Monday, October 22, 2012

The Vault Reviews: "Righteous Men" by Al Pancho

Through many things. I think that it is the hope anytime you listen to or even think about listening to an album or even just a song for the first time that it will, in some way, leave some grand positive mark on you. Be it as complicated as becoming a new favourite of yours or as simple as making you smile and feel good just for a moment, ultimately you go into your listening experience hoping for the best. It is thankfully, I suppose, that within that type of approach, you're more likely than not going to be disappointed or unfulfilled in some way, which is why we reserve words like "great" for things that are… like great, and it arguably makes those truly special musical moments that much more special, at least in my opinion. Still, as I've learned through the years, you really don't even have to approach being great to be positive. I could now go through a long line of albums and tunes which most would find mediocre at best, which I absolutely love (most notably "Join Us" by Turbulence), but I don't think they're appropriate or fitting in this situation as the album we look at today… really still doesn't strike me as being very good, but I've been working and working on listening to it for such a long time that I've kind of found a nice level of appreciation for it after eight years. It's almost become a 'friend' of mine, with as much as we've been through. I do not know the right way to make a comparison but I'll try one that is very much still in motion (because that's just what I do). I can think of the "Rising Sun" album by Chezidek which still pretty much confounds me in every way, more than seven years following its release date. I'm certain that I've spoken on that one before and I am still committed to working on that album and, hopefully, someday actually being able to see the 'sun' shine on it in some way because it just confuses the hell out of me. I can also think of albums for which I've just had a grand vacillation of opinion in regards to throughout the years and in that we make a nice connection as I reach for the "Dem No Know Demself" album from Lutan Fyah (more on him later). That album, which reached back in 2004, has gone from great to average, back to great, back to average and has made multiple stops everywhere in between. So maybe the fact that today we discuss an album which came from the same source and has had a similar lifespan, on a lower scale, on my players isn't too surprising.  
The same year they did "Dem No Know Demself", which was actually Lutan Fyah's very first album (beating the MASSIVE "Time & Place" by a month or two if I recall correctly), a label from out of Europe by the name of Minor 7 Flat 5 would also do an album by the name of "Righteous Men" from an up and coming chanter from out of St. Mary, named Al Pancho. Pancho's type would very much fit into the styles of fiery artists particularly Buju Banton and Natural Black (more on him later also) and he was talented and although an album from him at the time, retrospectively, may've seemed a bit strange, M7F5 was on a ROLL in the early 2000's, doing a variety of albums for a variety of class of artists - from the likes of Lutan Fyah and Al Pancho on one end, to Luciano (he'll be coming back as well) and Anthony B (who gave them their opus in the "My Hope" album) on the other. And while they've subsequently faded (although I think they're still around), they definitely gave us some great memories which go across the board as the years go by, but they did do POSITIVE work ultimately and made a significant impact in their day. 
"My Story" [2007] & "Joy Bells Ringing" [2008]
"Righteous Men" and I have been through some MUDDY waters over the years! Just like its star and its label, my appreciations for and of this album has seen hills and valleys over the course of the past eight years and I'm completely of the thought at this moment, and forever more, that it will continue to be the case. I've been trying to get the mindset to write a review of this album for sooooooo long and I told myself that if ever I had some motivation and the next time I had an at least somewhat favourable view of it, I was going to do it (even if I had already stopped writing by that point). Initially, when I got this album, I remember liking it a fairly great deal and then kind of watching it go down in my estimations a very far way and then coming back and then going back down and then wayyyyy up! It’s been that type of a 'relationship' that I've had with it throughout the years which has, ultimately, put me in the state of mind that it's not as good as I think it is when I really like it and not as bad as I think it is when I really don't. It's somewhere in the middle. As for the artist, as I said, I've had a similar outlook on Al Pancho as well. His style being what it is which, despite having obvious comparison points that I mentioned from earlier, is still fairly unique to that trio (and Natural Black isn't going to be in this line anytime in the future anymore) (although he may change his mind…) (and even Buju has a 'hiatus' he's currently on), but can be really impressive when near its best. He's subsequently gone on to release a pair of albums, "Joy Bells Ringing" in 2008 via the well esteemed Lustre Kings Productions (who also helped to really introduce Pancho by including two of his songs on a personal classic of mine, the "Culture Dem" compilation), which is his best album and "My Story" from a year earlier on the suddenly resurgent I Dwell Records. I didn't like that album very much, but it is most noteworthy because it rather flatly included one of the best songs I've ever heard from anyone EVER, ["there is"] 'No Space' ["where the wind don't blow"]. So, as you can see, artist, label and album and I have had a very rocky association over the years, but now I'm rather appreciative of the all. Here's why. 

Musically speaking this album had a very distinct and remarkable quality to it which actually appears on its very first tune before, in due course, making itself present on nearly half of the record's fourteen selections. Al Pancho comes ARMED with a whole heap of extremely talented and well known artists on board his debut album for Minor 7 Flat 5, "Righteous Men" (very fitting title when you consider all of that). Of course, because I'm ridiculous, I'm going ignore that for the moment and, instead, mention the album's first solo tune, the pretty nice 'Poverty'

"Every man want to big inna society
No man no waan no poor and poverty 
Every one to big inna society 
No man no want to poor
To poor is a crime -
Inna dis ya time 
Mi doh have a nickel and mi doh have a dime
To poor is a crime -
Inna dis ya time
Got to honour Jah Jah children divine 

Easier fi a camel to enter through a needle eye -
For the rich man enter inna Kingdom of Zion
The Most High, Jah Rastafari! 
A HE I man sight inna vision 
I know HIM is The Conquering Lion
Redemption song to the nation" 

The song, which was one of the album's singles, is better than decent and is marked by one of the better choruses that you'll find here and is very catchy. Speaking of "catchy", check the album's obligatory ganja tune, 'Good Draw'. It's an okay song, but damn difficult to really shake out of your head at anytime, riding the lovely Freedom Train Riddim. Next up, Al Pancho tells us 'Don't Worry' on a song which I barely remembered after picking this album for the sake of this review. Again, it's an OKAY song which has a very nice message of not to bother draining yourself concerning over issues best left to His Imperial Majesty. It's not the most melodic tune on the album (although I do love the riddim, the Grow, which also carried the big tune, 'Crown I', by Anthony B), but like I said, the real attraction to it is the message. 

Of the remaining tunes on "Righteous Men" which feature Al Pancho and Al Pancho alone, the highpoints are not exactly numerous, but they're solid… pretty much. 'Things & Times' is probably the best of them and, when compared to everything else, I don't know that I'd call it a favourite of mine on the album (that last sentence makes absolutely no sense, of course I'm going to compare to everything else on the album when talking about the album! DAMN!). This song, again, carries a very crucial message as a social commentary and it's also not a bad tune sonically with a consistently building urgency which well underpins an always urgent Pancho (biggup UT Ras also with the style). I'd call that tune slightly better than the somewhat subject-related 'Olden Days' and the title track. The latter (which is printed as "Righteous Man" on the album cover, but programmed as "Men" on the actual disc, but he does say MAN on the tune) is a kind of Hip-Hop fused piece (I've heard that riddim, the Lili, on quite a few different songs and I think only Turbulence impressed on it, if I recall correctly) which is okay and the definitive changeup on the album named after it. Also of note there is the kind of 'Techno-Dub' which begins after the vocals end. For its part, 'Olden Days' has been a microcosm of how I view this album. I've liked it, I've disliked it, I've been completely apathetic towards it and everywhere in between as well. These days, I'm enjoying it although it, too, isn't very melodic, though Nikki Tucker's (who sings on every song on "Righteous Men" besides two) backing vocals are exceptional.  I do actually like 'Pollution' a bit. It's a very nice track about the oppressors really taking a hint to leave certain facets of the world alone, especially THE WORLD, itself. And then there's the love song, 'My Number', which I don't enjoy at all, but have a listen to it for yourself. 

And then Al Pancho's friends arrive. Not only on "Righteous Men", but on "My Story" and "Joy Bells Ringing", Pancho has linked with some fairly big names and just as big talents, kind of echoing what someone such as Gentleman, who we recently examined, has done and I don't think it's a coincidence. Certain individuals just have styles which mesh well with a variety of different sounding artists and, for all of his intensities, apparently Pancho is one of them or really feels like he is (and is wholeheartedly agreed with by M7F5, I Dwell and LKP) (and actually, M7F5 was noted for doing that on several albums with several artists, but it definitely pinnacled here). Going in order (because, incidentally, the best is the final one), getting us started and the album altogether is the always impressive Jah Mason who joins Al Pancho on the sterling 'Start All Over Again'. I can say whatever about this album, but this tune, which has essentially been forgotten now, deserved a much better fate than it got. It was very nice in every way and stands at no worse than the second best tune on this album and the third best that I've EVER heard featuring Al Pancho. Big, big song and check how the Mason just cuts up the latter stages of the tune. Junior Kelly comes through next on a significantly more than decent offering which even I had forgotten about, 'For So Long'. This tune is part social commentary/part historical and Diaspora commentary and, if you read me well enough, you know I really enjoy that type of a song and here is not an exception. Kelly brings more of an aggressive style which makes for one impassioned plea alongside the always ardent Al Pancho. None other than Bounty Killer (and it wasn't the only time he voiced with this label) jumps in next with 'Stay Far' which rides the downright controversial Classic Riddim. It isn't with controversy to anyone else walking the planet, surely, but I've gone EVERYWHERE with this track and once when I thought that I had finally dived in and FULLY appreciated it, then it changed. The riddim notwithstanding (or count it if you like it), this is a good song for as wholly unlikely it was. The aforementioned Natural Black is up next for 'Keep Focus', one of the signature moments on "Righteous Men" (you have no idea how many times I type righteous and continue typing it as righteousne…). Despite having very similar deliveries they make for a very nice pair and I have to say that, despite Black's later ideas, he really tore into this track and I thoroughly enjoyed how it is worked as both chanters get two original verses, all of which impress, particularly Black's second. 

"Get up, stand up and pack up, pack up, a time fi mek a move
Jah Jah children, wi no deh yah so fi lose
Mi no know wah di wicked man deh waan fi prove
Caan put ya foot inna mi shoes
Alright, you no love Jah children through wi righteous!
Every likkle thing wi do you waan fi fight us!
Si di youths dem positive and dem just conscious
Wi ah hail Emmanuel and Marcus! 
Selassie seh -

Keep focus, keep focus, keep focus now" 

The incomparable 'Messenjah', Luciano stands up next on 'Children', which is somewhat of a social commentary, but one specifically aimed at teaching the youths of the world to begin life by at least learning the ways of listening to ones elders. I always kind of look at tunes like this (and messages like this, in general) as accepting and unaccepting at the same time, because I'm someone who thinks that children are smarter than people usually give them credit for being, but this one doesn't go too far and eventually begins to use words like "honour" in regards to elders which tempers the idea to the extent that I believe Al Pancho, and maybe even Luciano, probably agree with me (that song also utilizes the Riddim which is best known as having backed, arguably, the biggest hit M7F5 ever had, 'Rasta Still Deh Bout' by Lutan Fyah and Josie Mel) . Also check "Tell It From The Heart" which was Luciano's own M7F5 album from 2003. And finally, the penultimate song on "Righteous Men" is its best.

"My Reputation" w/Lutan Fyah

'My Reputation' features Lutan Fyah (when it was still being spelled Luton Fyah) and the  two just make downright DYNAMIC results and spread love across the globe, accompanied by the Upside Down Riddim. This selection was also featured on the previously mentioned "Dem No Know Demself" album where it was also the main attraction and I've just LOVED this thing from the first listen and no matter how much and how far I waver on how much I do or do not like the entire album, this song is an undeniable gem on this record! Also, I should mention, in the cases of Luciano and Lutan Fyah, Al Pancho has had three albums, he has a total of six combinations with them both, one of each on all three albums. 
Al Pancho
Overall, you also to give credits to Minor 7 Flat 5, which was helmed by a gentleman named Brotherman, for just going to the finest of details on this album. Not only does the CD include wonderful pictures of a lot of the people involved with the project (and many of the label's albums did as well), it also has a video for the tune 'Poverty', which was a really nice touch when it was released (I always did enjoy that) and it features some of the best musicians of Jamaica including Dean Fraser and others. And all of this wasn't only unique to this project, they constantly did that in their prime years which is fantastic. As for "Righteous Men", especially, I'm still hoping that someday I'll just grow to LOVE this album in a major way. While today certainly isn't that day, it's been one loooooooong journey to being able to not only appreciate it and Al Pancho in some way, but appreciating the journey, itself, as well. 

Rated: 3/5
Minor 7 Flat 5 Records
CD + Digital 

Review #395

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