Planting seeds. There is something so fantastically rewarding, as a music fan, when you pay a certain amount of good attention to something which ultimately comes together and works as well as you thought that it might. This seems to be especially true in Reggae music where it often seems as if so many things are not only delayed indefinitely, but full on cancelled, to the point where you may even expect such a thing to happen in many instances. However, when no such postponements occur and everything does seem, at least ostensibly, to run smoothly, it can be a beautiful thing. Today we definitely take a look at such a case as we fully get to deal with the work of one of our absolute favourite labels which has spent the better part of the last couple of years or so paying its proverbial dues to reach this point which has to be considered a milestone in their lifespan. The wonderful JahLight Records from out of Trinidad has been steadily doing the work, releasing a very solid and respectable batch of tracks and, simultaneously, introducing fans to a healthy variety of Trini Reggae talent. It's so interesting that despite the numerous well known and well skilled Reggae vocalists from out of Trinidad, there really has yet to be a label which has become as popular. And there're some really exceptional producers (another of which, besides JahLight, we'll tell you about in just a while), but there doesn't seem to be a one which has distinguished themselves so greatly and, particularly given their level of activity and prolificacy, JahLight Records has made it obvious that it is a standing that they'd like to assume (and become the Precision Productions of Reggae) (biggup Precision Productions). So, after filing quite a few big riddims and revealing some potentially big names for the future - what do they do next? They focus. In terms of albums, 2013 has been a decent year for Trini Reggae artistes, with veteran Khari Kill dropping the very nice "Born To Rule" way back in February and more recently there was Jah Defender with his beautiful debut "Rastaman Rise" and now, in terms of big releases, joining that lot is the burgeoning Matthew Greenidge with "Jah Rules Over All" for JahLight Records. Up until this point, JLR has also released a pair of EP's along with their riddims (the most recent of which, "Rise" by Righteous, reached just a few months ago) , but clearly they saw something in Greenidge (and him in them as well), which would lead them with taking that next step with him for a full album.
They were right. Greenidge's skill is very subtle, but it is very powerful. He does not leap out at you immediately as a listener - it definitely takes some time to really take in what it is that he does so well (and, actually, it ultimately will take more than one album's worth of music). He also has a very nice type of old school charm to his work as well and I would think that would be part of what so attracted Akeunde Pemberton and company at JLR to him as an artist. Initially, I was kind of surprised that the label would choose him to do an album with, particularly considering that they also have the ear of one of the genre's most talented stars altogether (who you'll hear from often on "Jah Rules Over All"), and Greenidge's own history goes back only to 20111, but as the album neared, given the amount of work the label did to promote it, you saw that Greenidge had earned their full confidence and, clearly, it was with good reason.
"Jah Rules Over All" is a twelve-tracked, forty-five minute introduction to the works of Matthew Greenidge. Interestingly, despite doing several tunes previously for JahLight Records, it seems as if none of the singer's earlier songs appear on the album and it was done entirely for the purpose of making this project into an album release. This reiterates just how committed both artist and label were to one another and how crucial they envisioned not only this moment being, but also a musical future with one another as well. Again, that is A LOT of confidence from both and because of that and also the previous efforts from both, expectations definitely swell in regards to the eventual output of this musical union. They also swell for the current and I was really looking forward to diving into this record. In terms of the musical direction for "Jah Rules Over All", it stays pretty much in balance with prior material as well. JahLight focuses, primarily, on Roots Reggae music, but they also open things up to a more traditional Gospel set. The album falls well within that line and really goes to highlight some of Greenidge's unusual gifts as well. As I said, his music is very subtle. When at his best, it seems as if the singer's songs ALWAYS get better on that second or third listen. The first may be nice or it may not be, but whatever you got from that original spin will only be amplified after digging deeper into it. This is a quality which translates better to an album (if you're looking for a comparison point, think of someone like an early version of Natural Black, whose music was virtually always 'infected' with this wonderful ability he had to inject it with a glowing sense of personality and self-awareness, which wasn't something that a listener would gravitate to straight away) and particularly an album in the hands of a really patient listener. For me, of course, that's fine. I'll listen to this thing all day and I was damn happy to be given the opportunity to see exactly what Greenidge and JLR had been working on all this time. Let's take a closer look!
'He Loves Forever'
'He Loves Forever'
In its twelve songs, "Jah Rules Over All" does really manage to get a lot done. From a musical angle, you surely do get a nice blend of sounds which make for an entertaining experience and the singer also tackles quite a few different topics and does so in distinctive ways which also helps to make for a very joyful display which, on an album which may require more than a few listens, is an excellent characteristic to possess. Getting things going here on "Jah Rules Over All", the debut release from Matthew Greenidge for JahLight Records is what I believe is the project’s first single, the bright 'He Loves Forever'. This piece is perfectly emblematic of what I mean when I say it takes more than one listen to take in Greenidge's music. The first time I heard it, I thought it to be an average song, but now breaking it down for the sake of this review and I hear something and what I hear is probably the same thing JLR heard when they decided to make it the first single from this album (I also hear some SWEET backing singing, more on that shortly). The second offering here, 'Still Got To Give Praise', takes a similar road as the opener in terms of its subject. Both songs really speak to the support of The Almighty and while the first is little 'lighter', this piece is also very well done and a nice accompanying song as well, making for an excellent starting pair of selections. Next we get the first combination on the album as Matthew Greenidge teams up with Gyasi on the stirring social commentary 'Life Not Easy'.
"I know this life that we live never easy
Jah knows this life that we live never easy
Youthman hold your head up high
Don't give up in the fight
Giving up is not an option
So get back up, prove you're strong
Don't listen what people say
Go on your knees, start to pray
Almighty Jah will ever lead your way"
Greenidge's more detailed of delivery definitely makes for a nice contrast alongside the more rough around the edges approach of Gyasi and the two link for what is easily one of the biggest highlights on the album (oh, and the riddim on that song is fantastic!). 'Your Love' is the first love song you'll find here and it is a nice one. It is also the first of several produced by Flow Productions from out of Switzerland who, apparently, JahLight has already a nice history with and plays an instrumental role throughout this record. And speaking of producers, the fifth song on the album, the very strong 'Papa Don't Drink' comes from the label which I alluded to earlier as being an exceptional one from out of Trinidad, Studio 53. Their work on this song is pretty nice, but the star here is Greenidge as he speaks on a subject which you just don't hear much about in Reggae music in sending a message to youths who are being raised by parents who are alcoholics. I certainly do not know for sure, but you would think that such a specific topic would have some type of personal implications, be it directly or indirectly, to the artist himself and he pours a great deal of himself into making it work. What I really like on 'Papa Don't Drink' is how finely Greenidge breaks things down. He goes from discussing how much trouble it can bring into a family ["papa stop drink and break down the door. I can't take it no more"], to speaking to how much joy turning one's life around can add to it as well ["as the years they pass us by, Papa stop drink and Mama stop cry"]. I also enjoy just how he puts it altogether - although it is a very serious topic, the song never reaches the point of becoming bleak or depressing - there's always some type of silver lining shining throughout it. And rounding out the first half of "Jah Rules Over All" is another Studio 53 production and one which was full on CANDY to my ears, 'Sweet Lady'. What's so special about this song??? It rides S53's genius Show Version Riddim which was the single best composition I heard from anyone in the year that it dropped (I think it was 2011). It is STUNNING and probably one of my favourite riddims from anyone from since the turn of the century or so. The song atop it is a decent one, but you'd have to try really hard to make a bad song on that track in my opinion.
Something remarkable pinnacles on the second half of "Jah Rules Over All" and it was THE moment I was most anticipating on the whole of the album. Singing backup on eight of the album's twelve is "one of genre's most talented stars altogether" and JLR staple, the incomparable Queen Omega. For me, anytime you add her work to ANYTHING it becomes not only better but significantly so in terms of quality. The world is just a better place with that woman making music in it (it would be even better if she gave us a new album) and her contribution here is not the exception. She joins in, fully, on what is, unsurprisingly, my favourite song on the entire project, 'Babylon Deception'. BOOM!
"I wanna leave!
I just cannot believe that you slave all your days in this misery
There is a better place that is prepared for me and it where I would spent my eternity
By the rivers of babylon, where I sat down
I cried when I remembered Mount Zion
A place so beautiful for situation
Hail The King of Kings, Who wear the crown
Carried us away in captivity
With shackles and chains, how I wish to be free
Freedom is a must, by any means necessary
Jesus Christ is lord give HIM the praise and the glory"
Greenidge even also takes on more of a edgy approach on the giant tune as well. Also on the second half of the album is a tune by the name of 'Never Forget My King' which actually features another favourite of JLR, King Solomon (who was the star of the other of the label's aforementioned EP's, “Worthy To Be Praised" from last year). These two also make for a very strong musical pairing and I didn't even have to hear the song to know that. I had large expectations for this tune as well and it did not let down either. Also very impressive is the eponymous tune, which I might rate as high as its second best tune or so. The composition comes via One Harmony Records (who also does 'Still Got To Give Praise'). Listen to this song about four or five times before you pass judgment. Although it does have a very nice vibes which can be striking, it grows on you quickly should you give it the opportunity (and you should). Later on, Greenidge attempts to (and succeeds) lighten the mood just a little with the decent 'Dance With You' before ending the album with the much heavier 'Never Drift Away' and definitely 'Them Will Burn'. The first actually does have a light and 'loose' feel to it but its subject is far heavier than filling up a dance floor as Greenidge, once again, declares his unwavering loyalty to The Almighty on what is a delightful song. 'Them Will Burn', on the other hand, is something else. On this tune (which features Queen Omega, PROMINENTLY, singing backing vocals) Greenidge outlines exactly what he thinks will happen to those whose own faithfulness are not nearly as firm. The mood of this song is something which is quite curious to my ears because it is both laidback and kind of urgent which may not make for the most vibrant of listens (at least not at first), but does make for a big song still.
Overall, I think that, in some way or another, one of the most remarkable aspects of this album is the fact that they're really just getting started. Taking such a deep look at things I can hear probably exactly what the label heard when they decided to make such a grand investment in the talents of Matthew Greenidge. He has the ability to do very interesting things in unusual spaces. For example, he doesn't, on the surface, seem to have the greatest command of melody, but you won't call a single song of his boring because they aren't (he almost reminds me of a less agitated version of Xkaliba) and he can create good melodies. And he also is a very gifted writer and, at least presumably, ALL of these things will improve with time in someone who has only been making music for a couple of years now as a career. Given that fact, he's far ahead of where you would imagine him to be (and he now has an album to show for it) at this point and surely credit for that would be split between Matthew Greenidge and JahLight Records. Together, in "Jah Rules Over All", the two have now put together a top notch release and I'm left thinking that… they might have the beginnings of something really special here. Stay tuned.
CD + Digital