Friday, May 22, 2009

Love Me Not: A Review of Awake by Julian Marley

How many times in listening to various forms of music do you come into contact with this situation: There is a particular artist/group who is OBVIOUSLY talented, makes the type of music that you typically enjoy and yet you just can’t get into their vibes for some reason or another? For myself I would have to say that in regards to Reggae music, while I don’t stumble upon such a situation quite often, each and every time I do, it literally confuses me to no end. You can take certain artists and have a tune just WRECKING everywhere and I won’t dislike it but I just don’t seem to enjoy it as much as everyone else and definitely not as much as I would think that I might. My prime example of this rather annoying phenomenon would be the very popular Morgan Heritage clan. My enjoyment of the Morgans is rather stranger because if they just release an album (like they did last year with Mission In Progress) I’m most likely not going to like roughly 85% of it AT ALL. However, I freely recognize that they are well talented and top notch as evident by the production work they’ve done (they produced Capleton’s MASSIVE Jah Jah City, Liberation riddim), the tunes that they make that I do actually like, their EXCELLENT live shows (and live albums) and the fact that the group, now currently on hiatus and pursuing solo careers, have impressed me so much as solo artists in their brief time apart. Yet, again, I just can’t REALLY appreciate the lion’s share of their music even in spite of having one of the greatest track records of anyone in current Reggae music. Unfortunately I’m also noticing a similar situation developing with my tastes (or lack thereof) for future superstar Gyptian. There’s a difference in my opinion from someone like Turbulence or Norris Man or Determine, all of whom I feel are on current bad streaks in their careers but I have to LISTEN to them in order to notice that their material is worse than it had been previously or than it could be, however, with Gyptian it’s different. I’m not REALLY noticing any consistent shift or retrogression in his music. It sounds, more or less, like it always has and save for the few tunes he’s had that I have enjoyed here and there (more so in the beginning of his career), I’ve never fully appreciated his work for the most part. The same would definitely go for and explain my struggling to overstand the attraction to (in my opinion) WHOLLY average Dancehall acts such as Bling Dawg, Alozade and Chino for whom I struggle to comprehend the attraction to from fans. Simply put, for some reason, sometimes I just don’t get it.

And it’s so interesting that I have such a feeling of Reggae’s ‘second family’ and also certain members of it’s first as well. I know people who will SWEAR that Ziggy Marley is the most talented Reggae artist since his Father’s time and they will just as steadfastly hold on to this notion as I, to a similar notion regarding one infamous August Town native. For some reason his music, although so similar to much that I do listen to and enjoy doesn’t resonate with me in much the same way that many of his peers (and even family members). And then there’s Julian Marley - a different case altogether. I put Julian (probably because I can’t figure out what else to ‘do’ with him) in this category because I have historically not fully been able to appreciate what he has done thus far in his career although I recognize his CLEARLY high skill level and impressive writing abilities as will. Yet, my MAIN characteristic in terms of defining how I feel about Julian Marley’s music is CONFUSED. I know I don’t really like what I’ve heard from him and yet I definitely don’t feel comfortable (and definitely not after this one) AT ALL saying that I actually dislike what he’s made also. The English born artist has also maintained close relations with his family, in particularly the genius jack of all trades Stephen and the EXPLOSIVE Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley and is an active member of their Ghetto Youths camp which means that you’re fairly likely to see him anywhere you see his VERY ACTIVE siblings and he has attracted quite a nice sized fan base at the same time, as you might expect. On a formal level, Julian ‘Juju’ Marley has also had quietly had two album releases to his credit thus far, Lion In The Morning way back in 1996 and his last release from 2003, the pretty well regarded A Time & Place album. There’s kind of a hard to explain folksy/bluesy type of vibes to Julian’s music which may be what’s throwing me off and that was VERY present in the A Time & Place album to my opinion and now six years later I STILL don’t think I could actually write an intelligent review on the album just because I’m not so sure what I make of it and yet I know several people who opinions I greatly respect in Reggae who really enjoy it and champion it as one of the best of that particular year. His first album, Lion In The Morning, in my opinion was the better of the two as it was more on a straight Reggae style (I’m partial, duh), although it featured Julian not as far along in his development as A Time & Place. But maybe he could put the more developed and mature sound with a more straight Reggae sound? That would be the goal I was hoping for and that would be one of the larger sources of my anticipations in picking up his brand new album, Awake. The album becomes his third studio release to date and comes just weeks after his brother Ziggy’s own third solo album, Family Time, and with brother Stephen bubbling with an acoustic version of his Grammy winning Mind Control album and Damian supposedly working alongside Hip-Hop superstar Nas for a genre-bending combination album for later this year, you’re DEFINITELY about to get your fill of the Marley family for 2009 (they’re also reportedly working with Snoop Dogg (of all people) for his Reggae album as well!). Julian Marley does well enough in staking his claim as the best of the lot with Awake produced by himself and his brothers and company, which I had no problem declaring his greatest work to date probably about eight tracks or so deep into it. And while he still continues to utterly confuse the hell out of me at times, by it’s end, Awake ALMOST earns my seal of recommendation as strictly a fan of Reggae music.

So does he go 100% full on Reggae music? Of course not, I just don’t think something like that is Julian Marley’s style for the most part and it doesn’t actualize itself on Awake (although if he’d like to try that next time out, I’d be more than willing to listen), yet gradually he does manage to win my tastes. That’s not what you’re going to hear at the beginning, however, as starting Awake the album out is Awake the song. I must say that although I am about to criticize this song that it is very NICELY written and probably features some of the best if not THE best lyrics on the album named after it. HOWEVER, that being said I have NO IDEA what is going on with the sounds on the tune. It sounds like a solemn R&B or even alternative tune to a degree and it also sounds like something which would have fit rather nicely in on the A Time & Place album. Although for all of its strangeness, its probably close to what I would expect to begin the album. Things take a turn for the better on the album’s first single, the KNOCKING herbalist anthem Boom Draw. I know a few songs with the same title (biggup Junior Kelly, every time) and none of them have a BASSLINE like Marley’s version. Later in the tune it also impresses lyrically and really the fact that it’s here in my opinion is just a nice step in the right direction. It definitely has a nice appeal to its vibes and it’s not a complete shock that it was chosen as the first single for the album. One of the best tunes here. Julian then turns his attentions to the dance floor with the fittingly titled On The Floor tune. I shouldn’t have been surprised by On The Floor but I was and it isn’t a BAD song. It’s ultimately harmless and actually does lift up the vibes strictly in terms of pacing and that’s never a bad thing. A rather unusual, yet expected, opening in full.

Despite the fact that, as expected, Julian does enlist the help of his more popular siblings and a very good family friend to join in on Awake, in my opinion it’s a solo tune here which shines brighter than all others at the end of the day on the HUGE Jah Works. The tune just has a lovely vibes to it and the lyrics are so powerfully uplifting and ON POINT that the first time I heard it I really couldn’t ignore it and the more I heard it I LOVED the tune. The message here is so nice, that no matter what you do, no matter what you accomplish, things will STILL happen in the time His Majesty has planned for it to happen. Indeed Julian! Large tune. Another fine solo effort on Awake from Julian Marley would be the unexpected tune Rose Hall which features Marley going traditional on Rosehall which is certain to confuse the hell out of a lot of people concerning the telling of the legend of the Witch Of Rosehall (but I’m sure your good friend Google at the top of your screen would love to tell you more about it) and relating it to a woman in specific, before the combinations kick up. The first, the jilted lover tune A Little Too Late alongside Stephen Marley is pretty nice and I love that COOL riddim backing the track and I’m sure you will too. What I don’t like is the second of the three combinations Oh Girl which features longtime Marley Family friend Mr. Cheeks from the Lost Boyz camp. I like Mr. Cheeks and this tune, an old school sounding hip-hop vibed tune sounds right up his alley and he outshines Julian who adopts a very strange vocal style during the song. Things become MUCH easier on the ears however, as expected, when Damian Marley joins his slightly older brother on the WICKED sufferer’s anthem Violence In The Streets. On a tune like this you’re almost WAITING for the lyrical volcano that is Jr. Gong to erupt and when it does (about halfway through the song) it is as IMPRESSIVE as ever! Seriously the man gets overlooked by hardcore heads but Damian Marley has a flow which is ENDLESS and it helps to make Violence In The Streets the second best tune you’ll find on Awake in my opinion. The final stretch of the album features Julian all on his own and some of the better tunes you’ll find here. Check All I Know which has an unusual but nice vibes to it and is a shot at those who crave the more material and vanity items in life and ignore the art of sharing and enjoying the more simple things. Nice tune. An even nicer one follows it in the SWEET Stay With Me which is a technical combination as it features none other than the LEGENDARY Marcia Griffiths singing backup for Julian just as she did for his father more than thirty years ago. The tune is definitely one of the best on Awake altogether and I think it was at this point that I began to notice that I hadn’t heard anything OBTRUSIVELY outside of the scope of Reggae in a minute which is nice as he leads the album out on a very traditional note and none get more traditional than a sweet lover’s tune, which is exactly what Stay With Me is (much like his Father did ‘back in da day‘ with a tune of the same title). The string of good tunes continues with Sharp As A Razor next up. This tune has another SWEET vibes as it sounds like something circa 1970 and REALLY has a nice bounce to it also. The tune is another sufferer’s anthem of the people struggling under the system of corruption and it really is a well written tune also. That tune sets the stage for the two closers, one of which is a winner. That winner is Things Ain’t Cool Anymore with its COOL one-drop. The tune doesn’t break any type of new ground or anything but to me I just like to hear Julian doing something more ‘normal’. I can name you about fifteen or so artists who could have sang Things Ain’t Cool Anymore and it would have sounded right in place for them and that’s a GOOD thing in this case. Closing Awake out is an OKAY thing in the acoustically vibed Trying. The tune is the very definition of AVERAGE. Absolutely nothing special going on here for the most part (except Marcia of course) but the music is pretty nice and will definitely make you feel good on the way out. At least he sends us off smiling, can’t ask for more.

Overall, I always make a concession when I review albums from artists that I REALLY like that my opinion may very well be skewered as I am so overwhelmingly partial to that artist and in this case I feel like doing just the opposite. Awake may very well be a GREAT album but, as I said I kind have a difficult time digesting Julian Marley’s vibes and although this one definitely comes through better than A Time & Place, it still doesn’t come through like a ton of other albums from other artists that I’ll be listening to whether I like them or not, at least I OVERSTAND them. What I will say to his credit, however, is that Julian Marley today is a lot better skill wise than he was even six years ago for A Time & Place. But in the end while this album is guaranteed to impress his loyal fans, will it awake the senses of others? I don’t think so but don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself.

Rated 3/5 stars
Universal Republic

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