Friday, October 3, 2014

'Over and Over and Over Again': A review of The Junction Riddim

#3. Despite how much we love it (and with good reason, it's fantastic), there are actually very few things in music which are wholly dependable. Personally, I don't have a problem with that. I'll gladly be occasionally disappointed as long as the ever-looming prospects of greatness are at least semi-regularly fulfilled (I'm a Sizzla fan, that's just what we do). With that being said, however, there is definitely something to be said for someone or something who is able to provide a brand of an entirely worry-free listening experience. To my opinion, when it comes to albums and full projects in general, Reggae music currently features a few figures capable of doing just that, beyond a single project with the stars aligning properly (which actually happens quite often). The first, and most obvious, example here as I've said in the past (and I definitely want to bring her up here because she's going to make my case in a minute) is Etana. The genre's most popular female Roots star is purely as dependable as it gets. Later this month she is set to deliver the fourth album of her career, "I Rise", and it will be fantastic and one of the year's best - "it" (whatever it is, coming from her) always is and people like You and I will deservedly rejoice in its quality. Etana's case is very interesting, furthermore, because it isn't as if she has found some type of winning formula (but she has). She still takes chances and tries different things in her music but you've well come to expect that, in the end, they will all work out for the best… because they always do with her. And while Etana may not have much in the way of company when it comes to vocalists, there're a few labels who regularly push projects which're of an unquestionable quality and I could run through a list of them but few, if any at all, have proven to be as reliable, as recently, as the Zion I Kings collective. In a relatively short amount of time, they have well managed to prove themselves of a quality which has attracted fans and press alike but, at least for me, the wonder and the excitement regarding the QUALITY (and only the quality) of their output is long gone - it does not exist anymore. And we've quickly gone from wondering if 'it' is any good and now are only interesting how good 'it' is.  
And I've become a fan and so have you. And I always was. In pieces - I've been enjoying the work of I Grade Records for years, dating back to the days of 'Fyah - Earth - Wind' with Ancient King, Army and NiyoRah when they fully popped up on my radars and have refused to be moved. For Zion High Productions it's also been quite long as they released one of my all-time favourite albums, Yami Bolo's "Rebelution", which is probably more than a decade old now. Even before that, however, I picked up a compilation album by the name of "Culture Dem" wayyyyyyyyy back in 2002 and was a fan of the label who produced it. That set was Lustre Kings Productions who are the "Kings" of the Zion I Kings and I've well remained a fan throughout the last nearly decade and a half and have enjoyed projects from the likes of Turbulence, Norris Man, Perfect Giddimani and Jahdan Blakkamoore. Within the collective, IGR and ZHP have been very active in releasing projects, including this year, but the LKP have not been nearly as prolific (and we can, once again, start throwing around names like Andrew 'Moon' Bain and Digital Ancient) [WHAT!].  
The Songbird Riddim [2013] & The Jah Warriah Riddim [2014]
But thankfully, things change (biggup Danny I). Along with releasing big albums from the likes of Ziggi Recado, Midnite, Danny I, Ras Batch, Pressure Busspipe and a beautiful group of others, the Zion I Kings have also invested in producing a Riddim Series. The first instalment, the golden Songbird Riddim from IGR, reached last year and volume two came just earlier this year, the Jah Warriah from ZHP. So… I mean it should… it should be the Lustre Kings turn, right? CORRECT! The LKP now bring forth the third edition of the ZIK's outstanding Riddim Series, the Junction Riddim. It has been awhile from the last time we got a full project from the Lustre Kings (it was probably Perfect's "Back For The First Time" album in 2011), but they already have quite the catalogue of compilations and riddim albums. There was the Proverbs Riddim from not a very long time ago, but even ahead of that, the LKP would give us full sets for fine compositions such as the Shining, the Credential and the Red Razor Riddims, respectively, as well as a few others. So even taking out what has happened in the interim, their entire history, as label, points in this direction and they have made some very memorable stops along the journey and 'new riddim from Lustre Kings Productions' carries a lot of weight for me. It is going to carry even more with the added points here as all of the ZIK releases to date have been very well promoted and I've already seen a very solid reaction to this one as well. They really do show a fine attention to detail and, along with the music, it has been fascinating to watch how they have developed as presenters and marketers. The recent album from Pressure Busspipe, "The Sound", was their highpoint and I'm sure that work has brought in a whole heap of new fans eager  to hear what is next from its producers as well.  As were the cases with both of its elder siblings, fans have been given a previous 'sampling' of the Junction Riddim and those brief bites have well fuelled the flame for a full album as one of them (more on that in a second) was a featured single from the LKP much earlier this year. Everything to be seen here was a good vibe and a good signal and in listening to the results of the Junction Riddim, it gave not the slightest of a pause to rethink my praises of their dependability. The Zion I Kings, clearly, reach with another big winner. Let's talk about it.
The Junction Riddim is another sterling creation from the ZIK. It has a very smooth sound to it (highlighted by a gorgeously infrequent horn) which, as usual, features a slew of well talented musicians backing an equally gifted cache of vocalists. A vivid example of the talent of the vocalists comes in the form of the very first tune on the new Junction Riddim from Lustre Kings Productions and the Zion I Kings, the aforementioned first single, 'For The Children' which links two extremely skilled wordsmiths, Kabaka Pyramid and LKP staple, Jahdan Blakkamoore. The song is, essentially, what you would imagine being the product of such a pairing ["We used to take dem to di pyramids to get initiated, now dem ah get alienated. Mental slavery: Babylon facilitated it. Music ah get dem rehabilitated. Just look at all di places where dem situated. DEM DRUGS AND GUNS GET DEM OBLITERATED"] as the two link for a downright dominant display of the spoken word which is not to be missed. Someone else who has long shown a powerful penchant for properly placing together pronouns is another favourite of LKP's (and ours as well), the great Lutan Fyah who blesses the Junction Riddim with a selection of his own, the GOLDEN 'Up In The Hills'. Unless I'm forgetting something (and I probably am), the very first artist album to be released by LKP was the Fyah's own "Time & Place" (a CD which I now feel compelled to dig up, so pardon me for just a second) (okay I'm back) way back in 2005. That album, Lutan Fyah's second, has been deemed a modern classic on these pages ["Waters of many colours so wi haffi swim deep"] and is one of the finest projects I have ever heard - so anytime Lutan Fyah and LKP get together, I'm interested. At worst, 'Up In The Hills' is the third strongest tune I hear on the Junction Riddim and it really struck me on a deep level. To my opinion, it is a piece about seeking refuge and finding a place where the ills of the world cannot find their way into your head. It's about finding your own personal paradise and whether or not you physically head "up in the hills", mentally you can do anytime you need to (unless you're driving a car - don't do that). A fantastic piece and more fuel on the flame of why ZIK and Lutan Fyah need to give us a full album and soon. Surprisingly in a great way, also making an appearance on the Junction is the legendary Johnny Osbourne with 'We Steppin'. For me, this is a very nice song about improving one's way of life and behaviour and general. Osbourne's vocals are nearly perfect for almost anything, but they sound even better suited for a track like this which make for a damn memorable moment on this album, on paper and beyond. 

Along with 'For The Children', the Junction also features a pair of very familiar pieces to our ears. The first is the excellent 'Who You Are' from Pressure Busspipe a tune which featured prominently on his all-conquering ZIK-produced "The Sound" album from earlier this year. This tune was a standout on that album and it remains highly rated on this one and it will be similarly regarded on any other record they choose to put it on. The other song here which we recognized was 'Get It Right' from UK veteran and Achis Reggae favourite, Lloyd Brown. Brown actually released his own album for ZHP and the ZIK, "Rootical", just last year, but this piece appeared on his 2014 offering, "LB50", which contained one or two songs from the ZIK link. Again, this is another strong piece here and another example of getting a taste of what was to come without really knowing it at the time. While his song is new to me, Perfect Giddimani is certainly not new to the catalogues of Lustre Kings Productions and his appearance on the Junction Riddim came to no surprise. His selection, 'The People We Are' had and probably still has a bit of growing on me to do but I can say that I enjoy it more now than I did initially. At times, it sounds like two (or three) different songs tied together but considering the wholly unpredictable nature of its creator, it also isn't a big surprise but give it some time. Ziggi Recado's most recent album, the outstanding "Therapeutic" (an album which got me thinking in the direction for this review), is a ZIK production from just a few months back now ["Babylon ah recruit fi di circus"] [WHAT!], so his was another welcomed addition to the new project. What was a nice surprise, however, was the Ziggi is actually joined by the vixen, Angela Hunte, whose name is an increasingly popular one in Reggae circles these days. The two link up for 'Crazy Is As Crazy Does'  - a tune about all of the powerfully insane things people do when they are in love… or just think that they are. 

"So insane dem ah label I
Man a love psycho 
Me and her ah get caught up inna this love cyclone
Eyes - closed
That's how I goes
No need to turn me on, mi now in combat zone
One Queen alone, I sit down on di King throne
Real Afrikan wid Queen Omega skin tone

The other familiar face from the work of LKP and the ZIK actually provides the Junction Riddim with what is my choice as the riddim's finest piece of work. 'I People' from Midnite is an absolute master class of a tune! 

"I people jump up inna di place and skank
Haile Selassie I inna di place bring di ranks!
And di vigilant inna place give thanks!
And di opposition to good get bunked!
Inna civilized in a uncivilized land
How the greater-good is always in demand
And the unwise been on sinking sand
And it's bigger than quick talking and con
Haile Selassie I inna di rights of man
Take a stand
Rasta Woman and again Rasta Man
An I-brant current to invigorate man
Liberate lands and localities strong"

I can't say that 'I People' would have been the best song on Midnite's recent ZIK-produced "Beauty For Ashes" album but it would have been CLOSE! 'I People' is full brilliant, with the majority of its second half being just… a dazzling display of what Vaughn Benjamin is capable of. I took from this song the notion of music being a CURE for so many of the trouble in the world and people use it as an escape from their daily lives and the things they have going on. It is a powerful piece and I guess its entirely too early to ask for another Midnite/ZIK link but although we don't know what comes next, we do know that eventually there will most certainly be another Midnite album from the Zion I Kings. A pair of more unexpected names round out the Junction Riddim as Hempress Sativa and Bobby Hustle. The former impresses mightily on her 'Still Surviving', but I am really happy that they included a solo track from a female on the Junction and Sativa does not disappoint. She does have more of a rapping type of style but if you tune in what she is saying, you come away (like I did), interested in hearing more from Hempress Sativa. And for Bobby Hustle, who you likely know from… appearing on pretty much everything Dynasty Records does, maintains his typically well respectable levels on the self-esteem raising 'Chatty Mouth'. Hustle's name has become one which I've gotten used to seeing over the past half-decade or so and I don't hesitate in listening to anything he's on and after this, I'm not going to start. Wonderfully, also included is a dubbed out version of the Junction Riddim, courtesy of I Grade Records. It is both one of the longest and BEST tracks on the album and, aside from when I had to really tune in for the sake of transcription of 'I People', it has made for a nearly perfect backdrop for writing this review {If you have never tried to record lyrics from Vaughn Benjamin you most certainly won't appreciate that, but if you have, your head is probably nodding in agreement right now}. I love the guitar in its latter stages and it is always THE best way to highlight instrumentation and musicianship.
Overall, again, there was never a question of whether I would like the Junction Riddim or not, the only issue was how much I would like it. The answer is A LOT. I like it a lot and it more than reaches a level which makes it well fitting and appropriate to be on an increasingly respectable stage of not only being work coming from the Zion I Kings but also in being a part of their Riddim Series and following the two sublime compositions which came ahead of it. In this particular case I wouldn't have even minded another track or two but in judging it from what is here, they've got another real score. It was also nice to hear something from the Lustre Kings Productions. As I said, I'm a long-time fan now and hopefully we won't have to wait too long for another album from the label (my own personal hope would be LKP and Jahdan giving Babylon another nightmare). The Junction Riddim is the latest in an ever-growing line of reasons to LOVE what the Zion I Kings are doing these days. In the name of being dependable, I can well say that they yet to bring forth anything that that I didn't fully enjoy and the Junction Riddim does not reverse the trend.

Rated: 4.20/5
Lustre Kings Productions

Review #527

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