Wednesday, June 25, 2014

'Bright Spots': A review of The Jump For Joy Riddim

Erupt. Though it is something which, for great reasons, we generally deal with in regards to vocal artists, when you look at the life-spans of full labels it can be a tremendously interesting experience. Labels, just like artists, do definitely tend to 'come and go' quite frequently, but the ones that stick around in some way can also make for endlessly entertaining and thought provoking moments for fans as well. We're fortunate today to have a few labels who, even though they may not have been around for decades and decades have already made for such a bright contrast of what they used to be and what they currently are. We can look at someone like Don Corleon who went from producing tracks (albeit producing tracks as a bona fide GENIUS) as the leader of a then up and coming generation to being someone from whom the absolute heights are expected. To watch his growth has been so fascinating over the past decade and these days he exists as one of the finest maestros Reggae music has ever seen. In other examples perhaps the comparison or the turnaround isn't so great and, instead, what becomes most compelling is the blossoming that a label has shown. Of course, in this instance I have to mention the work of I Grade Records (which is a very good reference point for today). That label has evolved from being THE biggest from out of the Virgin Islands (even before anyone knew that's what they were -- and a position they surely still occupy) to being one which records extremely talented artists from all over the world (biggup Toussaint and The Nazarenes) and whose releases are grandly anticipated in any form. For me, that's a prototype of building and developing a brand in Reggae music and they did it the finest way in which it could be done: I Grade Records made great music for a really long time and then… everyone began to notice. Fortunately, IGR weren't the only ones to do that (and I could mention a line of European imprints who have done the same - the Irie Ites and IrieVibrations of the world, in particular) and maybe someone else is ready to take that next step as well. As far as labels from out of the Virgin Islands, though that initial explosion wasn't as great as it seemed to be for the virtual production warehouse of talented artists that we saw a decade or so ago, there were some solid names. Ones such as Mt. Nebo Records who dealt with so much of Bambú Station's early output, Ras Batch's Sound V.I.Zion Records who largely introduced us to Batch, Ras Attitude and Mada Nile and there were others as well such as Groundbreaking Records who managed to make a heavy impact in their respective times (and still are in some cases).

Another label who took a similar trod and did so almost exclusively with one name was Splatter House Records. Up until very recently (two or three days ago) (or whenever I finish this review), I've only known SHR as the label responsible for pushing the projects of Jahman. To my knowledge, Jahman has had four or five releases through the years and they've all been products of Splatter House. Jahman has just always seemed to have his own operation set for what he does and, obviously it's worked well for him.
"Diamonds & Pearls" [2012]
But maybe things could be just a bit… weller (- not a word), and the fruits can be shared which is what, apparently, was the plan for Jahman and Splatter House Records for 2014. The artist released his most recent album, "Diamonds & Pearls" just a couple of years back and instead of following it up in the way I'm sure most people presumed that he would, the latest SHR project goes in a different direction as the label delivers (at least to my knowledge), its very first compilation and riddim album for the golden Jump For Joy Riddim. Going back to the aforementioned I Grade Records, if you do follow their work, you've surely noticed that, along with the Zion I Kings, they're currently doing a Riddim Series (the next installment of which, the Junction Riddim from Lustre Kings Productions, is reportedly coming soon) of their own and it has been very impressive through just two sets thus far and I was damn happy to see SHR not only begin to branch out, in general, but to also take this actual step. And that was just on paper - digging a little deeper it also helped that they chose what turned out to be a big track and one which figures to be familiar to some attentive fans as it appeared in a major way on the aforementioned "Diamonds & Pearls" album (more on that in a second). Furthermore, on top of being a good idea and having a strong 'backbone' in a big riddim, the roster of vocalists involved with the Jump For Joy was absolute CANDY to my eyeballs. I saw names here which just struck me as being smart and although I don't have credits for this one, I got to thinking about just how much help SHR may've gotten in putting together such a release because, although it may be destined to fly beneath the proverbial radar (but I really hope not), this is a BIG project and one which should be respected mightily. I'm also hopeful that it isn't one of a kind and although it may not be the first of a full series, I would love to see the point where we look back at the history of Splatter House Records and see the JFJ as this moment where everything really began to fall in place for them and maybe even help to push future releases from Jahman to an even higher level. Until that point where we are afforded some retrospect, however, what we can right now is appreciate what is clearly one of the best riddim albums of the year. Let's talk about it!
It may not be (it won't be) the case for everyone who runs into this set, but when I first saw it, as I said, I was DAMN impressed by not only what I heard but also by who I saw present. The eclectic but extremely solid selection of artists sits amongst the most striking that I've seen on any track in 2014 and most of those names do at least very well on this track which is pulsing and intoxicating and makes for a fine selection, itself, to be featured on an album. Speaking of "very well", to my opinion things get no weller [WHAT?!] [AGAIN?!] [BOOM!] than on the opening tune on the Jump For Joy Riddim from Splatter House Records, the MAMMOTH 'Today' from Notch, who is apparently a favourite of Jahman's and, singing songs like this, he should probably be a favourite of mine as well. 'Today' is musical inspiration to its core. You'll find better written songs on this track (and that's not to say that this one isn't well written), but you won't find any which make you FEEL AS GOOD as veteran Notch does on what has to be the finest song that I've heard from him in… in an ever! An amazing way to start. Next up is the song which was likely the first time anyone got a taste of the JFJ Riddim, its title track, which featured prominently on the aforementioned "Diamonds & Pearls" album. This song linked Jahman alongside the great Sizzla Kalonji and it was a strong piece as well. The composition here was just about taking value in the things that have going for you in your life and attempting to shrink those things which bring negativity ["Don't get caught up in di hype, waan live a million dollar dream, when you really find out it's just a million dollar scheme"]. Lutan Fyah [new album, "Get Rid A Di Wicked", in stores now] also contributes here with the sterling 'Rasta Won't Fail'

“Nuttin no personal, when di Rasta check out
We are all one family - east, west, north and south
One blood - sun shine or cloud
It no matter skin colour
Jah Jah love is profound
Sometime mi feel, I'm on my own
But the Good Lord shout out 'YOU'RE NOT ALONE'
Just to find justice inna town, mi haffi draw fi mi steel and make a sound

"Rasta won't fail
I know my life is brave
Worst will be the same
Mi know seh di world can be a better place!"

"Selassie I seateth inna di secret places of my heart
Elevation - a new faculty of thought
See di world as it is
Nuttin no strange, a just so people live
No one is perfect - 
You could be cursed to death -
Or di people ahgo treat you like mess"

From this track I really just took the concept of being capable of relying on something. Obviously, here the Fyah finds dependence in the absolute highest of sources, but I think that you can take it in smaller situations and apply even to being someone's 'rock' yourself. A lovely tune and one which comes well expected from Lutan Fyah. Fittingly, chasing Lutan Fyah here is Pressure Busspipe (new album, "The Sound", in stores now - best album of the first half of the year) as the two linked on what is one of the best songs that I've heard this year ('This Train', from "The Sound" album). Pressure continues a fine stretch of his own with a big offering here as well, 'When A Door Is Close'. This is a very clever and well-arranged praising piece and a lyrical near masterpiece as the St. Thomas doesn't particularly care if a door is closed in his face because he keeps company with The Locksmith. 

"When a door is closed, another opens wide
I'm grateful to have The King by my side
His name I glorify
Emperor Selassie I!
Race is not for the swift, a just di fit who survive
There's no one beneath the sun to take my pride
Conquering Lion in I
Emperor Selassie I!

Blasphemers will do just that, but as far as I see they will sink down below
Look how much dem tell di poor man 'no'
As dem get di money dem ah tell mi is a goal
Give and take back and tell mi nuttin nah go so
Nuff youth make it out di hard way
So di Rastaman give praises all day
Praises to di Incient always
So mi make di fyah blaze!"

BOOM! The downright majestic song would have fit well on "The Sound", which should tell you how strong it is if you have heard that amazing record (and you have) and, surely, it is a favourite from the Jump For Joy Riddim.
Ras Batch
Along with some of the more expected names to make an appearance, such as Lutan Fyah, Pressure and Jahman, of course, I was wholly delighted with some of the other names tapped by SHR to voice the JFJ. For example? Check 'Win' which comes from the previously mentioned and completely brilliant Ras Batch (easily one of my favourite artists, altogether, today). Although he's picked up the pace in recent times (biggup the Zion I Kings), new songs from Batch in between albums still aren't in abundance, so even the opportunity to hear from him is exciting and, because he never does, he doesn't disappoint on the JFJ with another mighty inspirational vibe with fantastic sonic appeal. Junyah P (formerly Junior P) tries to "bring back the culture" on 'How You Doing' - a WONDERFUL selection about… being nice to other people. 

"So how you doing?
How you feeling?
Hey, good morning
Good afternoon

Sometime a greeting can change your day
A little 'bless up' can change your vibes -
When you feeling down and out
Sometime a greeting can change your mood
A 'bless up' make you feel so good
Sometime you feel like you lost your way
Nuff time you need somebody to talk to
Express yourself, yes you need to vent 
Release your anger - before end up inna danger
Nuff ghetto youth need someone to tell dem that we love them
And we care for them"

A terrible, terrible thing it is that Junyah P felt the need to write a song like this, but 'How You Doing' is GOLDEN and I was very happy to see him with a new song as well. The venerable Junior Reid also shows up to Jump For Joy with a solid release, 'Can't Get Over Me'. Reid goes in a different route than most, but he does well with a more relationship oriented vibe. He is in a good form and when he is like this, I could listen to him sing all day long. Cruz Rock finds similar fortunes with the entertaining 'Love Ah Come Down'. Cruz Rock is someone who I probably have never listened to as much as I should and I give credit where it is due with this effort. Credit is also due in the direction of BVI native (biggup Jalena), Ritical, who is pouring out credit and thanks with the praising song, 'Thank You'. This is a fairly straight forward and easy track to my ears, but I did hear things on listens two and three that I didn't initially, so pay it a special attention because it may just be one of the best songs on this riddim altogether. And I should also mention the tune 'Smile' which comes via Maurice. Maurice is someone who doesn't seem to record nearly as much as he should and if you needed further evidence of that (and you didn't), definitely check 'Smile'. Perhaps still best known as the brother of arguably the most talented Dancehall DJ ever, Papa San, Maurice makes beautiful music of his own and 'Smile' is one of his best.

Going even further, there were five artists who appear on the Jump For Joy that really even took more of my attention, just on paper alone and, again, I was so pleased by the work of Splatter House Records to include them. A pair of them come near the tail of the album in the form of Army and Danny I. As I said, Ras Batch isn't someone who, historically, had made many appearances between albums and he hasn't. Army, on the other hand, has been full-on phantom-like, unfortunately. His most recent album, "Dredlocks Time", was a master class of modern Roots music and he keeps it going here with 'Long Long Road'. I saw this piece as something of a 'personal commentary' where Army seems to acknowledge that many people have made great strides but that all of us, collectively, still have a very long road ahead of us and much work to do. 'Long Long Road', as it usually is coming from Army, is an utter JOY to listen to as he melds perfectly to the JFJ Riddim. For his part, Danny I soars with 'Gathering Of Lion'.

"If you feel your burdens extra heavy and you can't bear it all
If the world feels like it can dissolve right in between your arms
If the battle makes you feel like you cannot when the war
I say hold onto your faith - it has gotten you this far"

The song is an amazing one and really helped to solidify something for me - Danny I has been making great music, without exception, for his entire career. He hasn't had any missteps. There weren't any questionable moments. He's been spectacular from his musical origins and he still is. Mada Nile is someone else who you would really like to be a bit more prolific and she also provides a spark to this track with the humbling 'Bending Knees'. Here, we find Mada Nile saying that no matter how smart you may think you are, eventually you'll have to pay for the wrongs of your life in one way or another. It was another female artist who probably got the biggest response from me in seeing her name, Reemah, who continues to spellbind with 'Be Free'. So many artists from the VI seem like they don't tend to be so active (as I've already mentioned here) and when I really began to take in Reemah's music I was so hopeful that she wasn't added to that list -- especially when it comes to women, I don't know if I can even remember the last new song that I've heard from the likes of Lady Passion, Empress Nyingro, Natty Empress and maybe even Dezarie -- because what I heard from her was a supreme level of talent, especially with the written word. She is amazing!

"What a world it will be when -
We give thanks to the birds and the trees and -
Everyone got plenty food there to eat
When consciousness increase
When we go stop jealous people for the least
When life is worth more to the human beings
When they start to care and now the cure get released
When none a dem ah step inna di pure white sheets
When I no see no faces on di cold concrete
Now, when children stop carry di AK piece
When di world no want di fighting over in the Middle East

In the test of time
Love will last forever and ever and ever and we-
Will cast our doubts aside and stand in love forever and ever and ever and we will be free

Watch di things that you do to get by
Oh my
Rob another, can you please tell me why?
It's up to us to fix the sufferation
And to those weh locked down inna di station -
Keep your head up
Got to stay strong
Know your days long
BOOM! DAMN! WHOA! And it is effortless! It comes off as if she just walks in the studio and starts talking and the song is what comes out of her mouth! It surely is too early but one of the biggest gifts which will be on my wish list for 2015 is definitely going to be a new album from Reemah. Finally, one of the finest and most surprising additions to the Jump For Joy Riddim is Revalation ["Flame on! Another life down the drain -gone!"] who is someone else who just doesn't seem to be very active (I don't know if I've heard FIVE songs from him following his debut album, "Serious Matters", which was six years ago now) so hearing him anywhere is a big deal for me. 'Bunch of Gold' is his effort for this track and it is another highlight ["dem caan play mi fi no X-Box nor Sony. Impossible to take man fi a ride cause me no pony. Jah Jah you're my shield. You're my guide and my glory. A you know mi bio, every inch of the story"]. I don't know what to expect from Revalation but his talent is huge and anything in the way of a boost of activity can only be a good thing. This is a prime demonstration of that. 
Overall, BOOM! There is so much to enjoy about this set and, again, I'm really eager to see the masses respond to it in such a way. For everyone who has loved the work of I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings, this should find a very healthy audience amongst that same crowd. The Jump For Joy Riddim, itself, is lovely. It does have a strong edge to it as well which helps to make for more than a few dazzling moments when it is placed in the hands of Pressure, Lutan Fyah and the likes. Of course, my one real critique is that the album is sans an instrumental but for what is here, as I said, it is one of the finest riddim albums of 2014. Maybe in a few years we will look back at the Jump For Joy Riddim as that moment when Splatter House Records began a big stretch of releases and became one of the biggest names in Virgin Islands Reggae music. Sublime from beginning to end [even the cover!]. 

Rated: 4.55/5
Splatter House Records

Review #518

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