|"Not The Same" by Denham Smith [Oneness Records]|
I'd been really meaning to go back and have more of an intensive listen to an album which reached just last year by the name of "Come Wid It" from a very 'flexible' and gifted vocalist by the name of Denham Smith. Though I hadn't gotten around to it fully just yet, the clips from the album sounded very impressive and what I have read from, in terms of reaction, has been quite positive and Smith had been added to an unfortunately healthy list of names who I would like to listen to more when I got the opportunity to do so. Well, while I still do have to go back to deal with "Come Wid It" properly, getting my attention focused on the works of Smith became properly done recently as he linked, fully, on a brand new EP project with one of the most reliable sources in Reggae music today in my opinion, Oneness Records. Though not as active in 2013 as they've been in previous years, the German based label has been a virtual production factory of top notch material over the past few years working alongside such cavernous talents as Naptali, the incomparable Mark Wonder and, of course, Sara Lugo. So, when you've earned their full attention and respect, I simply cannot put things off any longer and today we take a listen to what Denham Smith and Oneness Records have been working on -- one of the bigger EP's of the year -- "Not The Same".
#1. 'If a Me Alone'
The track at the head of "Not The Same", 'If a Me Alone' comes through with all types of colours and nice vibes for me as it rides the same track as Mark Wonder's golden 'Ancient of Day' from his outstanding 2012 effort, "Working Wonders" (where it was also the first song). Along with that, the song has a very interesting and diverse message as well. You'll hear a billion (literally) songs in Reggae music about people coming together and unifying and such things, but 'If a Me Alone' really makes its case on the fact that unity isn't always possible and sometimes people have to stand alone and stand up for themselves by themselves. I well appreciate the nature of the song which certainly isn't 'antisocial', but inspirational instead as Smith, essentially, seems to say that if no one wants to help you, then help yourself! BOOM!
Things take a delightful old school turn on the second track on the EP, the misty 'Collie'. This tune does definitely have some social connotation and relevance to it but it comes off far more efficiently as THAT song which is guaranteed to get heads nodding and feet moving and it WELL serves that purpose. Furthermore a song like this one, which features a handful of different styles, underlines and italicizes exactly what I mean when I say Smith is "flexible". The man can do almost anything with a tune and be good at it - immediately.
#3. 'Not the Same'
And then there's the boom. The title track for "Not The Same" is a musical powerhouse and the single finest thing that I hear here. The riddim is nice and the vibes really make the song work, but the real showcase here is what is being said. Again, just like the opener, 'Not the Same' goes to acknowledge that harmony with everyone isn't something which is always possible or for the best. In this case, however, Denham Smith takes a next and more aggressive step by sternly pointing out that everyone who is carrying themselves full of negativity and doing nasty things to the world and the people on it have NOTHING in common with him. He is not the same as them. What absolutely dazzles is the tune's second full verse where Smith cracks the perspective of the oppressor and deals with oppression and racism and classism and other things. The presentation here is fantastic as you can hear the passion in his voice and you can also hear the incredulity as Smith comes to comprehend that there are actually real people who think that those things are fine! An amazing song!
#4. 'Rub a Dub Ting' featuring Jah Sun
'Rub a Dub Ting' was Smith's contribution to Oneness' Rub A Dub Man Riddim from last year (when it was actually the riddim's title track). Renamed, it featured on Jah Sun's "Rise as One" album from earlier this year (where Denham Smith featured, as did every other living human being) (you -- YOU SITTING RIGHT THERE -- were on that album). A point is made here of calling this one the 'Oneness Version', but I've yet to here any version of this song with any title on it which was at least very good. This one is no exception.
#5. 'The System'
The political/social commentary, 'The System', is my second favourite piece on "Not The Same". This song has a very difficult to describe quality to it as, in its ultra-straightforwardness, it is subtly but wholly dynamic in many ways. It is something which, clearly, I wasn't the only one to see as Oneness lets the riddim play on long after the tune's final lyrics have been spoken. As for the idea here - Smith deals with the largely apathetic powers that be who not only do not deal with the issues of many people, but also don't even find out what those issues are. This song didn't require it for me, but I can well see it taking a minute to grow on someone, so give it a few listens if you don't initially enjoy it because, like I said, its power is great but kind of subtle and I think that was intentional.
#6. 'Riddim Traveler'
And the final selection on the EP, 'Riddim Traveler', is another captivating piece which has so many different facets to it. On one hand you can take it in its broadest sense and say that Denham Smith is dealing with how his music has taken him across the planet and back and across it again, But I think that underlying message here is the overall power of music, in general. How IT not only takes people around the world, but also knowledge and culture and so many wonderful things and ideas. And also how it makes people feel good. Thinking about it now, it is kind of an ambitious piece, but like the EP in full, I think Smith pulls it off very well.
Sound good? You can hear it for yourself when you pick up "Not The Same" by Denham Smith from Oneness Records which is in digital stores now.