Thursday, July 31, 2014

'The Takeoff': A review of "Keep The Faith" by Ras Pilot

Standing. To varying degrees, we've all certainly heard the very unique and sometimes downright terrible situations musicians have gone through in order to reach some level of prominence. Be it performing in front of fully non-receptive or just fully absent audiences, finding themselves invested in some type of hopeless recording situation or having to wait indefinitely for certain projects to reach fruition, even on the highest levels, the life of a musician can present some very strange problems. Because of that, I do tend to throw a whole heap of appreciation at those certain individuals who can, potentially, endure those type of things in a prolonged manner before they have 'arrived'. In Reggae music (which is what we do around here if you haven't noticed), I believe this is even more highlighted because "prominence" in this genre can mean a variety of different things and there almost always is no giant pot of gold at the end of that particular rainbow (and that rainbow isn't always pretty either, it can be nasty and grimy). In Reggae what we've seen, many times, in the absence of some type of grand stardom, is the raising of a profile of a particular artist which, at least in my opinion, can be just as interesting from a wholly detached point of view. In this type of case, I always enjoy stressing the case of the great Mark Wonder. Though he is likely to never experience the type of fame of some of his peers such as Luciano, Richie Spice and others, today he just as likely has an incredible amount of fans that he's made just over the course of the past few years or so with his fantastic output. On a bigger scale, we can also include someone like Tarrus Riley who, given the fact that he currently sits as one of the most popular Reggae artists in the world (and that he also came from a musical family with his father, Jimmy Riley, being very well known), may not get as credit for this, but he also did a bit of toiling before reaping the benefits and didn't 'walk in the door' making hits (well… he did, but it took us all awhile to realize it). More recently, we examined a similar case from Trinidad born chanter Ras Ijah whose new album, "Hail Ras Tafari" [in stores now], hopefully spells a similar step ahead in his immediate future as well in working alongside the formidable Goldcup Records (biggup Goldcup Records). And now, another a long tried Reggae talent from out of the biggest vault of Soca music, also has the opportunity, after years and years of making the music, to take a similar leap forward. 

Meet Ras Pilot. As we've said in the past, it's always interesting when someone from Trinidad takes a big step forward in Reggae music. Historically, most of the names from out of the country don't take the 'scenic route' to prosperity and do so on the strength of big tunes. Some of the single biggest hits in the entire genre over the course of the last decade or so have come from some of the biggest names in Trinidad's Reggae landscape. Individuals such as Khari Kill, Isasha, Prophet Benjamin and definitely Marlon Asher have experienced this with their big tunes. Just last year, however, we also looked at Jah Defender who did take a carve detailed path as did the aforementioned Ras Ijah as well as, of course, the greatest gift Trinidad ever gave to Reggae music, Queen Omega. Ras Pilot fits in with this latter group as for YEARS his name has been one on my radars (to my knowledge Ras Pilot has been making music from the early 2000's, if not earlier) and he has well paid his proverbial dues and is someone who would, at least seemingly, be in line for a big breakout moment. 

Maybe a new album could do that. As far as I know, to date Ras Pilot has had two or three albums to his credit with "Airborne" being the one with which I was most familiar, but as far as I know he's never had one which has been widely available until now. "Keep The Faith" is the chanter's brand new set and it comes from a very interesting source. Speakah Productions is not a label whose output we constantly deal with but the Dutch based isn't completely new to us as, in the past, they have also done work with the aforementioned Marlon Asher. The 'Ganja Farmer' (and his stinkin rocket launcher) has also worked with Heat of The Tropics, who also handles distribution on "Keep The Faith" (digitally, it comes via the fine and omnipresent people at Zojak Worldwide). I had no idea that this album was on its way but the always reliable Bredz suggested that I took a listen to it because he had done so and thought it to be fairly substantial and recommendations from him like that are virtually never wrong (though Bredz does have some strange tastes when it comes to Midnite albums) and this time is not amongst the exceptions. Also, I'd never reviewed one of the Pilots albums and, again, I'm sure that this album, even based on how many people now have access to it alone, is going to be his most high profile set to date and I was certain, with those circumstances, that he'd turn up with some fine material (and that has never been a problem with anything that I've heard from Ras Pilot over the years). And, as expected and as touted, "Keep The Faith", turns out to be a very solid and fulfilling modern Roots Reggae set from someone whose time to shine in an even brighter spotlight has hopefully arrived. Let's dig deeper! 

For the sake of comparison, this one is easy. Definitely the name with which you are most closely familiar who style that of Ras Pilot resembles is Chuck Fender. Vocally, at times, the two can be nearly indistinguishable to my ears. And while the Pilot may be slightly less prone to volatility than 'The Poor People's Defenda', he does incorporate more fiery moments in his music which can be very fun to listen to as well. Following what likely amounts to one of the best intro tracks that I've heard in 2014 thus far, Ras Pilot's "Keep The Faith" album gets going with the downright scintillating 'Red'. This is a song about adjusting one's way of thinking, awareness and behaviour in times of heightened seriousness as we are experiencing now. The song also has a very heavy and compelling sound to it (biggup Speakah Productions) which registered it, immediately, to me as one of the biggest tunes on this album. Next up is the very interesting and rather old school-ish 'Badness Gone'. This song is… just different. Ras Pilot adopts a different approach to it as well and though I don't rank it as a favourite of mine from this album, what I will tell you is that however you feel about it from after your first listen (even if you LOVE it) probably won't be your opinion a few spins later, so definitely give it a bit of time to grow in either direction. Following 'Badness Gone', "Keep The Faith" enters a very fascinating stretch of songs. If you listen to enough Roots Reggae music, you know that the genre is the single greatest source of ganja songs that exists in music. We always refer to such tunes as "obligatory" when they appear on albums and riddims because… well, they just are. In this case, however, the Pilot takes things further three times over and gives us a full quartet of them in 'Blaze It Up', 'Just A Little Herb', 'Three Pounds' and 'Generation Weed'. while I do not love 'Three Pounds', the other three are at least very good, with the bookends standing out in particular 'Blaze It Up’ (sounds so familiar to me) is exceptional and though I had low hopes for it, the upful 'Generation Weed' surprised me and touches that level as well. 

"She the reason why mi smoke up mi herbs -
Is to go high where Babylon dem caan reach!"

Despite its better than decent beginnings, "Keep The Faith" begins to really hits its stride during its second half, during which it serves up the most spectacular bits and pieces that it carries. Before that, however, is a song which I just knew that I would not enjoy but was, again, wonderfully surprised by, 'Sweet Paradise'. I expected something clichéd and just kind of cursory and while the vibes of the song are not terribly outside of my expectations, I surely did not expect the song to grow on me like it subsequently did (the chorus, in its simplicity is CANDY for your ears). Even better would be a tune that I hesitate to call a 'love song', but that is kind of what it is, 'She Deserves Me'. This song is about a woman 'standing by her man' through good and bad times and, for Ras Pilot (as is the case with anyone else with good common sense) that is a sign that she deserves and wants to be in the relationship. I wish that I could say the same thing about my Wife, but she deserves MUCH better than me and could easily get it… but don't tell her I said that… please don't. Next up is the album's eponymous effort, a tune which I believe I actually have heard before and, unsurprisingly this time, my favourite song on the album named after it. 

"Just keep the faith
You better keep the faith
Better keep the faith in Jah
Hail Rastafari, The King of Kings and escape from hell fyah

Seizing the fire starts with the truth
Quality, characteristic, attribute
And wisdom, knowledge, understanding try to the youth
Trumpet blow, man you have to see the truth
Rastafari is the strength 
Everyday, I kneel and pray 
Wi deh bun di heathen night and day
Rasta stand firm anyway"

There is so much to appreciate from this appetizing selection. Along with the substantial message that it carries, it also ranks as one of the most dynamic offerings here, which makes for a track which both feeds and entertains your mind and one which is surely not to be missed. 'Smooth Man' and 'Mr. Man' carry the burden of chasing that giant tune and they both do it in unusual ways. For its part, the former is skeletal as far as the vocals go and it is as much of a musical piece as it is a vocal one in my opinion. Still, I have to say that I DO like this song. It took me a while to arrive at that conclusion so, again, give it a proper time to do what it is going to do for you. 'Mr. Man', on the other hand, is loud and vibrant but it too just has something different about it (it does come through, to some extent, with some R&B vibes seasoned in) - behind what is a powerful social commentary, aimed at ANYONE performing negative acts. Both of those tunes make way for an even more remarkable piece in the form of 'Fire Bun' which features elements of Ras Pilot, basically, doing a spoken word style. It is FANTASTIC to hear and definitely provides the album with a bit of colour and a changeup (in the absence of a full Soca tune, which would have been nice!). And, like with any good performance, "Keep The Faith" reaches its end with a 'Punchline'. Billed as a 'bonus track', I'm damn glad they chose to include this song on the album because it is certainly one of its better ones! Also included is a pair of dubs with 'Blaze It Up' and the title track being the focuses. It is the former which (features some type of Marley-ish charm to my ears) shines brightest here and, as we see these type of additions to albums more and more these days, I always like the idea and it is no different in this instance.  
Overall, the word which comes to mind about "Keep The Faith" is SOLID. What it may lack in the arena of spectacular, it makes up for in being a very steady and ultimately satisfying release. As far as critiques, as always, I would have loved to see at least one combination on the album. Those type of things always help to change up the sound and keeps a listener from getting too 'comfortable' and, as I alluded to, it would not have been necessary, but if the Pilot wanted to break out into a Soca song, you wouldn't have gotten a semblance of a complaint from me! Still, for what it is and for 'where' it hopefully leads, "Keep The Faith" should serve as a very nice introduction of many fans to a talent which has spent years and years training for the next level which an album like this, inherently, presents. Veteran Ras Pilot, along with Speakah Productions (who you should keep an eye on in the future, because the music on this album is large throughout), turn in big results together on "Keep The Faith", an album which figures to bring more, DESERVED, attention to both. Well done.

Rated: 3.75/5
Heat of The Tropics Music
CD [I THINK] + Digital

Review #521

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