Today we're going to take a look back at the work of an artist who has definitely brought more than enough enthusiasm to the current landscape of modern Roots Reggae music - and stretching back for much more than a decade now. Jah Mason, very much in the way of someone like Capleton before him, brings a definitive edge to a genre which isn't inherently known for providing the roughest of vibes and particularly not when he first arrived. However, before we attempt to characterize him as someone who can only burn the fire, the Mason, as his name suggests, is also very capable of constructing beautiful pieces of a vast variety and has scored some of the biggest hits of his career - including the single most sizable, arguably - with love songs and more laid back material as well. He's also become a true star of this era and while he may not receive the same type of accolades as some of his more popular peers, there can be no denying that with the large amount of work that he's done, he has well secured his historical position in Reggae music. To date, he's released twelve studio albums of his work and now we have a quick retrospective at each of them. Discography: Jah Mason.
|The music of Jah Mason|
|"Keep Your Joy" [Ghetto Technology - 2001]|
My good-ness. Jah Mason's album debut, "Keep Your Joy", now exists for me as somewhat of a classic. His first was a project which now doesn't even receive that kind of 'built-in' attraction to it as being the debut set of this artist. It's pretty much been forgotten, it's terribly difficult to find and it never arrived on the digital side either and all of that is sad. It's especially disconcerting when you actually listen to this album. It was good! The Mason is CLEARLY a much more skilled artist today (and has been for quite some time) than he was when he did the work on this one, but it certainly wasn't without its moments and moments which still resound, a decade on. Of particular interest is definitely the title track which is as gorgeous today as it ever was and has helped ME through some really awful times over the years, but I'm really also taking this set as a whole even today, with pieces such as 'Fire' ["Mi nah cool wid di fyah weh mi burn. Cah dis yah fyah too red and dem no waan get none"], 'Life Up Di Name', 'None Shall Escape' and others being the big standouts.
"Working So Hard" [KJ Records - 2002]
Run come. Speaking of an album that has been forgotten . . . Or maybe you can't actually forget something which you never really observed in the first place. Because of its quality, this is well a distinction which belongs closer to the first album on this list, but the now completely invisible "Working So Hard", in terms of how difficult it would be to actually track down, is the biggest 'collector's item' here. The album wasn't the best and it was nowhere near as strong as its predecessor (with which it shared tracks, even the former's headliner), but what it mainly had going for it was a couple of tracks especially. Both early Jah Mason/Jah Cure combinations, 'Run Come Love Me' and this album's title track (the original, less polished version) were present here. They were the obvious headliners, but a next track, the long forgotten, but WICKED, 'I Am Going Home', was also worthy of several spins and remains so.
"Unlimited" [Reggae Vibes Productions - 2002]
Way past the sky. The Jah Mikes produced "Unlimited" remains one of my favourite Jah Mason albums ever to this day and that's because it is just PACKED FULL of tunes which may not have gained a great deal of attention in their respective days, but for me really exist as personal hits of sorts. I can go down the tracklist of this album and while surely some tunes stick out 'further' than others, when I actually go and listen to it and kind of drift back into the mindset of early hearing them, I'm pushing them all to a level near one another for the most part. While the title track, 'Si Dem Move', 'All I Can See', 'Vegetable Time' and one or two others immediately stand up, others such as 'Nah Give Up' [BOOM!], 'Email', and 'No Token' take a quick glance of a sound to tune up perfectly in my ears. I should also say that I really like this album for one more, obscure and weird, reason. Its cover, while extremely simple and nothing more than a cover, a back and an inside - I've always liked it. Jah Mikes and company kept meticulous records, obviously, and that may not mean much, but I'd tell you to crack open either of the first two records we've discussed thus far and then think about that again.
"Never Give Up" [On The Corner - 2003]
Keep this inna ya head like a thought. I don't need to say much in the case of "Never Give Up", or at least I shouldn't these days. You'll disagree with me, surely, but to my ears it's the best piece of work Jah Mason ever did and it's one of the best that ANYONE has ever done. I LOVE this album - always have. It's never too far out of my players and it's well one of those type of pieces where every time you feel inclined to jump back into it, it has something new for your ears, even all of these years on. These days it's the two opening selections which're really on my mind, 'Gideon Start' and 'Mount Zion High', but I'm also extremely fixated on 'Righteousness'. That being said, there isn't a single moment here which I don't enjoy!
"Surprise Dem" [Vikings Productions - 2004]
The journey. I have been on such an interesting road with the "Surprise Dem" album that I don't even know where to start, but I'll make it quick. When I first got this album, I don't think that I listened to it very much, but I liked what I heard. A little while later, I didn't like it at all. Earlier this year . . . I found myself enjoying it AGAIN. I cannot possibly have the most reliable opinion of this one, so I'll just keep it to the constants. This album did actually contain one of my all-time favourite tunes from the Mason, 'Too Hot Fe Dem'. The title track wasn't bad either and nor was 'Red Gold and Green'. Everything else? I could tell you but I'd change my mind in minute.
"Most Royal" [Jah Warrior Records - 2004]
No barrier, no bridge. Like several other albums you'll read about today (and have already read about) I'm always up for just about any excuse to pull up the "Most Royal" album (if for no other reason, because my copy is probably the oldest album I have whose CD still has that 'new' feel), because it was really good. Also , in terms of what it was and where it came from, it's probably the single most underrated album the Mason ever did. The once mighty Jah Warrior Records (and I don't know if they still make music anymore), put together one SWEET modern Roots Reggae album here and one which very much had 'legs' for anyone who wanted (and still wants) to take a listen. Listening to it in 2012, it's an album largely devoid of bad work and I'm well mindful of songs like 'Rumours of War', 'Words of Wisdom', 'Most Royal' and definitely 'Rainbow Circle Throne'. A must have.
"Rise" [On The Corner - 2005]
Who? If you still aren't able to appreciate me appreciating something as simple as decent liner notes in the case of "Unlimited", you've obviously never managed to pick up "Rise", an album which OBVIOUSLY whoever put it together didn't want you to know a damn thing about it! I mean NOTHING! That's unfortunate because it wasn't a bad release at all. It was the album which carried 'Rise This Morning', a combination with the aforementioned Capleton as well as 'I'll Never Break Your Heart' and 'The Come Friend You', two more combinations, both with singer Zeno. There was also another big tune in 'No More We Slave' and a few others which helped push this album, to my opinion, in the top half of quality of all the Mason's work.
"Princess Gone . . . The Saga Bed" [VP Records - 2006]
'My Princess Gone'
Not gone. Jah Mason's debut (and to date only) album for VP Records, "Princess Gone . . . The Saga Bed", is probably still his most high profile release to date, some six years after its reaching. This is an album which I've kind of learn to like more, although I've never really been exactly thrilled with it (and I'm still not). What happens in this particular case, however, is that if you just draw the absolute heights of this album - 'Saga Bed', 'Princess Gone' and definitely 'Stay In My Heart' - they rank favourably to just about any best songs from any album here (including the fourth one). What I have gained through the years is more of a taste for bits like 'Stick Nor Stone', 'Got To Pay The Price', 'Plan Out' and a few more. And I'm still working on it as well.
"Wheat & Tears" [Greensleeves Records - 2006]
Most high? I've learned in taking an unpopular stance over the last few years that Jah Mason's consensus 'best' album is definitely "Wheat & Tears" (of course, every one who feels like that is completely wrong, but you're allowed and I still love you) (. . . Some of you) (. . . okay, one or two of you) (maybe). This album came in a year of 2006 which was remarkable for the chanter as he made his debut for the two biggest labels in the industry at the time (which were still separate), the just mentioned VP Records and here with Greensleeves. "Wheat & Tears" was clearly the best of that pairing and it also came in another interesting stretch (in which it wasn't the best), as the album was one of several pieces marking the sudden explosion of In The Streetz productions who pushed albums near the same time from Luciano, Lutan Fyah, Natural Black and Turbulence (the crowning jewel of them all, of course, was "I-Space") (this album was the second best). You could make a very nice (wrong) case for this one with BIG tunes like 'Couple Chalice A Day' [BOOM!], 'Kings Of Kings', 'Most High', the title track and 'Mi Chalwa'. It was very strong!
"Life Is Just A Journey" [Maximum Sound - 2007]
Some time. I hadn't actually taken the opportunity to sit down and listen to the Achis Reggae favourite, Maximum Sound (big new riddim, the Most Royal, in stores now), produced record, "Life Is A Journey" in quite awhile and surely that has something to do with it, but I don't remember it being THIS good. Solid always, but what I'm hearing now is bordering on something even bigger than big. This album had all the flare you would hope of on a Mason album, but it was also VERY consistent and that's how I recall it. Big tunes were all around like 'Things Will Be Better', 'Ganja For Life', 'Blame The System' (and it's crazy chorus), but if you, like me, haven't picked this one up in a moment, it may be time to take another journey.
"No Matter The Time" [Vikings Productions - 2008]
Team up. The "No Matter The Time" album, following "Surprise Dem", was the second time the Mason linked with Vikings Productions for an album (the two also share songs and this was a far better promoted venture than the first). Time hasn't been too good on this one to my opinion and I don't like it nearly as much in 2012 than I would have in 2008/09. It's still decent and undeniable in certain cases with 'Black Star Liner', 'Burn Dem Still', 'Give Thanks', 'Precious Stone' and several moments from the first album - including 'Too Hot Fe Dem'.
"Keep Ya Head Up" [Rastar Records - 2010]
Mix-up. I used to be rather passionate in my dislike of "Keep Ya Head Up". It was an album which was delayed and re-delayed for more than a couple of years, if I recall correctly, and when it finally did actuate, it was this . . . A primarily Hip-Hop album with Jah Mason rhyming on it. And it was the second time, following Lutan Fyah's "African Be Proud" release where this label, Rastar Records (who you now know for doing a new Midnite album every fifteen minutes or so), had done that. I still don't like it, but like I said, it's a less passionate dislike. Why? Surely it has to do with the fact of a basic passing of time, but these I can listen to this album and focus on the positives which were the only real lasting Hip-Hoppish tune here that I like (and I'm not much of a fan of Hip-Hop), 'Computer' and the album's final quarter, which included 'Love & Respect' (a gorgeous song), and was full of nothing but straight forward 'traditional' Reggae music.
While I can't give this one the rousing and full on recommendation that I did in the cases of Ras Batch and Ras Attitude (obviously in twelve albums), what I can say is that, in full, is that the album discography of this artist is about as COLOURFUL and INTERESTING as anyone of this era. It also showcases the full brilliance of one of the greats. Jah Mason.