Thursday, November 6, 2014

'In Special Places': A review of "Roots & Lovers" by Harry Mo

Keep it coming. Whether you realize it and appreciate it or not, a very large part about being a [good] music fan is being able to make emotional attachments. Those links are what make looking forward to something -- be it an album, a new song or a performance -- nearly indescribably exciting at times. They are also what make lifelong fans out of people and, in many cases, you end up growing up from a child into an adult and are still just as passionately following the music of particular individuals who you may have never met at all but they exist as a relatively large part of your life. Certain songs and even certain sounds and voices remind you of a particular stage of your life and help to add 'colour' to moments as well. Personally, of course, I make these attachments as well and today we're dealing with one who, indirectly, tends to remind me of just how much I've changed as I've gotten older. Other people do this as well, with the most noted figures likely (and coincidentally) being Ras Batch and Midnite. The former makes a brand of Roots Reggae which I maintain is simply ahead of its time and though I was a fan when I was a younger person, these days, Batch is probably somewhere in my top five musicians going today and is never too far from such a list. In the case of Midnite, it hasn't been as firm -- 'they' have thousands of fans more passionate than I am -- but as I have gotten older, I've 'inherited' the experience to be able to appreciate the journey to comprehension of their music which has, obviously (I think I've probably written more about Midnite than anyone else), brought a whole heap of satisfaction. In both of those cases, just becoming more of an educated person as well as someone who has more familiarity in dealing with life (I hesitate to use the word 'maturity' because I know that I still have a very far way to go) has helped me in a major way to hear, with a 'new' ear, some of the best music I have ever heard. I also equate others such as Mark Wonder, Glen Washington, Tuff Lion (more on him later) and Yami Bolo (via GIANT album, "Rebelution") with that moment I had just noticed that my tastes as a fan were developing. The Dominica born, St. Croix based Harry Mo is someone else who has really helped me realize the change and though I consider myself the world's oldest thirty-three year old (sometimes I feel like I'm in my late nineties), I am fortunate that I ran into his work when I did. 
"Back To Africa" [2008]
Why is that? It was years ago that I picked up a copy of what I Harry Mo's debut album, "Runaway Slave" and though it would not resonate with me in a way in which his later work would, it would DEFINITELY set the stage for what was to come. "What was to come", exactly, was simply one of the strongest albums that I have ever heard from anyone at any time, Mo's 2008 opus, "Back To Africa". This would arrive at a point where the changing of my tastes was in its nascence and it made a fan out of me! That album was a straight-forward and absolutely BEAUTIFUL piece. And it was really a blessing because, again, had it come any earlier, it may not have resonated with me as much and because Harry Mo is not a name you see attached to every riddim. Instead, he loads and stocks up for his album releases and had "Back To Africa" reached any earlier, in my youth I would have almost surely missed out on the true power of not only one of the best albums I've heard but also one which has personally helped me through a lot of bad times.
"On My Way" [2012]
And it did not stop at "Runaway Slave" and "Back To Africa". Just a couple of years back now, Harry Mo would bring forth his sensational third album, "On My Way". That album was, in retrospect, my first opportunity to 'try out' being a fan of Harry Mo's and while, if I recall correctly, it didn't have much of a build-up (by the time we knew about it, it had already been released), it was an album which was wholly what I had hoped for and, as you can see, I'm still a fan! "On My Way" was crucial and listening to it today for the first time in a minute, I'm still stuck on songs such as the title track, 'Selassie I Name', 'Creator' alongside Army and so many more. So, with as strong as 2014 has been for Reggae albums… why not have another new one from Harry Mo. Even within the scope of Virgin Islands Reggae, we've already had a pair of VERY strong releases from Pressure Busspipe and Midnite (two from both!), it has been outstanding and it's looking even brighter as Harry Mo brings forth his FOURTH album to date, "Roots & Lovers". This was another situation where we had no idea that Harry Mo was hard at work on a new project but in a week where we also get new sets from the likes of Norris Man (who, obviously, CANNOT stop making albums) and Lady Saw, "Roots & Lovers" comes as a wonderful surprised and I'm not complaining about it at all. If you are not familiar with the work of Harry Mo, what I will say that is that his music is very mature and very straightforward. And I have to explain that just a bit - it is a colourful and vibrant brand of Roots Reggae. If you do enjoy the genre, I'm going to have a very difficult time listening to an argument about how you don't like the music of Harry Mo. By comparison, in many ways he does remind me of someone else who I always look forward to hearing from, the great Ossie Dellimore from out of St. Vincent (would love a new album from him as well) as both make music in a very intelligent and clear-cut manner and when at their best, which is almost every time, they SHINE! And as his past would portend, "Roots & Lovers" is another sterling release from someone who I don't know if he could disappoint, even if he tried to. Let's talk about it. 

Two things really stood out in regards to this album even prior to listening to it. First of all, just like its predecessors, the new release comes via Harry Mo's own Yellow Hill Music. I don't know the label from doing anything else besides his music but, in listening to his work, I can't help but to hope that at some point in the future they begin to take some of these amazing tracks and invite more vocalists on them because in four albums now, they've made some STUNNING backdrops. In addition to that, handling production duties alongside Harry Mo here is the esteemed Dion Hopkins from Midnite fame and what you hear here, unsurprisingly, is an exceptionally produced and arranged set. Also, as I said, Harry Mo's music is "straightforward" and "clear-cut" and with the record being named what it is, you know PRECISELY what to expect. Harry Mo's new and fourth album, "Roots & Lovers" is a mixture of… modern Roots tracks and love songs. And while I hesitate to throw out a phrase such as 'concept album', I suppose that is what this set is. It's also fantastic and that becomes apparent from the very first song on the album, the gorgeous 'His Majesty's Palace'. This song and a few others carried here features the handiwork of the aforementioned and most incomparable Tuff Lion and, as expected, both he and Harry Mo shine. This song, for me, struck me really nicely as what it kind of comes through in a doubled style. On one hand, it is about a trip Harry Mo took to Ethiopia and everything that he saw and how much joy it gave him. Also, however, it could be considered autobiographical in terms of really being about someone's journey to realizing that Rastafari was the path of life for them! You can hear a smile on his face as he sings this piece and he talks about how it made him feel and how he wanted to tell everyone he could just how powerful it was. An amazing start and one which also put a smile on my face (it's a new Harry Mo album!) [WHAT!] [BOOM!]. Things get really nice and serene as the second tune, 'What You Gonna Do' rolls in. This one is a social commentary aimed at the powers that be asking what they are going to do to improve the condition of life in the world ["What is your aimed, we're feeing the pain"] and it is backed by one of the nicest riddims on the whole of this album. It is a standout for me here and I'm sure that I won't be the only one of that opinion. The next two selections from "Roots & Lovers" go towards the lovers side of things and the first of them, 'Baby Don't Go' is golden.

"Baby don't go, when are you coming home?
For it's the fifth time now this year, I'm going to be alone"

Harry Mo deals with, what I imagine, is a very real problem for the nomadic life of a musician, having to leave their love ones with not a whole heap of prior knowledge and, in the process, turns the situation into one sweet tune. The other offering, 'Don't Want To Love Again', also has a golden composition around it (with the work of the Tuff Lion) and it is one of a pair of combinations from "Roots & Lovers", this one featuring Harry Mo alongside the lovely (and very easy-to-look-at) Cherise King. The two perform a fully Reggae-fied duet style of a tune which is definitely not to be missed and biggup King who, when she forces it, demonstrates one of the more underrated voices in the entire genre.

Though the "Roots" of "Roots & Lovers" dominates, Harry Mo does give us three more top-notch love song throughout the remainder of the album. The first of them, EASILY, is amongst my very favourite songs on this album, 'Keep It Coming'. This song is one really just celebrating a nice relationship and, at least for me (as an over-thinker), it is a composition about appreciating the good times and noticing when you are loved and have it well before trying to change or reorganize something. Later on we get the most wonderfully familiar 'Love You Bad'. When I heard this song for the first time, I knew I had heard something about it previously and that was ultimately traced back to the "On My Way" album which ended on a piece called 'Mama Dominica'. I loved the vibes on that song as it had a particularly different sound than most of the other work on that album and the same could be said in this case. And right after that is another 'love song’, this one of a different type and featuring Dutch artist, Kenny Weed, 'Bring Back Love' . This one is about spreading love throughout the world and though, certainly, such a song is generally given more to the Roots spectrum, the way this one is set, in my opinion, it's a little bit of both. It's also DAMN NICE to your ears and Kenny Weed turns in a very nice effort as well. 

"Love has run out of this world
Remember when we used to love it up?
Sit down and cool and just ah bun it up
Under the moon the pot ah bubble up
Now pure gunshot come mash it up"

"Roots & Lovers" dazzles even more on its Roots side as, along with its first two selections, it provides the listeners with some giant moments on that side as well. One of them should well be considered 'Go Far Away'. This is an excellent record about spreading the music and the message of His Majesty to any and every corner of the world where the people want to hear it. This was another song that really put a smile on my face and you REALLY need to tune it in, especially in its latter stages, to hear the Tuff Lion do what he does best on that legendary guitar (… though he's also a very nice singer). BOOM! 'Feeling High' is the ganja song from "Roots & Lovers" and it has somewhat of unusual sound to it. This is kind of a Spoken Word type of selection. Harry Mo does his traditional vocals at times but it really seems as if the riddim played and, spontaneously, 'Feeling High' is what emerged. 'Easy Yout Man', the album's longest track, has a very subtle but golden old-school type of vibes coming from it with an almost Peter Tosh-esque intro as well. This one is, as its title suggests, is about calming down the mentality of certain youths (and older people as well) with the hot temper who don't stop and think about their actions before acting. Mo provides an alternative, Rastafari, to be considered on another song which very much has a kind of a loose style around it. This one, to my opinion, is very strong and it is still growing on me. 'In Jah Time' is also experiencing a similar growth on my affections as well (though it's starting out on a higher level). This is a powerful tune about PATIENCE! Essentially Harry Mo says that whatever is coming to you, good or bad, is coming when it is coming! You cannot choose when it arrives, it reaches in Jah time (and biggup Cherise King once again, who glows as a backup vocalist on this song). 

"You see, a year is like a day in the sight of Jah
So when you think it's far away, to Jah it's not so far"

The final two offerings on "Roots & Lovers", along with its opener, really represent the class of this album and help to outline what I think is its lasting signature. The first of them 'Jah Alone', is about asking for forgiveness when you've done wrong and I also think that the point that Harry Mo was ultimately attempting to make was in letting things go, in general. So many people (including myself) have accrued regrets and complaints which can weigh us down at times and I think Harry Mo was, directly, speaking to those moments when you find yourself wholly confounded and HALTED in life by something that happened like a decade ago or something like that. It is a very relatable set of circumstances and I'm happy he dealt with in a song like this which only gets better every time you hear it. Finally (this review will probably end up north of 2800 words but it was so easy to write), is my favourite song on "Roots & Lovers" and one which IMMEDIATELY became one of the best songs that I have ever heard from Harry Mo. TEARS! 'Rastafari Chant'… made me cry. That's the best way that I can put it. I heard a clip of the tune and it pulled at emotions and when I heard the full piece, it YANKED them! But it was a great cry (crying for being happy is something you need in your life at least once or twice every week in my opinion) and one which I'm sure I'll be repeating years and years from now after listening through a song like this one. It is exactly what its title says that it is and it is one of the best songs I've ever heard from Harry Mo as he puts a beautiful bow around his fourth album. 
Overall, when you actually open the rest of that package, you'll love what you find. As I said, I don't know how you, as a fan of Roots Reggae (newer fans as well but particularly more experienced ones), could find something about this album, or any of the three that Harry Mo has done to date, which you do not like. You may not LOVE every song (and that's fine) but he makes music of an ilk which is such a wonderful display of the genre and it is very positive and uplifting and I can tell you from nothing but experience, if you continue to listen to his music, the next time Harry Mo releases an album, you will make that connection to quality and it’ll be a GIANT deal for you. So while I may lament getting older in many aspects (I recently discovered that I had a back, never knew that before), one which brings me no problems at all is being able to fully appreciate an album like "Roots & Lovers" and all of the beautiful others from someone whose name I always look forward to seeing, Harry Mo. Very well done.

Rated: 4.25/5
Yellow Hill Music
CD + Digital

Review #532

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