Sunday, August 10, 2014

'The Changeup': A review of "Sweet Reggae" by Delly Ranx

Textured. Diversity, specifically in Reggae music, can be a very difficult thing to deal with from the standpoint of being a fan. On one end of the spectrum is the ever-existing 'allure' of attracting the all important mainstream attention which can make for some downright disastrous results. We've seen full albums over the years from some of the absolute biggest names in the genre turn into regrettable wrecks made only to draw the eyes and ears of those typically not pointed in this direction. If you're being nice, more hardened fans of the genre refer to… mess like that as "diverse" as an artist adds in styles to his or her sound which is more familiar to the presumed newer audiences. On the other hand, however, variety can definitely be a good thing. The major example in my mind here is surely the still not very distant "Black Gold" album from Toussaint which, for once, was an entire project which worked in the opposite route of Reggae going mainstream. In that case, in terms of styles at least, it kind of came to us (and there're few but fantastic other examples of that such as, of course, Funky Comfort, Sara Lugo). On more typical terrain there's also ways of not leaving the genre and still offering a diverse sound. If you follow the career of Busy Signal, for example, you know that well and it's almost astounding now to look back at the once straight-forward (but always ULTRA talented) hardcore DJ who is now as wholly unpredictable on any given track as anyone in the entire history of Dancehall music, in my opinion. Further still, while Roots Reggae music isn't always exactly the most of colourful genres, it certainly can be when placed in the proper hands. But even apart from the hyper activity of the Sizzlas (where the prospects of having a single and constant sound just kind of disappears) and others of the world, I also hear a healthy variance when listening to people such as Ziggi Recado in what he is capable of doing, Tiwony, of course the likes of Turbulence and Norris Man and others still who not only have their own respective styles, but are also able to make both minor and major changes to their sound without leaving it completely (and I, purposefully, decided to not include the most obvious example in this case, which is called Perfect Giddimani). All of those, when in a good form, are not of the awkward type which almost always appears when courses are set towards a bigger stage but can be very nice colourful blips in the music which have thrilled fans throughout the years.  
"The Next Chapter" [2012]
As far as purely dealing with albums presenting a more assorted sound can be met with just as unpredictable results. As I alluded to we can always look back at records like "Dutty Rock", "Uncommonly Smooth" and probably a dozen or so others which virtually replaced passion with a musical tribute to new listeners (you have to earn tributes!). And we can find similar things with albums which, at least seemingly, didn't have similar goals from the likes of Lutan Fyah, Lady Saw and others still. However, with that being said all of those sets are not something below average - sometimes they do turn out at least decent. FOR EXAMPLE, you may want to check out an album called "Sweet Reggae", the new album from Reggae and Dancehall veteran Delly Ranx which, surprisingly, serves up a very interesting and colourful sound and is at least several steps ahead of being rubbish.  
When speaking of changing things up, Delly Ranx is a very interesting individual. Although it may not be something for which his most immediately known, Ranx has had a career which has seen him able to do so many things in and around Reggae music. From being a vocalist, to being arguably (slightly arguably, not really) one of the top producers in the game (we're always looking forward to the work from his Pure Music imprint and from even before that as well in working alongside the likes of Stephen McGregor and others) and his sound has followed suit. Most recently was the nearly spectacular "The Next Chapter" from just a couple of years back which, at least to my opinion, was his finest album to date and now he's, relatively quickly, following that set with "Sweet Reggae". Where "The Next Chapter" was a self-produced venture, "Sweet Reggae" comes via VIS Records and is the first such project from Delly Ranx from 2009's "Good Profile" which came through Itation Records (biggup Itation Records). VIS Records certainly shouldn't be completely new to fans as they've been around from quite awhile now and along with names such as the late and great Gregory Isaacs, Luciano and, of course, Kali Blaxx, Delly Ranx has been one of the most consistent staples voicing for the label and, even before the album, it seems like a good idea for artist and label to link in such a full capacity. I should also mention that the early word around this one has been very high and, regardless of how strong the album turned out to be, I always like when an album is well-promoted and thus far "Sweet Reggae" has definitely received a nice bit of hype. HOWEVER, it's even sweeter when the masses react to and receive an album which is ultimately pretty good and I did have relatively high hopes for this one. Not only did the principles here link well and whatever this next album was going to be, it was going to be following Delly's best, as I mentioned, but what I initially heard from this set also sounded very good and it made me damn curious to hear what was to come… but what was to come???

A pretty solid and diverse vibe. Despite the album's title which would definitely lead you to expect a certain type of sound, as I said, "Sweet Reggae" quickly shows itself to be a project which is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. Things do start off very familiar, however, in the form of the eponymous effort. Coming from Delly, this tune is pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be as far as the sound. In regards to its quality, it is sublime and clearly one of the best songs to be found on the album named after it. Tapping VIS Records' and More Life Productions' recent Herb Family Riddim, 'Sweet Reggae' is sublime and, for what it is, downright intoxicating. The album's second offering, 'Juggle Me A Juggle' is another one which might be familiar to your ears as it was featured on the also recent (and SWEET) Protector Riddim. This tune is basically about making it through life doing what you need to do. It has the same kind of 'dustily infectious' quality as the opener which well made it a highlight here for me (I can generally say the same thing any track from Delly Ranx that I really enjoy. Despite his level of experience, his is a rough and unrefined quality at its best which, for him at least, is a good thing). 

"Hustle mi ah hustle fi go help somebody
Never born lucky like Sean Paul and Shaggy"

Rounding out the opening salvo (I always did like that word) of tunes on "Sweet Reggae" are what are, essentially, two R&B songs, 'My Everything' and 'Cyber Love', respectively. Both of these tunes are love songs and while I will not say that either are a favourite of mine, they are nice pieces to listen to. They're catchy and certainly not BAD songs in any way. On the other end of that, however, would be a similarly vibed tune which comes later on in the album (not really) called 'Mr. Right' which is SWEET and damn strong to my opinion with its less polished and more rough around the edges charm (more on that later) - a JOY to listen to. 

As is the case with the entirety of its ranks, the absolute class of "Sweet Reggae" is full of different and very interesting sounds, although not of the painfully radical (biggup Sizzla) type in my opinion. Along with the two opening selections, there are four other songs on this album which really set the pace for me. One of them is definitely the delightful 'Worldwide Love' which is another song recognizable to my eyes and ears as it utilized the solid Penthouse Riddim from Jugglerz Records. This tune is candy for your ears and your brain behind it and along with just making you feel good -- and there is always room for that -- it does carry this kind of love blanket and love net which Delly hopes to cast as far as he possibly can. 

"One love like Robert Nesta
A peace and love, Delly Ranx h quest for
Just to mek dem know seh you no deh yah fi gesture
If a love di waan, mi a di best investor
Afrika a di land of my ancestor
Inna England, Europe, Japan and China

Come mek wi give a little love!
Spread a little love!
Share a little worldwide love!
So wave yuh hand dem inna di air
And mek di little love share -
Cause wi don't have to live like thugs
Come mek wi give a little love!
Spread a little love!
Share a little worldwide love!
Alright, Black and White - let us all unite
And done with the pushing and shove

Love and hate can't be friends, so mek wi start show di peace
Sail di Trinity, no tek di mark of di beast
A love mi ah share -
Everybody can see it
And mek di love together like leaf pon trees
Let di love flow, no bodda see it and freeze
Take di love pon di plane, share it overseas
Listen to di youth from di West Indies!"

This song is just a BRIGHT one and a substantial addition to the album which is just sagacious planning by VIS and Delly Ranx in my opinion. Also reaching those lofty levels to my ear would be the story of  'One More Dead'. This is a very interesting tune about there actually being some semblance of 'honour amongst thieves' in the sense of doing certain things but not going too far and how people tend to not be so friendly when you… take their stuff! I took the song, eventually, as a composition surrounding the idea of not even beginning with a negative way of life because you never know when you cross a line and whose line it is. I also rate highly what may be the oldest tune on the whole of "Sweet Reggae", the HUGE 'Doing Jah Works'. This song actually dates back five or six years now as it appeared on the Zion Way Riddim from VIS (which was apparently renamed and re-released as the Right Time Riddim a few years on) and is probably even stronger these days than it was originally. This is just a powerful message to me. Even if you take the spiritual aspect from it, it is about not even paying attention to negativity and negative actions on your way to where you want to be in life. It applies on scales large and small and makes from a mighty lyrical display from Delly Ranx. Still, I have to say that my single most favourite moment on "Sweet Reggae" is a track on which Delly takes more of an aggressive stance at negativity rather than just disregarding it, 'Nuh Test We'.

"Dem nah go escape when Babylon ah crumble
Dem coulda badda than di Don inna di jungle
A more fyah dem ah get inna bungle
All when di General ah strike mi neva move fumble
Your money caan save you di shot and di gun
You fi know seh di general caan get outdone
Diss mi and you'll see di outcome

If dem waan fi see another day
Cah wi have di ting dem fi spray
Cah wi no ramp nor play and if you disturb di peace, then you haffi run away
Rude boy no tek no talk
Wi no trust shadow inna dark
Cah man a gangsta, man a no dog
No fraid fi mek di dog dem bark"

This track comes through on the Magnet Tempo Riddim from last year or 2012 and I don't remember it sounding like this! It is a GEM of an effort to my ears and is another song which uses greatly Delly's rugged approach. A song like this only works if you have a more organic type of free-flowing vibes to it and that is EXACTLY what happens here as, at least for a moment, when the DJ encounters badness he doesn't run away from it, he runs over it with the single finest lyrical display on this album.

Not too far behind those heights at all would be the best remaining song on the album, 'Best Friend Gone'. Obviously I am not qualified to speak on the origins of this song, but it would appear to be a very personal one for the artist and to whomever it is directed, it is a stirring tribute. There're also two very solid more modern Dancehall tracks in 'Real Gyalis' and 'Silly Billy'. The self produced former (not too dissimilar from 'One More Dead', but in a much different way), kind of outlines that there exist certain lines which you just cannot cross, no matter with what and with whom you deal ["Any man weh look him friend gyal fi lose him dental"]. 'Silly Billy' is a song which I do not love at all but the Good Book Riddim which underpins it, and comes via H20, is probably one of the best Dancehall riddims that I've heard in 2014. And lastly, the album comes to its conclusion with a pair of songs you might not imagine would be present on an album called "Sweet Reggae", 'Every Gyal Vibrate' which features Vershon and 'Nasty Gyal'. 'Every Gyal Vibrate' is not a song that I like at all… and I'll leave that there. Yet, while 'Nasty Gyal' doesn't even approach the best material on this album, it is a fun song from a lyrical standpoint where Delly shows a whole heap of flexibility and variety to end things. 
Delly Ranx
Overall, while I cannot place "Sweet Reggae" in the class of its most immediate predecessor, I can say that it is a very solid release from the veteran, Delly Ranx. I'm most tempted to recommend it to newer fans of the artist and the genre because it definitely is easy to listen to and easy to take in fully. This isn't the type of an album which I would expect to grow and grow (as a whole, certain songs, definitely), it is something that you listen to and, relatively immediately, can make up your mind in regards to. Personally, it highlighted something that I alluded to - Delly Ranx' very compelling style. He's been around for a LONG time and what you hear now from his history is a DELIGHTFUL old school Dancehall base and it dazzles and thrills on portions of "Sweet Reggae". For me, that was worth the price (that Bredz paid) (biggup Bredz) and I'm confident that, for a certain type of listener, it will be as well. A very fun and colourful release from Delly Ranx and VIS Records.

Rated: 3.75/5
VIS Records

Review #522

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