Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Real Vibes Can't Either: A Review of Real Rebels Can't Die by Nereus Joseph

Although I have to confess that I do LOVE my jump up and crazy Soca and, at my heart, I am probably 51% Dancehall head, that, in terms of an album, there is NOTHING more satisfying than a GOOD Roots Reggae release. There’s just something about that particular art form that, when someone gets its right and even better, on an album the vibes just sound so complete and can really just make you feel good definitely. And to be perfectly honest, even sometimes when they don’t get it too right, the results can be relatively fulfilling, as opposed to bad Dancehall (which can literally cause physical pain) and bad Soca, both of which, in any event translate worse to albums, thus the vast number difference between Roots Reggae and them both. Luckily, if you’ve been following a time span of roughly the end of 2008 up to now, we’ve been seeing some really FINE Roots Reggae album releases, and some from the not so usual suspects. One of the biggest albums from late last year which just jumped in at the very end was from veteran Linval Thompson who left so many people reconsidering their ‘best of the year’ awards (including your’s truly) with his return on the OUTSTANDING Ghetto Living album. The album has more than a ‘touch’ of old school vibes to it (as does Thompson himself) and just had a SWEET vibes and is currently being so well received. Around that same time, another strong release came forth from a much lesser known artist, Messenjah Selah, known as Breaking Babylon Curse. That album is currently doing a big damage as it featured an artist in Selah, who although a veteran in the game, had been obviously been spending much time out of the mainstream Reggae limelight in honing his craft and produced what is, in my opinion, one of the finest Roots releases currently available right now. The same could be said for the downright mysterious Daweh Congo who made a return of his own with his NICE Ghetto Skyline album which is one of the early frontrunners of Reggae album of the year for 2009. Want more? Try the relatively obscure King Hopeton who jumped in with the WICKED King of Kings album; Raz Bin Sam, who recently brought in his very different sounding Own This Life album as an artist from out of Australia (by way of Israel of all places); the D.A.P.P. Band from out of the Virgin Islands had the Shift The Energy album; Benaïssa from out of Holland with the DURABLE Tables Turn; and most recently Sojah stepped in with the very NEW sounding Modern Revolution. AND were that not enough, the usual likes of Sizzla, Buju Banton, Jah Cure, Anthony B, Fantan Mojah and Lutan Fyah have all dropped albums which were ALL far more than just ‘pretty good’. Truth be told, if you are REALLY a fan of Roots Reggae right now, you’re probably a little lighter in the wallet but happier in the spirit these days.

And it doesn’t figure to let up anytime soon as one of the next big things to release will be Queen Ifrica’s Montego Bay album in June and next week, at the time of this writing, Julian Marley’s third album, Awake, comes forth to the people as well. But of course, those are the ones which, backed by VP Records and having the last name Marley, are likely to have the attention WELL on them in the coming weeks and months from fans and critics alike. But as Queen Ifrica, Julian Marley and another release from Lutan Fyah establish the radar of attention for themselves, they also establish the radar for other artists to fly beneath with their own quality releases as well. Such an artist who is currently SOARING has to be Nereus Joseph. The veteran vocalist from out of the UK has spent the lion’s share of his career flying below the radars in terms of ‘mainstream’ Reggae but has attracted quite a bit of attention as even myself, someone who DEFINITELY wouldn’t describe themselves as a real fan of the singer, has heard and seen his name on various things throughout the years while never REALLY taking the next step of doing any real investigation into the attraction outside of checking one of his earlier album releases, which I honestly didn’t enjoy too much actually. So, there’s no time to make up for lost time like the present and thus Joseph’s latest release, Real Rebels Can’t Die comes as a VERY welcome addition to my catalogue. I can’t actually even say WHY I decided to pick this one up actually, as I said, the previous album of Joseph’s which I vibed, Hope Faith & Love, just didn’t stick with me for some reason (although with my tastes these days, appreciating things I didn’t AT ALL before, perhaps I should go back and give it another listen). Not that it was AT ALL a bad album, just nothing special in my opinion, at least at the time. Whatever the reason I wasn’t too keen on HF&L I do know that my subsequent decision to pick up Rebels Can’t Die was a good one! The album comes via Nereus Joseph’s own imprint Sirius Records and he himself takes credit for production (as does one Kenny Edgehill, who is apparently Joseph’s partner in the label) so credit must go to him for making one of the most CONSISTENT releases I’ve heard in quite awhile and one which distinguishes itself quite often, if not only through Joseph’s NICE voice, but through the actual music as well which has some very nice vibes throughout. Speaking of Nereus Joseph’s voice, I have to say that in terms of Reggae music, it is a bit unusual. It’s more or less the type of thing you might run into more if you are a fan of R&B or MAYBE even traditional gospel to a degree. What I mean is that its more ‘soulful’ to a degree, rather than the stereotypical Roots Reggae singer who bathes the attentions of his audiences in tones typically more ‘earthy’ than what you’ll hear from Joseph. Perhaps that’s reflective of the UK Reggae scene as it seemingly more lends itself to different styles of Reggae, most commonly lover’s rock where singers like Peter Hunnigale, Peter Spence and Bitty McLean dominate alongside others. There’s also someone like (THE WICKED) Lloyd Brown who incorporates various sounds in his (WICKED) music but you’ll hear none of that from Nereus Joseph on Real Rebels Can’t Die. What will you hear? A SERIOUS Roots Reggae album not to be ignored and one which may have a claim to being one of the year’s finest come December. Yes, its that good.

After his voice, Nereus Joseph’s pen work isn’t too bad either as he crafts some LOVELY and NECESSARY messages throughout the duration of the album. That part, just making nice messages for the people, isn’t necessary rare in Roots Reggae, it is after all, the point of the music, but the overall presentation of the project is what REALLY is the attraction here ultimately. Speaking of attractions, getting things started on Nereus Joseph’s latest album release, Real Rebels Can’t Die is the title track and most obvious attraction. This tune rolls in like some sappy sounding old school R&B tune with a heavy sax before finding a nice groovy one-drop from somewhere. The tune itself is just BIG, however, from a lyrical aspect because of all the individuals upon whom Joseph calls. The point he is trying to make that despite the fact that all of these wonderful individuals are no longer with us spiritually, they definitely LIVE on. Indeed a powerful message and a nice one to preside over the album. Another nice message emerges in the ALL ROOTS Reggae second track, Fundamental Principles of Life. This track really covers simple aspects of living that should be well known and used by us all (I.e. ‘live and let live’, ‘love thy neighbour’ etc.), particularly of a non-violence and not hate perspective, but just seem to escape so many in our society today. If you are such a person who have a hard time simply doing right instead of wrong (even though you know wrong) then I suggest you pick up Nereus Joseph’s new album Real Rebels Can’t Die and spin through track two. Closing out the opening of the album is another in a stretch of big tunes which dominate the first half of the album, Make A Stand. Make A Stand is HUGE. This is a prime example of what I mean how effective and satisfying GOOD Roots can be when it really is good. This tune really is to lift up the spirits of the oppressed and the sympathizers and empathizers of the oppressed as Joseph chants, “come rally round Babylon is falling!”. I’m on my way! Big tune, one of the album’s best and an EXCELLENT way to get things going.

Throughout Real Rebels Can’t Die Nereus Joseph pretty much tackles the common Roots Reggae topics and ideology, however, I would definitely say that he maintains a more GROUNDED and TANGIBLE approach than most of his peers. For me, he never does a finer job of this than on a two song stretch at the end of the first half of the album between the SPARKLING African For Africans and Rastafari Lives. The former is an OUTSTANDING tune inspired by the honourable Marcus Garvey’s famous saying and is delivered in a SWEET vibes. The latter is, in my opinion, the real class of the album, as Joseph is joined by the WICKED young chanter from out of St. Lucia, Jah Mirikle to deliver such a nice and RELEVANT vibes for the masses. The tune just catches a nice joy from inception which lasts throughout and really strikes a chord with the listener, at least it did with me and I’m sure if you love the vibes, it’ll do the same with you. LARGE tune (and keep an eye out for the UK based Mirikle as well). Outside of Jah Mirikle, also checking in alongside Nereus Joseph on the album is the legendary Dennis Alcapone, who joins in on the very strong antiviolence anthem, No Peace and I also love the backing singing on that one. Well respected poet Benjamin Zephaniah adds a fitting lovely touch on the tune Shield & Armour. That song definitely qualifies as something I might otherwise think missing were it not here as I just love to see someone throw in something different and Zephaniah just breaks down in the spoken word exactly that. And Joseph also taps his neighbours Selah Collins and Afrikan Simba on the very impressive Warn Them, chanting down Babylon and corruption wherever it exists, threefold, on the tune which is definitely amongst the best on the album (I think Simba steals the show here). On his own, just as he did with the opening, Joseph keeps setting the bar high throughout. Check what is in my opinion one of the real highlights on the album, the somewhat complex herbalist tune, Kultural Herb. This tune is so nicely written and vibed that you simply have to hear it and coming from someone who hears PLENTY, it’s probably one of the best ganja man tunes I’ve heard recently. The two tune patch of Africa For Africans and Rastafari Lives is but half in the nice streak of four as the following two tunes, One Love Tonite and ESPECIALLY Grounded keep the vibes just as high arguably. One Love Tonite is a tune which is kind praising the Reggae music itself and WONDERFULLY relating it to praising of His Majesty. BIG VIBE. If you wanted to call Grounded the best tune on the album, I couldn’t argue with you AT ALL. This tune, also in praise of His Imperial Majesty falls so SWEET down the closing stretch of the album and is a song that really touched me again. I mean, you just have to hear this song, should you, yourself, walk this path in life, tears! Just a sweet and uplifting vibes on that one and that one should really get a push from Sirius and company definitely. Meet You In Zion kind of has a double purpose (like several of the tunes here, like One Love Tonite) as it serves as the album’s lover’s tune to a degree but it also is a big social commentary as well. That tune leads well into Inner City Youths which is ANOTHER of my favourite on the album as is Ancient Monarchy to a degree but, really at this point I don’t know if Joseph could do any wrong on Real Rebels Can’t Die, even if he tried. The album closes with yet another high note with the very ORDINARILY vibed Make A Plan. The tune itself, however, is far from ordinary and just one that strikes chords all over the listener sending out what is an album which is all but guaranteed not to receive the attention it so easily deserves.

Overall, as I said, when you get GOOD Roots Reggae and do it well on an album, the results can be so nice and just satisfying and that’s exactly what you get here. Perhaps the best thing I can say about this one is to just simply put it as: Nereus Joseph’s Real Rebels Can’t Die album MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD! Just like that! The album is recommended to all fans of modern Roots Reggae but especially those with a bit more time listening to the music. Newer fans should also be able to appreciate it but perhaps not now as they may a little while from now as the sound is definitely very MATURE. In a year where so many big name artists are arriving with some equally big material and some more are on the way, perhaps someone flying below their radar has outdone them all. Right now I’m full confident in saying that Nereus Joseph’s Real Rebels Can’t Die is probably the best Roots Reggae album I’ve heard in 2009. Period.

Rated 5/5 stars
Sirius Records

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