Sunday, June 8, 2014

'With Feeling': A review of "Guidance" by I Jahson

Shine it. I'm someone who, though I definitely respect eras of years and years gone by, will always show the most amount of love and appreciation to artists and musicians of the current generation. One of my largest reasons for doing this is because of just how much talent we currently have in the world today when it comes to Reggae music. And certainly that is a credit to those who came before and paved the proverbial way by laying the foundation and giving the music such a powerful platform where, today, anywhere you find people (virtually anywhere at all), you're going to find not only Reggae musicians, but TALENTED Reggae musicians, as well as fans of the music. That is remarkable and each and every time someone runs into the works of one of these artist, as a whole, the music takes a little step forward. And I'm always interested by some of the travels people make and some of the various locales that individuals end up in to thrive and make good music and just how nice it is that THIS is what brings them together. One of the most interesting examples of this would surely be the case of Achis Reggae favourite, Lion D. While Italy may not be known as a powerhouse of Reggae music, with names such as Lion D, Raphael and others… maybe it should be! The Lion's most unusual track taken to Reggae music, alone, is a really fascinating story, but it is made even more gripping when you consider his heavy capabilities. Similarly, I look at someone like Jah Turban. Jamaican born, the chanter found his way to Denmark, of all places, and found producers and labels and has gone onto to enjoy successes (which hopefully will include a debut album at some point). And just recently we also dealt with the wonderful second album from Ras Mc Bean ["Inlightment", in stores now] who, from being born in Guyana, has found a home performing and recording for labels a throughout Europe. Incidentally, another name which very much comes to mind is that of South African standout, Black Dillinger. Dillinger has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, also mainly in Europe and one of his most consistent and familiar stops has sent him to Austria where he's also found an interesting and talented group of producers… and he is not the only one.  
"Better Tomorrow" by Black Dillinger [2011]
On his most recent release, 2011's "Better Tomorrow", Black Dillinger linked up with Richvibes Records from out of Austria to produce, easily, the most colourful and varied release of his career. Three years on and Richvibes is back with another full length set from another big talent from out of Africa, Zimbabwe's I Jahson. I Jahson is one of those names that has relatively consistently found its way onto my radars over the course of the past couple of years, but I didn't particularly know a great deal about him and I'm sure I'm not the only one. In retrospect, nearly all (if not completely all) of what I know from him, in terms of his actual output has come on the Richvibes label and, to no surprise, artist and label now team up to bring to the world a little "Guidance".
Outside of their work with Black Dillinger, Richvibes has also recorded songs with the likes of Ward 21 (showing a great range - spanning from Black Dillinger to the madness that is Ward 21 [big new album, "Still Disturbed", in stores now]) and from what I've heard from them, if you can say anything of their style, King Richman and company definitely combine a variety of different styles in their music. And while that may not be something favoured by some Roots Reggae fans who pick up this album -- and, at times, I may be amongst that more rigid type of group -- something tells me that it isn't going to be the greatest of problems when it comes to this one. When I heard the early bits from "Guidance", I thought that it had some type of quality to it that would surely be interesting to take a look at and, going through the album, that quality (whatever it was) didn't dissipate or diminish, it became even more clear. What was it?! I Jahson is very, very talented. Primarily, he comes through with this intoxicatingly laidback but ultra focused type of chant which, comfortably, allows him to kind of drift back and forth into a diverse set of sounds which, obviously, matches him up well with what Richvibes does. When he turns up the fire just a bit the focus intensifies and his abilities become even more glaring (and… I don't need to tell you what that does with this type of music). Because of that, his travels to Austria and to Richvibes, at least in my opinion, becomes even more crucial because of how rare such a link would be theoretically (a Zimbabwean goes to Austria and develops into a Reggae star) (WHAT!). Whatever the course that brought I Jahson and Richvibes together, you're likely to be thankful for it when you get a listen to "Guidance". As I alluded to, over the past two or three years or so, the label, just as they had for Black Dillinger, had been releasing singles from I Jahson which would lead one to think that "Guidance" was always the eventual goal and because it had taken such a vast period of time, I think that such a strategy was a good one. In Dillinger's case, "Better Tomorrow" was his third album (and he can do album #4 anytime now!) but, for Jahson, I think that it just allowed fans to get comfortable seeing his name about and though I may not have been absolutely devastated by everything that I heard (and I never am) (neither are you), but I what I did hear made me want to hear more and, of course, see what was in store for the chanter. What was to come was "Guidance" and we don't have to wait and see anymore! Let's discuss!
As a writer, the things to like about the artist continue. He composes songs which, for the most part, have a very clear and relatable theme. Certainly I'm someone who doesn't mind going through and trying to analyze DEEP songs and meanings, but his way is more straight to the point and that, too, can also be delightful (think of people like Lloyd Brown and Tanya Stephens). Following a very dramatic intro, I Jahson gets to the point on his new album, "Guidance" with one of the album's previous singles, the sublime 'Source of Life'. This song is my favourite on the whole of the album - it is just a great tune which comes off so easy and organic and, on it, I Jahson delivers a message about how music mirrors life. I also hear a lot of pride in the song as well as it seems as if he's humbled by what it is he gets to do with his life and the opportunity to make music like this. And, despite its prevailingly relaxed tones, I also do hear a whole heap of passion here as well and it is a JOY to listen to ["Music is a source of life. Keep it clean and pure"]. Then Richvibes begins to paint and we get into the downright dazzling 'True Colors'.

"When I was young, I never showed my colours
But now mi is a man big, strong -
Jah give I the powers"

The song has an African 'swing' to it, but it also has sounds of like old school Dancehall (which is the approach Jahson takes here at times) and they all form a perfect blend to one of the most sonically pleasing selections to be found on "Guidance". The same could well be said about 'Rise Pon Dem' which follows 'True Colors'. This is an aggressive shot taken at corruptive and oppressive society which rates very highly here. I HAVE to mention in this case, however, the riddim which does all kinds of developing in its time and I Jahson doesn't let the moment go to waste and, instead, he also delivers one of his finest lyrical performances on the album as well.
Along with 'Source of Life' (which also comes with a top notch acoustic version), to my eyes, "Guidance" also contains three other which're familiar. One of them is the album's only combination, 'You Must Be' which features the aforementioned Black Dillinger and was carried by his also aforementioned "Better Tomorrow" album. The hype piece is one which is just asking for a little more from the world -- asking for someone to stand up -- ["You must be something that you never been before"] and it has been awhile from since I last heard this song and I don't quite remember it sounding this good. It's aged well as the two styles blend so well together and both artists shine. You may also recognize 'Iraq', which is also given two mixes on this album [the original and a Reggae version]. The song is very clever as it places I Jahson right in the midst of war in the world and the approach he takes with it is so simple that it seems like the type of things that you would worry about. He misses his Mother! And the atrocities are starting to get to him ["Even the baby did drop. Man all explode deh pon di spot"]. In a genre like Reggae, you‘ll hear thousands of antiviolence and antiwar tunes, but I really appreciate originality like the point of view taken on I Jahson's contribution. And there‘s also the lovely 'Yard' on which, whether physically or mentally, Jahson goes home and away from ills of the world. I do enjoy the mental side of this song as the chanter talks about thoughts and even having dreams which work enough to allow him to mentally drift away for awhile. Big tune.
And while I may not know of it well right now, apparently it's time I also got familiar with 'No Slackness' which is the next single coming from "Guidance". The infectious Dancehall tune is sure to get heads rocking (like mine, right now) and I‘m almost certain that was the approach to a piece like this one and there‘s nothing wrong with that. Surely the same intent was behind 'Blazing' which is the final new song on the album (just ahead of the two mixes of 'Source of Life' and 'Iraq') and, with its HUGE sound, is likely to have the same effect. As I often say in the cases of songs such as this one, though you come looking for the moment of the music, if you can, try to give an ear to what is actually being said on the tune as well because if you don't, you'll miss something really nice in my opinion. Just ahead of 'Blazing', fittingly, is the album's obligatory ganja tune, 'Malawi Gold' which comes equipped with its very own skit, 'Take A Puff' (which is just a streamlined portion of the full song). Both are impressive and, when placed together, are kind of magnified. And biggup the background singer there - whoever she is, she has a fine voice and makes a strong display.
Though it takes a surprisingly long time to get up and going, the album's title track is captivating. I'm still not exactly sure what I think of it -- the sound on this one… is just all over the place! -- and it sounds like someone really tried to do something different with it. And though it's more direct, one could say the same with the somewhat Hip-Hoppish 'Evil System' as well. That being said, however, 'Frienemy' is gold. On it we find I Jahson telling all to be aware of who you keep company with and who you refer to as your 'friend' because they may not really be what and who they seem to be. He also keeps things a little bright and seems to say that if you are actually wary about such things, it will help you tremendously in life. And the riddim on that song is divine! Finally, check 'Chat No Nonsense', which is kind of the other part of 'No Slackness' in some respects. This song is just about setting a proper example for those who look up to you (and for yourself) and trying to do the best that you can in that. It, also, has a unique and hard to describe sound, but it ultimately does work and is a solid offering. 
Overall, there is so many discussable aspects of this record that we can look at and one which I do want to focus on is how accessible it is. Roots Reggae, even in its modern form, isn‘t always THE most ‘open‘ of genres of music, but if you enjoy it a little and several other styles, "Guidance" is definitely for you. And that‘s something which is not, at least not in my opinion inherently inaccessible for more seasoned fans, who should also enjoy parts of this album as well. The music, in general, is damn good (particularly the background singing, which I mentioned, and the guitar work) and certainly very diverse. For his part, I Jahson gives a strong exhibition of what he is capable of during an important phase of his career. So many people who haven‘t heard of him or heard his work may show up for "Guidance" and, when they do, what they‘ll hear is the product of years and years of someone growing as an artist and a most remarkable journey to fruition. 

Rated: 3.85/5
RichVibes Records
CD + Digital 

Review #515

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