Thursday, February 28, 2013

'Still Evolving': A review of "New Veteran" by Lloyd Brown

Development for an artist isn't something which stops when an individual reaches a certain level in his or her career. For better or for worse it persists for as long as they remain active and can really continue to offer fans and the artists, themselves, continuous thrills throughout an extremely long career. Elder and much more established stars develop in different ways, of course, than younger ones who are generally in the midst of concreting their musical identities and creating things like fan bases and setting up relationships and, really just concentrating on getting their name around. For the more experienced, barring a complete career overhaul, I suppose (the likes of which I can't actually think of an example of, but I do allow for the possibility, of course), they tend to do other things. For instance, when you talk about someone who has been around for a very long time but has shown a great amount of development and expansion in what they do, I automatically begin to think of sweet singing veteran, Glen Washington. Now, you could listen to a Glen Washington tune from 198X and one from 201X and they're very likely to sound nearly identical, because what the veteran singer has done is to make very subtle and clever shifts, specifically in with whom he has chosen to work, which has managed to not only rebuild his fan base, but also to recreate it in many aspects. Perhaps that would explain a wildly popular album from him in 2012 with a very diverse audience, the appropriately titled "Masterpiece". And, because it's so fresh in my mind, it is difficult to talk about old names developing and progressing in 2013 without at least mentioning Super Blue who wrapped up a 2013 season for the ages. It does certainly happen and it can happen with good results. Someone else who has been around for quite awhile (despite the title of his new album) and has never been a shy one for making the 'next step' has been another sweet singer, Mr. Lloyd Brown, from out of the UK. Not entirely unlike Washington, Lloyd Brown has also seen a 'renovation' of his listeners in recent years (which made room for people like me to become fans) and, without making great changes in the final product has managed to stay current - making music which is pertinent to and appreciable by fans within a wide variety of age groups. In retrospect, last year he took another step (an extension of one made in 2010), one which was somewhat surprising, and this year, he's doing it again. 
Lloyd Brown & Cousins Records
I consider myself a fan of Lloyd Brown's music but, obviously, what I've mainly focused on has been within the last six or seven years, beginning with his very first album for Cousins Records, "Said & Done" from 2006. That album would be the first of a quintet of releases via that union (which would include the MASSIVE "Silver" from one year later) and, despite what you may say of Cousins at this point, they had a very nice run once upon a time and, definitely, their 'cornerstone' was the wonderful work of Mr. Brown. In 2010, with Cousin's almost completely gone, Brown would release his "Cornerstone" album via his own Riddimworks Productions imprint, which had been responsible for the music on his previous four releases. After taking 2011 off, he would return last year with "30", again on his own label, but that time, despite how absolutely COOL it would have been to have that cover on a CD, it was only a digital release and, presumably, he doing that again in 2013 with his new album, "New Veteran". 
Lloyd Brown & Riddimworks Productions 
Mixed emotions. I certainly don't mind the digital format (LOVE it sometimes) but, for some reason, it exclusively, doesn't tend to lend itself well to promotion. Because of that, despite the fact that "30" was well received, I don't know that it was AS received, in general, as it would have been if it were on a CD and that's just not right for an album from someone on the level of Brown (and, again, digital-only isn't a problem, biggup Jah Marnyah, but "30" wasn't well circulated, even on that side). In 2013, it appears that things have stayed the course as "New Veteran" also seems to be exclusively digital. I didn't even know that this album was going to be happening until we got a message from Brown's manager (a woman named Denise, who is, EASILY, one of the nicest people we have ever come into contact with in doing this) (biggup Denise) saying that there was a new Lloyd Brown album and it was called "New Veteran". Brown had, for a few years, made it a point to do all of his business in November, but apparently February is the new November. Now about that title… uhmmmm… yeah. Okay, last year was "30", which was meant to mark Brown's thirtieth year of making music. If my math is correct (and it is not), that would make 2013 his thirty-first year, which kind of makes it difficult to call yourself a "new" veteran (now that you've been making music for as long as I have been on the planet), in my opinion, but I'm going to assume that he had something else in mind. Again, the album comes via Brown's Riddimworks Productions which, looking back, has been very dependable and, really, regardless of whether you like a particular album or not, one of the last concerns you have going into a release from Lloyd Brown is its arrangement and direction. You basically know what you're getting into and I follow the lead of my Brother-In-Law (biggup Bredz) who, upon listening to the album and in response to my question of its quality provided me with this otherworldly level of insight: "It sounds like a Lloyd Brown album" (Bredz: Linguistic Wizard). With that set, the lasting questions are -- how many people will actually get to hear this Lloyd Brown album [?] and if it is a good Lloyd Brown album? The former remains to be seen, as for the latter - let's talk about it. 

If I recall correctly, the "30" album had around six-hundred songs on it, so I was, initially, rather happy to see that the track count, this time around, was kept to fifteen. But it proves to be, arguably, just as healthy as its most immediate predecessor and, by album's end, you have another winner for the lot of albums from the well accomplished vocalist. And he's still accomplishing a great deal is Lloyd Brown who begins his new album, "New Veteran", on a very familiar note, 'Crush On You'. The Heavybeat produced syrupy sweet love song is from a few years back and it finally pops up on a Lloyd Brown album. I enjoyed it from the very first listen and probably have as strong of an appreciation for it these days as I ever have and I imagine it will be a big winner from the album which it heads. Next, we get into one of the most interesting routes of a Lloyd Brown album. I always find myself wondering with whom is he going to work and in this case that was also the case. On the first of the six combination tracks on "New Veteran", Brown links with 'veteran' (although if he is a 'new veteran', I guess I should call her 'small child') and possessors of one of the coolest names in all of music, Kele Le Roc on the delightful 'Night Like This' (which I believe is a loose remake of an old R&B song). Le Roc probably isn't too much older than me, but she's been making music from the late 1930's or so. She's been around from FOREVER and what is the first (or the second) combination between the two UK stars is divine. It's a great song and an very easy listen - although it is worth mentioning that it is not the finest Brown/Le Roc link on this album. And rounding out the opening group of songs on "New Veteran" is the decent 'You've Turned Away'. As its title suggests, it is kind of a breaking up type of composition and, although not one of my favourite songs on the album (and, by far, its shortest piece), it is fairly good with a riddim, however, which is outstanding. 

As for those aforementioned combinations (all of which besides 'Night Like This, curiously, come on the second half of the album), they turn out well on this album. One in particular really got my attention I was damn interested in hearing it, 'Bada Boom, Bada Bing', which actually features Mr. Lloyd Brown alongside the genius Ms. Tanya Stephens (who needs to make a new album this year), and while this isn't at all what I would have expected from such a team-up, such a pairing could not fail, doesn't and seems an easy choice for a future single. After all of these years, the rush of hearing Stephens rhyme hasn't dwindled at all. 

"Mi hear you have two ring pon it
Mi still waan put di glisten, put di bling pon it
Whether permanent or mi ah fling pon it
Pop out di waist, gimme, mek mi swing pon it
And mi ah - put on blinkers, touch di scene
Know what I mean?
A one man ah beat di skin
And when it punch and mi ride di rim
Gimme a riddim, mek mi put it on pon him
Di gal dem ah watch you 
Man dem ah watch mi -
Everywhere wi touch 
Love how wi keep it tight, that's why wi blaze it so much
That's why mi ah Guinness and Purple Haze it so much
You have something mi crazy fi touch
A nuh nuttin if- 
Other man ah mek a bid, mi know fi get rid of di kid
 Mek him talk til him fed-up
Two drinks at di bar
Head back to di car
Bun something til mi eye dem red-up" 

Someone named Shanti Force guests on 'Melt Like Butter', which sounds like some old school R&B song and had a great distance to go, but grew on me just a bit. Shanti Force actually sounds a bit like a Kardinal Offishall to my opinion (biggup Nat) and he's talented and I don't think I've ever heard his name before appearing on "New Veteran". The words of the immortal Dennis Brown are featured on 'Lyin' Eyes', which is a remake of a song of the same name from 'The Crown Prince' of Reggae. The best thing I can say about this one is that it was just a great IDEA. You remake a tune and you involve its originator - something which actually happens quite often in the case of Dennis Brown - but it doesn't always sound this good. And someone named Mystro (a great name), who is almost surely a Hip-Hop artist from the UK joins Brown on 'So Long'. It's Mystro who dominates most of the song and, not at all being the Hip-Hop head, theoretically I'm not going to like a song like this, but the chorus is FANTASTIC and Mystro (biggup Maestro) ["They asking everywhere - how I coming next year. What kinda Calypso? Is it fast or slow?"] (WHAT!) (BOOM!) (okay back to it) - although I'm no expert at all, I think I know good when I hear it - and Mystro definitely has considerable skills. Still, the album's two finest collaborations come in succession (with another of its biggest moments), 'If You Want Good' and 'Blessed'. To my opinion, the former is the single best tune on the whole of "New Veteran" and it finds Brown, once again, linking up with Kele Le Roc and making a HUGE social commentary together. 

"In between the shades of black and white, it's obvious we are the same
Tell me why the need to fight and play war games?
There's a clear and present danger if we don't change
To restore our human nature to the way that Jah ordained

Look at what ah gwan in wi backyard
Minor beef and postcode war
Always seems to resolve at point-blank range
Report on the news and the radio
Another youth get shot, oh no

Hopefully I'm not the only person who walks away from this album thinking that Brown and Le Roc make a might duo and it would be fucked up if they never worked with one another again - with 'If You Want Good' being the biggest reason why. 'Blessed' has the incomparable Junior Marvin committing some type of crime on guitar and a name which I'm almost certain is new to me, Mikie Blak. Again, this selection is another top notch effort, this one combining the social element with the spiritual one on one of the finest sonic experiences here as well. And although it isn't a combination track, I have to mention 'Live and Let Live' here as it follows 'If You Want Good' and 'Blessed' on the album, making it the biggest fifth of "New Veteran". This piece is EXCELLENT and further expands and upon the ideas expressed in the preceding two songs in a much more specific fashion. 

"Why do we fight - over house, land and money?
Caan take dem ting deh when you gone
Why do we fight - 'gainst a next one lifestyle?
Lef dem to dem business, mek dem gwan
Why do we fight - in the name of God
There's no such thing as a holy war
No, that no right - caan wrap my head round that one 
Guess I'll stick to my vocation"

If you really wanted to call 'Live and Let Live' the BEST song on this album, I' would disagree with you, but I don't think I'd put up too great of an argument. It's a big, big moment here. 

The remaining third of "New Veteran" also offers up some big tunes, which are real highlights for the album and are sure to be favourites for a lot of people. On the tail of the five songs is a nice pair of love songs in 'Love Is On My Mind' and the RIDICULOUS (and I mean that I a good way) 'My Baby Loves Me'. 'Love Is On My Mind' is straight forward, but is backed by one of the nicest tracks on the entire album to my ears. Lloyd Brown uses it to deliver a something that isn't at all unexpected, but is no less sterling because of it. For its part, 'My Baby Loves Me' brings in all kinds of lovely and infectious old school-ness which is not to be missed. And speaking of old school-ness, Lloyd Brown also goes all Al Brown on the people by tuning up a remaking of  his uncle Al's (not really) 'No Soul Today'. Again, it's a nice IDEA as much as anything and one which proves fruitful. There's also 'Until It's Over' which is just about special and one my favourites. 

"Won't you listen up - to what I gotta say?
It won't take too long, so you can get on with your day
Nuff adversity, we face with everyday
Put our faith in Jah and HE will show the way
Small as a mustard seed is the space that faith needs
To fit inside our hearts, in our thoughts and deeds
Rest up if you must, but don't you ever quit
See, I don't want you ever just give in

Don't say it's over 
Until it's over
Don't say it's over 
Until it's over

Won't you hear me out and give I a chance?
Convey some faith to you, to change your circumstance
With simple ways and means, believe I know you can
Lifting your head up and help your brother man
Small as a mustard seed is the size that faith needs -
To fit inside our hearts, in our thoughts and deeds
Don't you ever quit
Rest up, if you must
See, I don't want you to ever give up"

That song is precisely the type of track which goes overlooked on an album like this and that's wholly unfortunate because it's one of the better efforts you're going to find on it. And lastly is the familiar and rousing 'Gwan a Yuh Bed'. I don't think that I've ever actually heard this song prior to it appearing on this album, but I'm not at all surprised to see it present. Last year, Lloyd Brown would make an appearance on the best compilation I heard in 2012, "Jah Golden Throne" ("and the throne HE sat upon was like a fiery flame!") (biggup Toussaint), with the sparkling 'Just So That You Know' (which was my favourite song on "30" as well) as well as 'Make It Work', alongside Tippa Irie. On that same album was a tune by the name of 'World Needs Love' by Jahdan Blakkamoore which came equipped with the very same Zion I Kings riddim that carries 'Gwan a Yuh Bed' on which Brown, essentially, tells all negative people who fight against him (and all decent people really) to go lay down somewhere. A big tune. 

Overall, what I'm thinking is that "New Veteran", odd title and all, is a noticeably better album than was "30" and that's saying a great deal, because I thought that "30" was arguably Lloyd Brown's best work following "Silver" ("For Your Consideration" was good also) and, although it didn't seem to find a big audience, the reaction that I did notice from that album was predominantly positive. As I attempted to point out earlier, no matter the platform through which the music comes, Lloyd Brown is about as dependable as they get when it comes to albums. Even some of his lesser pieces fall somewhere in the range of 'above average' and are entertaining, but I think that "New Veteran" is better than most of those. The album, while not being a deviation at all from what he typically does, is a beautiful and entertaining piece of evidence that while he has managed to change with the times in some ways which I may not enjoy too much (and I REALLY hope this album gets a lot of attention, it is too good to languish on a digital 'shelf'), what has remained is that "a Lloyd Brown album" is still a GOOD album and sometimes - it's even better. Very well done. 

Rated: 4.35/5
Riddimworks Productions

Review #419

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