roster of vocalists I was well interested to see exactly how it played out. As it did play out, the Way Back is a composition which has textures and influences from an older era, but is also sure to fully entertain fans from the current era as well. Let's take a closer look.

Way Back Riddim Mix

Once again Akom Records manages to impress when it comes to the selection of artists to voice this riddim. They cover every area from the up and comers to the veterans and legends, all the way to some of the biggest ranking names in Reggae today and such a first-rate composition deserves nothing less. One of the biggest names and Akom Records favourite, Konshens, gets things started on the Way Back Riddim from Akom Records and Dub Akom with the sublime 'Let Me Go'. This song finds Konshens saying goodbye to a relationship in its terminal stages and, as is his usual, Konshens shines. He's become one of those names who should, at least in my opinion, be counted upon to do top notch material on every song and 'Let Me Go' ranks on that level. And speaking of someone who should be dependable, 'Crazy Love' comes from an artist who has dropped what is our choice the best album of 2014 thus far, Pressure Busspipe ["The Sound", in stores now]. This tune is on the much brighter spectrum of relationships compared to its predecessor and rates just as highly. 

"Everyone keeps talking about us -
The way you're so attentive to me
You're a Queen, and I surely treat you as such
Just hold dis yah frequency
When I'm with you, girl I get so humble
I pray that no one disturb
You brighten up my world like a candle
Give you what you deserve

Crazy love!
No love can compare to yours
Crazy love!
I never felt this way before

One perfect love
The way you clean and you stay conscious
Disciplined woman weh mi give my trust
Her eyes pon di king and she no lose focus
Woman win my heart with her smile and blush
Tell mi she no care if wi haffi tek bus
Tell mi she no care bout no fancy Lexus
She still ahgo prepare di lunch and breakfast
Beautiful girl I love you nuff"

The big social commentary, 'The System Evil', which comes from a name who should definitely be paying attention to in 2014, Jah Torius, rounds out the beginnings of the Way Back Riddim and does it in a fine style. Though somewhat straight forward, I did find that listening to this tune more and more kind of livened it up in my ears just a bit (it has a very subtle edge to it which is in both its pacing and the lyrics, so pay a special amount of attention to this one). Here, Torius speaks on the ills of society which almost seem to create a perpetual line of suffering on the people and he especially speaks to the youths of the world who have the opportunity to finally end that line. And I'll also mention here veteran vocalist Lukie D who makes a nice appearance on the Way Back with 'Calling'. The singer takes his piece in a more socially aware direction as well (with a heavy spiritual inclination) and he, too, is looking for the masses to end the corruption in the world. This is the type of tune which may get lost in the proverbial shuffle of this project, but if you lose it, that'll be your mistake because Lukie D pushes one of the best songs on this riddim to my opinion.

After checking the tracklist, there were several songs on the Way Back Riddim that I was very interested in hearing and well at the head was the track's only combination tune, 'Revelation Time' which actually links two of the biggest names reaching, Million StylezLutan Fyah (new album, "Get Rid Of Di Wicked", coming in June) and the two do not disappoint.

"You no see a serious a thing ah gwan -
This generation lost
Children having children, parents take it fi a laugh
Corruption all side, four corner bloodbath
Nation 'gainst nation, di world inna war
Fighting fi gold, oil and tar
When yuh show dem hand, dem ah shoot yuh from far
Dem mek di laws and draw di last draw
Babylon judgment ahgo hard"

Million Stylez' presence on a tune almost inherently makes things just a bit more lively and energetic and linking him with someone as lyrically proficient as Lutan Fyah makes for a magical moment which I should probably call the best song on this album, but I'm now well partial to another. The next song I was most looking forward to (after both 'Revelation Time' and 'Crazy Love') was 'Reach Out' which comes from another staple and favourite of Akom Records, Jah Marnyah. We haven't heard much from the sensational Montserrat native following his excellent 2012 debut album, "A New Day" ["DEM VEX WHEN MI HAIL RASTAFARI!"], so it was a joy to get a new song from the chanter and, again, this one did not fail to impress either. 'Reach Out' is a song about striving and doing what you have to do to be able to do your best and it is also yet another big selection from someone who is sitting on a mountain (a volcano!) of talent. Jah Mason also jumps on the Way Back Riddim and does it with another of its numerous standouts, 'Dem A Fight'. If ever you find yourself listening to a Roots Reggae piece and you need a bit of FIRE and BITE, names which are more reliable than Jah Mason's are slim at best. The passion he brings to his song is instantly infectious and you can probably say that same thing about dozens of tracks on which the Mason's music appears ["Tell dem ain't no turning back. Dem neva know seh Bobo Mason hard like rock. And anytime mi here, YOU KNOW SEH DAT A SURE-SHOT. I'm like the green light: Go. MI NAH KNOW BOUT STOP"]. Akom Records gets Turbulence in a good form which means (100% of the time - If you EVER get the man anywhere near his best, he ALWAYS makes good music) they also get a winning tune. The stirring 'Step Without Fear' is the Way Back Riddim's obligatory ganja tune and it seems to be about taking pride in what you do. Despite the potential problems you may face, Turbulence wants you to be proud of what you do! It is an interesting song in its direction, but its uniqueness is overshadowed by its prevailing quality. Still, with all of that being said, to my opinion taking top honours on the Way Back Riddim is King Lorenzo who tells all who will listen that he is a 'Warrior'.

"Even when a difficult times
When I've got so much things on my mind
Hunting for my bread and it's hard to find
Ain't no giving in, victory is mine!
Sometimes it's gonna get real tough
And it seems like my best is not enough
And even when it feels like no one cares

You see, I am a warrior!
Gonna break down alla dem barriers!
I free myself, from all the stumbling blocks in my way
You see, I am a warrior!
Gonna break down alla dem barriers!
And free myself from all the stumbling blocks in my way

There's got to be a solution!
There's got to be a way out!
I put my work in motion
Moving forward with no doubt
Yes, I am on this mission
And I know that this life ain't no game
It's all about progress!

Loooooooooong after the tune ends, you're still singing 'along' with it ["I AM A WARRIAH!"] and it also resonates lyrically. It is about fighting for what you want. Lorenzo almost seems to poignantly suggest that when you get whatever it is that you want, that you'll appreciate it more because of the struggle and his point is to be ready for the struggle when you reach it. A BIG, BIG tune and hopefully we get to hear a lot more from Lorenzo in the second half of the year. 

The venerable Johnny Osbourne also contributes a big tune to the Way Back in the form of the moving anti-violence and anti-war observation, 'Why'. This is another very straight-forward offering, but in Osbourne's hands, naturally, it goes up a few levels (everything does). And we also get a pair of 'related' pieces from Di Ras and someone else Akom Records seems to really enjoy, Jahnett Tafari who deliver 'Heathen' and 'Heathen Rage', respectively. The former is nearly spectacular altogether, while Tafari, arguably, gives the Way Back its greatest vocal performance. Keep an eye and an ear on both of them going forward because both have big talents and make fine efforts here. Biggup Akom Records for also giving fans a clean version of the Way Back Riddim which is always a nice touch (and I just do not comprehend why everyone doesn't do that) especially, as is the case here, when the riddim is so strong. 
Overall, the Way Back Riddim lines up as something well fitting and appropriate from the catalogue of Akom Records. They've managed to do a project which I have a hard time seeing someone who is a fan of Reggae music NOT appreciating. Fans, new and old alike, are sure to find something here to like and, if you listen a little closer, probably LOVE. I'll make my constant critique that I would have loved to hear a female vocalist on the Way Back, but going by what it is, you easily have one of the best riddim albums of 2014 right here. Akom Records and Dub Akom made some type of a fan out of me four years ago and they haven't been able to shake me yet and I'm sure I'm not the only one as they continue to make powerful impacts in 2014 with the Way Back Riddim. Well done. 

Rated: 4.40/5
Akom Records

Review #511

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