"Working Wonders" by Mark Wonder [Oneness Records - 2012]
Today we take a look and listen back to what I've already designated as one of the best albums of 2012 as it received a 'wonderfully' rare 5/5 score (one of only that I've given from the beginning of 2011 at this point). Mark Wonder is an artist who, over the course of the past two or three years or so has really established himself as an evolving favourite of mine and has really, to my observation, enjoyed a higher profile as an artist altogether over that similar timespan. He's done this via existing, really, as one of the most consistent faces in all of Roots Reggae music, remaining active in general and working with some of the better talents that the genre has toffer as well. Earlier this year he topped everything he had done to that point in my opinion by linking with the increasingly reputable Oneness Records from out of Germany for what has to be considered his opus. Today we go back and REWIND! "Working Wonders" by Mark Wonder.
#1. 'Ancient Of Days'
Who else could it be?
The opener of "Working Wonders" was a fantastic and downright royal tune from the very first time I heard it and now, just a few months on, it's grown in my appreciations. It's very much a DISPLAY type of a song, meaning that when you listen to it, it is the type of vibes which you can immediately appreciate. I hesitate to call it 'flashy', but it's definitely captivating but it also comes with a twist because it's packed with knowledge and intelligence and just a significant and obvious belief and passion in the subject. These days, if you wanted very much to call it the single best song on the album, I wouldn't argue with you at all and, personally, it's probably been the most spun tune of any song on this album lately. OUTSTANDING.
#2. 'The World Needs Love'
Oneness' surging Reggaeville Riddim underpins the next tune up, 'The World Needs Love', which is really another special one to my opinion. I could have so much fun in examining a song like this (and isn't that what a post like this is for???): I really like the way Mark Wonder uses this kind of broadly given topic of 'LOVE' which can really stand for and be looked at as standing for several different things throughout the song. From the first sung words:
"Bless mine eyes on the morning sun
Feels so good when hearts and hearts are one
Must take time out to give thanks for this life
Oh this world can be sweet paradise"
You can take this concept as a pure feeling. One which is provoked, in this case, by something as simple as being thankful for waking up for the day and then used, going forth, to make this life a better one and in specifics as well. Mark Wonder basically takes love 'on tour' during this song and because of that, while it isn't at all the stereotypical way in which such a term is used, I think 'The World Needs Love' is really a love song. WHAT!
Oh and another really cool aspect of this tune is that background vocals are sung by both the big voiced Raymond Wright and...???! The walking light that is Sara Lugo. BOOM!
#3. 'Soul Deep'
'Soul Deep' is a very similar one to the tune which precedes it on "Working Wonders" in that it is another which really speaks to the extension of enjoying a feeling and doing so in such a grand amount of detail that the feeling really becomes something more and more tangible and, somewhere along that journey, we such a wonderful vision of Wonder's thinking. This is a tune which, although a bit older (it actually rides the General Key Riddim, which goes back a few years now) (excellent, excellent composition by the way), I think could've really done some damage if it ever got the opportunity and it probably still could. Sweet tune.
#4. 'My Child'
TEARS! 'My Child' is musical gold and it, like the opener, has become a tune which, although I well appreciated it from the first listen, has moved forward a bit in my favour - it's absolutely sublime in every way! The one piece of (surely overanalyzed) lyrical detail here that impresses so greatly here is something that stands out, but I don't think it does to almost anyone like it does to me.
"There's still hope for YOU AND I, my child"
I LOVE how Wonder involves himself here and the song doesn't go in the kind of typical route of "things will get better …". Instead, the singer is firmly involved as well and he goes on to offer inspiration to the child while drawing inspiration from her as well. A finely arranged and conceived tune.
#5. 'Guiding Light' featuring Sizzla Kalonji
The signature tune of "Working Wonders" remains its very first single, 'Guiding Light', and it is the case for one obvious one but several other smaller causes as well. First of all, the song features Mark Wonder alongside Sizzla Kalonji which is enough, on its own, to really grab attention and it was also very good. I don't know if you've ever had this feeling, but for me it is quite common: You hear a song and, regardless of whether you actually like it or not, you begin to have this feeling that it is much better than you think at that moment. That's where I am with 'Guiding Light' and I haven't been there always but each and every time I stop here, I find something else to like about this tune and one day I think it'll become a full on monster of a track in my opinion. It's not too far from that today.
#6. 'Distant Lover'
While I did, basically, declare 'The World Needs Love' a love song from this album, the more stereotypical application of that 'title' is probably best reserved for 'Distant Lover' even though it… really isn't that, is it? It's a romantic type of a song and it... Shit, I don't know - It just doesn't sound like a 'love song' to my ears for some reason. Excellent still, but it's something else to this tune which I am CLEARLY still working on.
#7. 'On This Day'
BOOM! 'On This Day' remains the starring-attraction of the whole of "Working Wonders" to my opinion and it remains one of the best songs of 2012 as well (and I find myself saying that a lot these days, which is fantastic). The main immediate appeal about this tune is the fact that as soon as I hear and every time I hear it, I SMILE. It just makes you feel so good. On top of that, it's a well arranged tune and one which carries a crucial message, so there is a great amount of substance within the flash, but DAMN the flash is so nice!
#8. 'Woman Of The Nile'
The wonderful facial beam given to me by 'On This Day' doesn't have a chance to disappear as the very next track, 'Woman Of The Nile' also carries a similar quality. Here we have the song on the album on which Mark Wonder gives thanks and honour to his Mother and all honourable Women of Afrikan descent. What I've always REALLY enjoyed about this track is its kind of roaming duality where - on one hand it appears almost autobiographical/biographical of Mark Wonder and his Mother - while on the other it's somewhat broad and totally relatable. The situations he speaks of are so common and while they almost surely apply to his specific set of circumstances, they also apply to mine. They also apply to yours and everyone else who has/had a GOOD Mother or a GOOD dominant female presence in their life. But again, certain things he says mark of his experience and his alone and when you have a song which can touch both of those sides and do so proficiently, that's a special song in my opinion.
#9. 'As The World Turns' featuring Natural Black
You've got soul! My absolute favourite track from Oneness Records, the Soul Riddim, is the primary support plank for 'As The World Turns', the second combination on "Working Wonders", this one featuring Natural Black. I'm going to ignore the obvious here (as I will forever do when speaking of Natural Black in the past) and just call this song what it is - it's an excellent praising tune. The tune, like several, very subtly on the Soul Riddim, really has a moment in its latter stages where it becomes nearly… explosive. There's so much going on with it that you just get this beautiful and dynamic sound which is one of the reasons I am still able to and still do find new and evolving elements of this year and a half old riddim to enjoy, as well as almost every tune on it also.
#10. 'Fighting Soldiers'
"We don't give a damn about your ideologies, no
I & I ah trod with an ancient philosophy
Guarding di youths dem continually
And teaching dem di ways of His Majesty!
As the voice of Israel's children echoes through the wind
Jah gave I & I the strength and power
So the words we all can sing
BABYLON YOU FIGHTING A BATTLE AND YOU JUST CAN'T WIN
FIGHTING A BATTLE AND YOU JUST CAN'T WIN!
BABYLON YOU FIGHTING A BATTLE AND YOU JUST CAN'T WIN
BABYLON YOU FIGHTING A BATTLE AND YOU JUST CAN'T WIN"
I love this song! I hesitate to call it now 'militant' and I don't know that I ever would have, but what stands out now is just how confident Wonder is in singing this song. It's not one which necessarily kind of pushes up the intensity - it's pretty emotional throughout - but there is underlying coolness the singer exudes which is seemingly saying to the masses not to worry too much, because the battle has already been decided. EXCELLENT!
#11. 'Jah Love Is So Amazing'
Still smiling. Although it is within the very nature and structure of 'Jah Love Is So Amazing' to be humble and give praise to a far greater power, an aspect of it which I've really come to appreciate is, again, it's confidence. There is such a cool and calming texture to the track, even with Wonder speaking on some of the ills of the world, that it almost becomes contagious as the singer is saying that he has found something SO GREAT that it is beyond reproach an question and no matter how awful things may become, there is something else which shall always reign supreme. Much confidence indeed.
#12. 'Working Wonders'
The title track for this album is one which, basically, is wearing a mask. You can kind of look at this tune as a love song and I'm pretty sure that's how most listeners would and do regard it and that's fine and pretty accurate as well. HOWEVER, I've always had this feeling about 'Working Wonders' that it had everything that you would expect from a tune which was much more spiritually and maybe even socially set. It's such a vibrant sound initially before ascending into this LUSH sound which at least I normally associate with a Roots tune. Furthermore, even if you examine it lyrically you start to see vehicles through which the meaning of the song is so easily translated from the love of Mark Wonder's life to the love of ALL life and that's a unique quality here and one which I'm almost certainly overanalyzing my way to, but I don't care. Big tune.
#13. 'Freedom Street'
'Freedom Street' is another highlight on this album to my opinion and it's another which follows in the line of songs like 'Jah Love Is So Amazing' and 'Fighting Soldiers' and this is also another interesting concept which I can go back and see if it is a lasting piece of ideology in regards to the entirety of Mark Wonder's music (and YOU KNOW I'm going to do it!). We look at, once again, the artist acknowledging the badness of the world and the hardships but doing so almost within this very malleable form because it ALL happens under the examination of His Majesty. That isn't a very common line of thinking and expression, despite what you're thinking, or even if it is the uniqueness and originalities which come into play here is this inexorable sense of assurance and COMFORT that Wonder has. Here, he takes the next step (wonderfully) and crystallizes it and he even names it! If you have the guidance and the love of His Imperial Majesty in your life - you walk down Freedom Street.
#14. 'Zion's Glory'
I always thought that there was something familiar about 'Zion's Glory' on this album and even though it took me an embarrassingly long time to come up with - I heard this tune for the first time in a minute and almost immediately began to hear Vaughn Benjamin from Midnite rhyming in my head ["everything come to pass weh Rastaman ah talk bout"]. The song is somewhat reminiscent of the MASSIVE 'Lion Have Mane' combination of Benjamin and NiyoRah on the just as sizable album of the latter, "Purification Session".
My own anti-speed notwithstanding 'Zion's Glory' is BEAUTIFUL. It's another piece which offers up bright adornments of the facial region and is one of the best tunes on this album. It's also somewhat of a musical celebration. Normally when I use that term, I immediately began to think of… Soca, but here we have much more of a specific cause (instead of celebrating because… there is… stuff to… celebrate which is what Soca does) and a far different cry from that musical intoxicant (which I love, of course). This a BRIGHT moment and as I always say, there's nothing wrong with making music which primarily is to make people feel good. This one does more than just that, there is real 'flesh' to it and altogether it makes for one stunning moment.
#15. 'Send Down The Rain' featuring Mikey Melody
Give thanks and praise and thanks and praise. We wrap things up with the final combination aboard "Working Wonders", this one featuring Mikey Melody with whom Mark Wonder has previously worked and demonstrated a nice amount of musical chemistry. Here, the two link up to give a praising tune in 'Send Down The Rain' which also has a pair of recipients of the gratitude - His Majesty and Mother Nature. You can't really ignore the eco-friendly nature of this song because in doing so and in trying to kind of collapse it all into one theme by assuming non-existent metaphors, you lose a large amount of the individuality which it possesses. I don't know if I've ever heard a song which does both like this and if I have I'd doubt that I've heard one that managed to do it this well. This is fantastic and while it may not stick out as much as several other tunes on this album and may never really do that, ignoring it is something far, far worse than foolish.
I could go back and speak on my original angle in reviewing this album, which was my strong belief and near KNOWLEDGE that it, whatever "it" was and whenever "it" arrived ("it", being Mark Wonder's next album), was going to be exceptional, but I have something a little more interesting and fresh in my mind now.
I REALLY enjoy writing about Mark Wonder's music. He pretty much fits everything that we like to do as far as being an artist who isn't necessarily THE most popular and certainly not as well known as his grand talents would seem to command. He also has a nice catalogue already behind him, is fairly active still and figures to remain so for the indefinite future and also his past isn't exactly easily dug into, there're a couple of albums back there which tracking down is proving to be very fun as well. On top of that, if you REALLY dig into his music, you'll find areas in which he differentiates from his peers. Roots Reggae music, by critics and non-fans is often criticized as being somewhat of a 'templated' genre, meaning that you kind of have a few themes and subjects and sounds and it rarely deviates from that road and, when it isn't done very well, I completely agree with that. However, there're artists like Mark Wonder (not exactly like him - one of a kind) whose music strays from that expected course via very slight changes and colours. You have songs which give thanks, but not in the expected and well-traveled way. You listen to his lyrics and besides the obvious, which is their presentation - his voice is absolutely amazing and his prevailing passion is some of the greatest you'll hear in the genre - he has a way of writing which is so relatable and relevant and just altogether refreshing, so Mark Wonder is able take on a variety of different subjects which may be very common to the genre (and are) but, again, if you take the substantial time to listen to what he's actually saying, you'll see his way is different and, when at his best or even near it, it's almost overwhelming to listen to Mark Wonder's music.
"Working Wonders" was him at his best, so pick it up today if you haven't already.