Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'... And One Amazing Singer': A review of "One Love, One Life" by Beres Hammond

Natural. Like people in your everyday life, the artists that you listen to are often able to serve some direct purpose for you. Depending on what you're doing and how you're feeling at the time, you may find yourself trying to contact a certain someone and the same could be said for whose tune you might play or whose album you might pick up at a specific moment. Generally speaking, I can be a pretty moody person, so over the years, without trying at all, I've developed some type of listening 'routine' which depends almost exclusively on how I feel at the time. As I said not too long, if procrastination is ruling my world, and it often is, then I've been able to discover no greater musical motivation than Bounty Killer's music. Without saying my name and even when speaking to/about someone else, the Killer helps to get things going when obviously I'm not as able to do it on my own. Similarly, when I'm feeling a bit sad and want just a lift up, I'm likely to be listening to something from Luciano, or Ras Attitude or, most recently, of course Sara Lugo as they all provide, at least for me, very nice mental steps up which may not conclude there, but are set on a proper course via their work. When I want to propelled to some heavy thinking, it’s definitely the music of Sizzla, Vaughn Benjamin, Lutan Fyah, Capleton, Pressure Busspipe and the likes who always write songs which make you have to stop and think and consider what they've said at nearly every turn. And if I just want to lose my mind, or at least feel like it, then it is Bunji Garlin, Destra, Skinny Fabulous, Fay-Ann Lyons and the wonders of the world of Soca who provide my most preferred escape from… everything!   Of course I have favourites who I did not name and wouldn't even had I continued on in each case, but the main point is just how fantastic it is to have all of this music which can either aide you or influence you or help you in your daily life - at least in my case. Someone else who has quietly served a purpose of a slightly different kind has been the LEGENDARY Beres Hammond, the world's reigning coolest man for twenty years consecutively. Now I'm probably guilty of using that term in all of its forms - LEGEND/ARY - but here it is most applicable as the vocalist has had a career which has seen him distinguish himself from almost everyone else who has ever sung the music at any time and in any variation of the style. 

And he's still doing it today. Where a vintage level of Sizzla Kalonji or Vaughn Benjamin almost forces the listener to make sure his/her background knowledge is where it needs to be in order to get the most out of the music that you possibly can, Beres Hammond does the exact same thing, but with emotion. If you feel GOOD, listening to his music will make you feel GOODER (what!) (why is that not a word???) (biggup Bredz). If you've done something really bad to someone, especially a woman (and unfortunately I'm speaking from experience here), and are a walking bag of sorrow because of it, that right (or wrong) Beres Hammond song can introduce you to an even lower level of sadness. Fortunately, however, if you keep listening to the album, whichever one it is, the very next song will almost surely make you feel better. His music is just full of emotion and that's interesting because I can listen to some of my favourite songs from some of my favourite artists and not have that. I come away from those tunes incredibly impressed, but there's not this sense of a towering emotion which comes from Hammond's music and I think that, in a career which now goes back FORTY years, that's one of the, if not THE major appeal of his sound: No matter what it is, Beres Hammonds music makes you feel something all of the time.
The recent works of Beres Hammond
And today we get to feel it again. It seems like a much longer time back than the four years since Beres Hammond last released an album which was 2008's very strong "A Moment In Time", but it has been that long. Though never the most active of artists, he hasn't been quiet over that time and, most notably, just last year VP Records and Penthouse Records, pushed what amounted to a tribute album, "Our Favourite Beres Hammond Songs", which featured a whole heap of artists from the current era singing great songs of the singer. Well, a year and a half later and he's giving them an album+ full of songs to sing for a sequel in the future as Beres Hammond now gives us his brand new album, also from VP Records (who always does his business), "One Love, One Life". As its title might, shrewdly, suggest, this album is a two disc release, which contains twenty tracks in full, ten on each disc, which are then split up according with one being about love and the other being about… life, actually. This kind of came as a surprise to me (and probably only me, I'm just not a very smart person and didn't make the connection), but after I figured it out, along with being a very big deal because it's an album from Beres Hammond, which is certainly enough of an attraction on its own, I was even more excited to hear it because the mix, an intended one obviously, is damn fascinating. On top of that, as I mentioned "A Moment In Time" was a very good album and prior to that was the excellent "Love Has No Boundaries" from 2004 and "Music Is Life" three years before that. Those last two are arguably modern classics (and if you wanted to put "AMIT" on that level, while I'd disagree with you, I probably wouldn't do it by too much. In case you haven't figured it out, Beres Hammond makes albums of an exceptional quality and, as he isn't going to appear on each and every riddim, his career often points to and pinnacle at the moment(s) of an album which, just in case you needed more of a reason to be interested, makes this even more of a big deal. But you didn't! It's a Beres Hammond album and you want it. Do you know why? I just told you, but here're the specifics. 

“One Love”

As is always the case on his albums, this latest release come with the singer's own Harmony House imprint taking on executive production duties. While he has, and continues to, work for a variety of producers throughout his illustrious career, when it comes to albums, only one person is in charge of what you're going to hear, ultimately and thankfully because the results, as I mentioned, are always so nice. The exception to that does not begin with Beres Hammond's brand new album, "One Love, One Life" which begins with Disc One, the Love version. Hammond's love songs, even with some of the amazing artists in his peer group, stand alone. They are amazing and here are ten more for the most esteemed batch in all of Lover's Rock music. We get going with the somewhat bouncy/Ska-ish 'Can't Waste No Time', which was a little more energetic than I was expecting (for some reason - and that is a trait which persists throughout the first half of this disc), but it eventually does prove to be a lovely song. Hammond has not a piece of a second to wait and here, he tells about how urgent it is for him to get home to his special someone and all that he goes through  to get there on time, including eluding an officer at one point. I may not have chose it as an opener, but anywhere you drop this and on any album, you're going to have a real winner. Speaking of winners, the Grand Champion of the Love album rolls in next, the downright STUNNING 'No Candle Light' for the aforementioned Penthouse, which I think may be the first single from "One Love, One Life". This thing is a piece of magic and absolutely gorgeous all-around. THIS song is the type of piece I speak about when I say that Hammond is so wonderful at provoking emotion and eliciting an expressive reaction to his music. Even if you do not like this song (and you do), it's likely to do something for you besides just saying "big tune". It makes you smile. It makes you think. It makes you move and it should. It's a fantastic song from a bonafide master. Next in things just get cool with the familiar 'In My Arms', which is a song which kind of takes a minute to grow on you because, on the surface (and just a slight bit underneath it as well), it's just a stereotypical love/slow dance type of song… actually that's pretty much what it is completely. But it's exceptional and one of the best songs here in my opinion. 'Crazy Dreams' and 'Lonely Fellow' wrap up the first half of the first disc of this album and the latter of those two is a really big song. 

"Now can you save some of that for a lonely little fellow?
Lonely fellow, lonely fellow
Save some of that for a lonely little fellow
Will you come dance with me?
Will you dance with me?

I won't sweat cause I know the night is still young
And I know you wanna have your fun -
With them old, familiar faces
But darling, just remember where you left me standing 
Cause I'll be in your way the next time you're passing
Until you give in - I'll be asking over again:

Can you save some of that for a lonely little fellow?"

After ALLLLLL of these years, Hammond is still trying to get you to realize what one dance can do and here, he mines gold on this big, big tune. 

The second half of the Love disc is a bit slower and laid back and that's a very nice shift (and I kind of think it may've been a conscious one) from the first and the highlights continue to roll in. First here is the sublime 'My Life', which is a nice song and one which is even more interesting because of its direction. We find the vocalist here trying to piece himself together and move on after a broken relationship - saying that he can't waste his days chasing after someone who apparently doesn't want his attention. It's a very relatable song to a lot of people, I'm sure, and I'm one of them (I've been there a few times, at this point I'm probably two or three of them). 'Keep Me Warm' is… probably going to get a lot of people pregnant. Moving on. The next selection, 'More Time', has a certain 'star-quality' about it from the first note you hear and although you could probably call it a melancholy or gloomy song in many respects, it's one which just made me smile and, as it develops, it takes the listener through an assortment of passions. Because of that, it's easily one of my favourites here and I'm sure I won't be the only one saying that. The somewhat Jazzy 'Shouldn't Be' is another very relatable piece (at least for me), because it kind of speaks on this amazing moment in a relationship where you comprehend and then appreciate the other person fully ["it's like this world is made of just two people - you and me alone - nobody else"]. It's not something which exists outside of daily thought, basically, but Hammond puts it in specifics and makes it sound so nice in the process. And finally wrapping up the Love is the plainly titled, but not plainly vibed at all, 'The Song'. This tune is a very detailed one which kind of outlines a love story from a very young age and subsequently finds it meaning as a song about persistence and determination which are very important things in maintaining a relationship. 

Disc One, on the whole, is basically what you'd expect. Like I said, it is a bit more flaring than I would have thought initially, but eventually it settles down and you get a piece with an excellent contrast and a, most importantly, ten more love songs from Beres Hammond, which range somewhere between 'good' and 'outstanding'. 

“One Life”

As for "One Life", to my opinion it is even stronger, by its end, than the first disc here. As it goes on, it offers at least three FLOORING tracks and is really consistent throughout and ten more sizable tracks from Beres Hammond. First up, Hammond goes all Luciano on us with the speech which begins the first tune on the Life disc, the mighty 'Still Searching'. This one took me awhile to get through (apparently I was 'still searching' for its ultimate meaning) and what eventually got to was it being a song about appreciating the WORLD - an ecological commentary/celebration. The main point of contention, for me, was how Hammond puts people into the situation with a grand amount of detail, but we are a part of the world and nature as well, which is a point he pushes quite a bit ["creatures of this earth coexisting"] and how, because we are a part of it, it is our responsibility to help maintain it and, by extension, to enjoy it and love it. I would imagine (and hope) that this is a song which would get a great amount of different views, but the one prevailing should be that is a great song. While 'Don't You Feel Like Dancing' is a song whose title seemingly doesn't leave much to the imagination, but it does go wonderfully deeper than you might be expecting. Here we find the artist really setting up 'dancing' and the music itself as an escape from the hardships of everyday life ("when the music hits, you feel no pain"). There's definitely a social commentary in here somewhere and it's a beautiful and very clever one as well. And speaking of clever, later on we get another song which well makes you think quite a bit, 'Family'. I don't know that I'd call this selection a 'social commentary' as much as it is just a reminder for people to really start living up to higher standards and making much more of a better situation out of their lives and themselves and Hammond basically calls on everyone to do it, fittingly. 

Two of the final three pieces on the first half of the second disc and the first of its second are really personal highlights for me from the entire project. The first of them is the title track which, on an album of this importance and enormity, really carries a large amount of 'musical responsibility' to tie everything together between these two records. It succeeds. This BEAUTIFUL song which is sure to find itself as a favourite amongst just about everyone fortunate enough to hear it is somewhat autobiographical, as it speaks on everything Hammond has been through in his life and how he wants to be thought of and does it, refreshingly, plainly. 

"If you think I don't deserve all that I've earned, show up yah faces
And if you think you're squeaky clean, caste the first stone -
Declare your races
Cause you talk and you talk and you don't know nothing - all because you wanna talk
And you biggup yourself cause you wanna be seen -
But you, can't walk the walk"

 "The journey's been rough
Sometimes choices are not there
Then comes the day when I'm down to 'I don't care'
The heavens declared and all my fears just disappeared
And I'm singing again!" 

BOOM! The second piece here which reached me on this level is 'You Stand Alone' which is just so damn invigourating and fresh thinking. As someone who has spent a significant portion of his woefully long thirty-one years on this planet making mistake after mistake after mistake (and continues to do it), this song, which basically says that you have to know when you've made a mistake and then LEARN how to deal with it and continue along your journey, is just so nice to hear. It pretty much says that every mistake you make is a learning experience and a discussable moment and not the end of the entire world (though still very much your responsibility). WELL SAID! That tune is only topped by my choice as the single best tune on the whole of "One Love, One Life", 'Not Made Of Steel', which really carries on where the tune before it leaves off and expands and builds upon it. 

"Lend me your ear, just for a moment
Can we sit down and reason like family?
Won't you lend me your heart, just for this minute
And lets see if there's love left within it

How come we don't talk to each other like we used to?
Disrespect just as thick as a winter flu
You walk by me like 'who are you?' and it's true
How come what we have is effecting the family?
Cause they're not invited to the party
I feel so bad cause they're so used to it and you and I know -

Oh yeah we laugh! 
Sometimes we cry
Still so unwilling to let our differences go bye!" 


Well! Wrapping up the second disc: Check 'Can't Make Blood Out Of Stone', a song which somewhat, fits into the line of thinking with the previous two I just mentioned as it says to learn how to distance yourself from something obviously gone wrong and that's so broad that you can apply it to so many different situations (and he does that) (love the riddim on that song too). 'Truth Will Live On' is a social commentary speaking of generations of people having to go through terrible conditions unless we are willing to stand up for ourselves. This really is a crucial song and, again, I full expect it find a large audience. 'Prime Time' is just kind of a fun song, but there is a meaning in there about exactly what type of people are attracted to the spotlight. And lastly wrapping up "One Life" and the entire album is another winner, 'I Humble Myself', which is the only combination on this album, featuring an all grown up and BIG voiced Samantha Strachen. Not completely unexpected, this track is Gospel-ish and Strachen is the star of the moment. You keep a big eye and an ear on her, she's amazing. And this song is a highlight and an excellent way to end things. 

The second disc is not only very strong, but it provides such a full contrast to the first disc, making for one COMPLETE experience. 
Beres Hammond
Overall, the phrase 'new Beres Hammond album' should really speak enough for the quality of this album, but just in case it didn't (and neither did the 3237 words you just read) fully make the case - "One Love, One Life" is a great album. You can rank it by comparing it to, largely, its three most immediate elder 'siblings' all of which, as I said, were also fantastic - it fits in there somewhere - of that same lofty level in my opinion. Of course, being a double album, is a big deal and it's nice to see that Hammond chose to go a bit further for his first new album in four years. It was a great idea and one which highlights one of the more underrated facets of his enormous talents - his versatility. Call it another log, or two, on an already BLAZING fire, "One Love, One Life" from Beres Hammond is more mastery from one of the greatest gems in the history of Reggae music who continues to give us music which is best heard and felt. GOLDEN. 

Rated: 4.75/5
VP Records
2CD + Digital


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