Thursday, June 5, 2014

'10 Year Itch': A review of "Inlightment" by Ras Mc Bean

Advance! When it comes to music, first impressions can be an immeasurably powerful thing. As a fan, you can become a lifelong admirer of someone or something and still recall, in great detail, memories of when you very first started listening. Things like that almost always drift away into life matter (as anyone who has ever had a relatively deep conversation about music with an older person can tell you) - and can really become a part of something much, much bigger and more important. When it comes to artists generally there is a song or two which first grabs your attention and you'll more gradually (or sometimes not so gradually) maintain your interest in what they subsequently do and… then you're a fan but, again, you're very unlikely to forget that initial song which first got to you. This is the case even with your favourites and, in Reggae where activity can be king, this song or these songs can stand up and standout in the face of hundreds and maybe even thousands of others at some point. And in some special cases, it can even be a full album. Staying away from the most obvious of examples (which we'll refer to as… 'Midnite' for the sake of this review), there are a few very strong instances of someone pushing an album and really striking the consideration of Reggae fans. One really appropriate one for today would definitely be "Journey" which was the exceedingly well-regarded debut album of the giant voiced St. Vincent native Qshan Deya. The interest and popularity of this album has remained in a curious standing throughout the years because it would be more than a decade before the singer would follow it up with his sophomore release, "Love Govern Us All". Further than that would be the case of Tarrus Riley who dropped his second album, "Parables" and smashed his way through the entire genre and then had many people who picked that album up come to the realization that it wasn't his actually his first album. Riley's case is damn compelling for so many reasons, not the least of which is the successes he has gone on to enjoy from that time, but also because he has and is still receiving so many fans who already have personal connections to his music and his star, arguably, continues to rise. Someone else who may not have reached those lofty levels, on the whole, but surely rose with an album which made a giant impact on me, personally, is Ras Mc Bean.
"Pack Up And Leave" [2004]
I would have been very sad and may have actually began to cry if you would have told me that it would be a DECADE until RMB would follow-up on his debut album, "Pack Up & Leave" which released way back in 2004. I would have wept and taken it very, VERY hard. All of these years later, that set is probably one of the strongest debut albums that I've ever heard which made it so damn perplexing that RMB, despite staying fairly active (especially in the second half of that ten-year span) never made another album. I'd put him in the lines of other individuals such as Prince Theo and Meshach & Wevolusion who absolutely dazzled me on their own respective releases but it was almost surely just the one time because, depressingly, none of them would ever get around  to doing it again. On "Pack Up & Leave" the Guyana born Ras Mc Bean (then 'Ras Mac Bean') showed his extremely high level of talent. His vocals, when he pushed them were outstanding and he always had just a bit of an edge to his music which made it even more attractive in my opinion. And I would have thought that, by 2014, he'd have at least three or four big albums of a similar quality to his name. 

But before you reach "three or four", you have to cross number two. FINALLY [!], 2014 beings us the second album from Ras Mc Bean and with the roll that this year has been experiencing as far as Reggae albums, this has to be one of the biggest gifts for me, personally, that it has given - releasing an album that I was almost sure would never come. "Pack Up & Leave" was done by the venerable Irie Ites which was the label RMB was most closely linked to as, along with the album, he was active on their riddims through the years (including their most recent release, 2014's Diamond Riddim). But in more recent times he has branched out, voicing with the likes of Akom Records (Way Back Riddim, in stores now), Dubiterian and Achis Reggae favourite, 149 Records. Still, I would have been certain that his never-forthcoming second album would have been an Irie Ites project. So, it was very surprising that not only did RMB have a new album -- REALLY -- approaching but that it would also be for a different label. The album, "Inlightment", which I've been looking forward to for ten years actually comes via Union World Music from out of Austria, with the Fireman Crew handling production and the always reliable IrieVibrations distributing. I've really enjoyed watching the hype and promotion around this album already. IV has always had a fine track-record in doing big projects and getting out the word on what they're working on so it comes to no surprise but it is nice to see that I'm not the only one who is taking this album as a very big deal. For his part, from the early tunes that I did hear prior to the album, also unsurprisingly, RMB has kept in a fine form and although I would have surely said the same thing regarding any of the previous eight years or so (and probably did), 2014 seems like a fine year for his new album and I'm well pleased to have it actually materialize this year (and I am sure that he is too!). With all of that being said, however, after a history like his and a very compelling build-up to this new album, Ras Mc Bean has to show up in a major way and "Inlightment" has to be very good - at least. Let's take a listen.
Something which came pouring back to my mind in listening to the new album is just how STRONG RMB's vocals are. There're some exquisitely sung songs on this album and that gives the music here a kind of constant quality. You may not love every song, but each one of them, because of the singing at least, have some type of lasting quality and appeal in my opinion. Because of how it is set, perhaps you get the greatest demonstration of Ras Mc Bean's vocal capabilities on the intro which leads into his new album from Union World Music, "Inlightment". The Gospel-ish track is completely acoustic and, beautifully, sets the spiritual stage for what it is to follow. What is to follow, directly, is the first full song on the album and, I believe, its first single, 'Rise Up and Fight'. "Exquisite" is a more than appropriate way to describe this tune from beginning to end. Not only is it very nice for the ears, it features a wonderful message as RMB says that the genuine enemy is not always who or what it appears to be. I like that little shift here. I already had my mind made up as to what a song called 'Rise Up and Fight' would be about, but this one took things in a very unique direction. 'Surrender' is another title which had me thinking that the song would be something (a praising song) other than the cool love song that it turned out to be. This a prime example of what I said in regards to the vocals on this album. There're more than a few tunes on "Inlightment" which I like more, but I could listen to 'Surrender' all day long. It has a pleasing tone to it and the riddim carrying it is sublime as well. Next, Ras Mc Bean gives credit to Mama Earth on the stirring 'Nature'.

"Respect to nature
Respect Her Creator
Respect to nature
Respect the works of our Father
Respect to nature
Respect Mother Earth and Her creatures
Respect to nature
What's the earth without the equator?

Nuclear waste you dash inna di water
So weh you think really ahgo happen after
Radiation surely ahgo take over
Man ahgo kill man
Kill offa dem one another!
This madness haffi stop
Together we must try or together wi will die
So hear di song weh dat mi sing"

'Nature' is a golden composition and Ras Mc Bean makes a fine usage of it to the tune of one of the best songs on the whole of "Inlightment". 'Steppin Out' is the sole official combination on the album and it features RMB linking with the always interesting Swaligan, Ilements. As far as I know Ilements and RMB are friends and it shows through the musical chemistry that they exhibit on this BIG tune which calls for an upping in the standards of all people who refuse to be held back by negative things and influences. 'Calling' sounds like a spiritual autobiographical selection from Ras Mc Bean. On it he outlines exactly (mostly on the emotional side) how he found his true path in life ["I never lived a life like this before since Jah Jah opened my door. Now I love HIM more and more"] and the impact it made on his life. He also takes things through a tangible channel in speaking directly his parents and actually apologizing to them at one point. A MOVING song if there ever was one and another of the definitive highlights of "Inlightment". And wrapping up the first half of songs on the album is another love song (this one slightly better than 'Surrender' in my opinion), 'Is It You'. Again, RMB puts on a vocal performance which is not to be missed and while songs like this typically aren't featured greatly on albums like these, all involved may have a hit on their hands if 'Is It You' gets a spotlight shone in its direction at some point (and that riddim is a MIGHTY one). 
Even though I really do enjoy the first half of the album, "Inlightment" really steps into the light in its second half to my opinion as it serves up several of its biggest moments including its absolute largest in my opinion. In this instance, things get going with the all kinds of relatable 'Yesterday Is Gone'. This song actually reminds me a bit of 'Rise Up and Fight' in the way it is written (and there's another one like that I'll tell you about in a minute) for some reason. From it, I actually go in a few different lines of thought. One of them being the idea of not letting things that you've done in the past weigh you down - leading to the concept of regret and how everyone has it. And, as RMB largely directs it to younger people, I also see the idea of maturing and growing up. Yes you may have done some truly sinister things as a youth, but you reach a point where it's time to let those things go - and I could likely keep going. 'Yesterday is Gone' is fantastic and full of discussable points so be sure to pay a special amount of attention to what is said here. And you can do the same with 'Love The Life You Live' as well.

"Some a dem like fi copy
But they find the way is too rocky
They just cannot see
I like to be original in me
Life is given to everyone
It's like a bullet coming out of a gun
It comes out one-by-one and it cannot return

So live the life you love 
And others will respect you
Love the life you live
And the haters would reject you
So live the life you love
And life will just go on
So live what love, love what you live -
And trust what you believe

Some like fi follow back a crowd 
Scream and ah cuss and ah talk too loud
But without a vision there is no destination
All is chaos and confusion
When time fi walk, then a time you haffi run
But there's only one life fi live under the sun
So believe in someone
Love and have some fun
You si di crowd be no follow back a one"

This GLORIOUS creation is one which celebrates the positivity found in individuality and, ultimately, what I take from it is RMB saying that you can only allow yourself to be dragged down by others for so long, but it is your life and you do with it what you want. A very poignant message wrapped up in a delightful song - one of the most sonically pleasing on this record. The triumphant 'Hocus Pocus' is one which I was well looking forward to hearing based on its title, alone, and it is the other tune which I alluded to that seems to pour into the same vein set by the 'Rise Up and Fight' and 'Yesterday Is Gone'. This song is about teaching accurate things to people and not attempting to deviate from and sugarcoat the lesson. Specifically, it deals more with the social realm ["No tell dem bout no hocus pocus. No tell dem bout no streets of gold dust"] and history and how things which should be focused on are often overlooked. Again, what you have here is a song which is very crucial lyrically and those words are placed in this package which is so nice to listen to! Just ahead of ‘Hocus Pocus' is a tune called 'Run Run Run' which reigns supreme on "Inlightment" in my opinion. It is MASSIVE! 

"Well I'm down in deep distress
And in times of loneliness
He said He'd lift me up
Take me to the mountain tops

Jah tell mi seh fi run, run, run!
Run into his arms of refuge!
Jah tell mi seh fi run, run, run!
Run into His arms of care
Jah tell mi seh fi run, run, run!
Run into his arms of refuge!
Jah tell mi seh fi run, run, run!
Run into His arms of care

When my enemies surround mi and confounds me
And they try to run me down, to the ground
He said to have no fear - oh Lord
Cause I'll be taken care"

TEARS! This song may not get the same response from anyone else who hears it, but it did something so wonderful to my senses and it just made me feel GOOD! I enjoy the emotion and the passion put into a piece like this and, obviously, RMB is singing about something so important and valuable to him, so you'd expect those things and they SHINE together on my favourite song on "Inlightment". The pair of tracks which conclude the album are also gems in 'Run For Cover' and 'Love Govern The Earth'. The former is a shot aimed at the wicked people of the world and a suggestion that they should seek safer ground… if they can find it. And I should also mention that the single finest riddim on this album backs that song. It is excellent! 'Love Govern The Earth' also has a very bright glow around it as RMB sends us out with a vibes meant to inject a bit of love in your life going forward. I just think that this piece is about helping someone out and doing something good for someone who needs it and, presumably and hopefully, those good vibes will make their way back to you in some way. A mighty way to end an equally potent album. 
Ras Mc Bean
Overall, the prevailing level of quality of "Indifferent" is really, really high and I fully hoped and  expected that it would be. Looking back, "Pack Up & Leave" set the stage for an album like this one and while you wouldn't have wanted to wait so long for it, whenever it arose it, the second album was going to be interesting and something you wanted to hear. In that respect (and in any other I could think of), "Inlightment" could have been considerably worse than it is and still have been a success. And though so many people did tune into that first set, I'm hoping that a lot more come around and have a listen to this one, going forward. On "Inlightment", Ras Mc Bean dazzles virtually from beginning to end and he shows that the power he exhibited all of those years ago is not only still intact - it's probably grown. 

Rated: 4.45/5
Union World Music
CD + Digital

Review #514

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