Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Vault Reviews: "Rising Sun" by Chezidek

Frozen. There are so many wonderful reasons, I think, that people make music. At the most basic of levels would be to give someone, maybe even yourself, something to listen to or maybe even to simply display some type of skill or to attempt to improve. Not too far away from that, as a Soca fan (currently entirely incapable of shutting down 'Mental Home' by Skinny Fabulous), you can make music to elicit some type of emotion in your listeners and to make them feel like (endlessly in that case) getting up and moving… and soon the world will discover that the best music in the world to work out to is called Soca. When it comes to Reggae and specifically Roots Reggae, I think when the genre is performed at its absolute best that the prevailing purpose of the music is to convey some type of message. And if you really think about it, so many times when stars rise in the genre they do so because they have found very interesting and compelling ways to communicate those ideas to the masses (see Chronixx, whose 'Odd Ras' tune and moniker so vividly illustrates my point here) and those who hang on (and on and on and on) are able to do that, largely, because we've yet to tire of the way that they do it. Furthermore, I would even go as far as to say that if you listen to enough top notch Roots Reggae music from certain individuals, it can so vastly improve your range of knowledge and can be a truly enlightening and informative experience. Names such as Ras Batch, Sizzla Kalonji, Jah9, Capleton, Lutan Fyah and, of course, Professor Vaughn Benjamin routinely teach me things and write songs which serve as not only a musical reference point for me but large resources of general knowledge as well. When I'm really tuned in and listening, I want to be challenged to pay precise attention to everything being said and this lot, when at their best (and a few others as well such as Norris Man who is a really good example in this case and also Jah Mason and Reemah), does exactly that. So much so am I hungry for this musical message that I can get downright disappointed and fully frustrated. Now this is something which can certainly be demonstrated in single songs but when you get to a point where you can make a full album which… just goes completely over my head, then you're dealing with something which can just unfortunately hold my attention for years.

And some of the biggest names in the genre have shown this best. Albums like Anthony B's "Untouchable", "A Better Place" by Bushman, Midnite's "Current" and maybe half a dozen (or more) from Kalonji don't ultimately resonate with me because I've reached the point where I just don't get the message or the intent behind them, for the most part (and there are exceptions, "A Better Place" was one of them actually, that album was just terrible and Bushman, himself, somewhat admitted it). And in those cases and dozens more, I'm tired of trying. Unfortunately I can't say the same thing in reference to an album which has given me nearly a full decade worth of confusion and came from what would subsequently prove to be a most reliable source, Chezidek.  
"Harvest Time" [2002]
Back in 2002 the most original vocalist would make his debut with what remains one of the generation's finest first flights, "Harvest Time". That album featured major selections such as the title track, 'Let I In', 'Naturally', 'Heart Full of Love' and several others and was produced by the great Philip 'Fattis' Burrell and it also seemed to signal the latest in a line of superstars from Burrell's Xterminator imprint following  the likes of Sizzla Kalonji and Luciano (and Turbulence at the same time as well). It was also released by VP Records which was a very good sign for an up and comer (Turbulence's second album, “Rising", a full modern classic released on the same label the previous year) as well. And I was very impressed by that record and was definitely looking ahead to its successor. It would take three years but Chezidek's second album would eventually arrive and do so under the exact same set of circumstances. "Rising Sun" was produced by Burrell on Xterminator Productions and was released by VP Records. It also featured some of the same major players behind the scenes, down to the smallest of details, such as one of the Project Coordinators. And, if I recall correctly, while I hadn't heard much from Chezidek between album #1 and album #2, what little I did follow certainly did not suggest that he had undergone some type of musical metamorphoses and, as it would turn out, he did not. All of those instances in building the entire set of circumstances surrounding "Rising Sun" seem to portend another very fine album and, when it first reached, I even liked the cover (and I still do) but what it roofed was something I would have never imagined. "Rising Sun" was just… strange. And you may tend to place some of Chezidek's early music beneath such a descriptor because of is vocals but, again, with all of the work that the "Harvest Time" album comprised, that wasn't even an issue at the time, at least not for me. And the songs, for the most part, would even head in the same direction and just glancing at the track list (right now), there was nothing on board to suggest that here was an album which would essentially lock me up for the next nine years - but that is wholly what it has done. Today we take a look back at a release which I've been listening to for nearly a decade and have actually yet to figure out whether I even like it or not. This should be fun. 

I always told myself that I would get around to writing a proper review for this album. I was waiting to develop an actual opinion of it and I eventually came to the conclusion that trying to break it down would either give me that opinion (I was wrong) or it still might be fun to just talk about why I found it so damn odd (which is the course I ultimately chose). The album is actually headed by an intro which kind of shows the unusual nature of Chezidek's vocals. From then, he has well developed it and you will almost surely NEVER hear such a thing again but if you listen to what happens during the opener for his second album, "Rising Sun"  (particularly during its latter moments, where it appears as if the singer is attempting to match the pitch of the piano keying behind him), strange things happen there. The first actual full song on the album, 'Provider', is surely one of its better pieces altogether. It isn't particularly a great tune but the praising track is vibrant and, for the most part, fairly well-written. It's also become the piece here which I've most dealt with as, after dozens and dozens of attempts made on to listen to this album, of course, always start with this tune. Things then begin to unravel a bit with the next song which perfectly illustrates what I think my complaint with this album has been for nine years. 'Ants Nest' is a decent song, it really is. But… it just always seems to my ears that something is missing there. It is a song without an edge which would have really done a lot for it and made a decent song into so much more. And I can well say the same thing about the title track, although I've always found this one to be somewhat awkward. Listening to the lyrics on this tune and it comes away sounding fairly strong but the marriage between the riddim and the delivery just does not work and it makes for, again, a selection which doesn't quite get to where you would think, ostensibly, that it might and where almost EVERYTHING Chezidek does these days reaches. Though I should say that it is not a tune entirely without quality (the bridge here (I think that's what you would call it), as strange as it is, is damn strong). 

Maybe I'd call 'Rough Round Ya' one of the biggest tunes on "Rising Sun" but I'd be open to a change in that. The song isn't an amazing one but I can say that it is as good as it possibly could have been in my opinion. I do not think that this song, a 'capable' social commentary, made at that time could have been any better and it also has a very nice and lively vibes to it. The worst thing about 'Rough Round Ya', however, is that it leads into a stretch of EIGHT consecutive songs which don't really leave much of an impression at all on the listener and, really, makes up what I think has been my problem with "Rising Sun" over the years. The first of them, 'Working' is clearly one of the best (and you could probably say that it's also one of the album's best altogether). Again, here is a tune which well has a lot going for it but it never really flourishes into what you think that it might and should have. Copy + paste all of that for 'Chanting', which isn't quite as good as the piece preceding it but still shows promise and potential that it never actually realizes in my opinion. In this instance, Chezidek does do some significant work (especially within the song's second verse) but the prevalent delivery here is quite strange and, again, he doesn't push the vocals how you may have hoped that he would. Next is 'Hail Far I'. Not a very long time ago one of our wonderful readers suggested that this tune was the best song on this album and, if I recall correctly (and I usually don't), someone else fully agreed with that on a message and I am so happy that they both reached that conclusion and love the song… but I'm slow and haven't gotten there yet. 'Hail Far I' isn't bad (I think that there is only one song here which draws that distinction from me) - yet it is very strange. The issue here being that the song, at least for me, has very little in the way of sonic appeal. During the verses Chezidek often just talks right over the track and that isn't always a bad thing (and this is coming from a Vaughn Benjamin fan) (I don't know if Benjamin has EVER heard a riddim in his entire life) but it does not work for me here. 'Return' is the worst song on "Rising Sun" without a doubt. I pulled it up for this review and I don't know if I have just NEVER paid this song any attention or if it has been so long from last I have but it was virtually entirely unfamiliar to my ears and I think that another nine years from now, I’ll probably be saying the same thing again. 

Unlike the pair of songs ahead of it, 'Inna Love' definitely does have something going for it as far as the sound. You'll have a difficult time listening to this one and not moving just a little bit and it is one of the favourites on this album. Still, it is an average song, but an average one which highlights the latter stages of the middle portion of the album carrying it. 'Good To Be Good', on one hand, is a joy to listen to because it is backed the same JEWEL of a composition which handled the masterful 'Beautiful' by Sizzla Kalonji and it is a decent song… which still feels like it is missing something. To his credit, Chezidek does right the proverbial ship later on in the song (incidentally, making for one of the most dazzling stretches on this album).

"Though the roads get rocky and the hills get steep

I do not LOVE 'Tribulation' but it does feature the most memorable chorus on the whole of "Rising Sun" and if they wanted to give us 3:59 of that, I might have called it the best song on the album. And lastly (not really), 'Holding On' is another song which could have been better and, like 'Good To Be Good' it also features a familiar riddim, this one most famously used to steer Sizzla's ‘Jah Is Love' to being as absolutely golden as it was. Chezidek's song is less than stellar but, as far as being in this stretch, is one of  the better efforts. The final song on "Rising Sun", 'Give Praises', for all of its unfaltering simplicity is considerably better than most of the songs on this album. IT IS A GOOD SONG. It is also somewhat refreshing. Listening to "Rising Sun" now it is a very complicated project with so many BIG and complex type of sounds throughout. They end things with something wonderfully simple and THE best song on the album.  
Overall, to make it clear, I don't think that "Rising Sun" is actually a bad album… at least I don't think that is what I think. I just think that it is VERY odd. When you go back and here how clear and precise and just strong the "Harvest Time" project was, it's kind of difficult to see how very similar circumstances not very far away produced this disjointed set. To make it even clearer: I've been listening to "Rising Sun" for nearly a decade and I still do not know what of make of it. Now, that's coming from someone who isn't a genius (infinitely FARRRRRRRRR from it) but I'd like to think that I'm pretty good at formulating opinions. Later starts from Chezidek would produce bona fide classics such as "Judgement Time" and other unforgettable sets as well. Yet, "Rising Sun" will always have a small part in my memories as the one album he did which continues to confound me… but you know I'll keep working on it. 

Rated: ?/5
VP Records
CD + Digital 

Review #528

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