The rising. For those of us who remain wholly mystified as to how, exactly, Soca music isn't tearing through the entire world, conquering or destroying everything in its path as fans everywhere begin to appreciate it as the CANDY of musical genres that it is, perhaps the end of our bewilderment is nigh. It would seem to me (and probably to you as well if you're setting in to read a review this long) that the 'mainstreaming' of Soca music would have happened a very long time ago and on a consistent level. There have been examples of Soca stars making impacts, in spots, on very large stages with the works of names like Kevin Lyttle and Rupee, but nothing has seemed to stick from what has to be, in my opinion, the world’s most infectious brand of music… and that's just strange. Certainly some of the blame in that lies with the genre itself. Dancehall music, historically, does a fairly BAD job of promoting itself yet, in that aspect, Soca makes Dancehall look like Hip-Hop. Aside from just the musical side, the genre also has full-on larger-than-life figures and drama and the wildest brand of excitement which would seem very sellable, but it has never seemed to translate very well when it comes to spreading the word to potential fans (like people who listen to Pop music of any kind. I'm certainly not an expert (on Pop music… or anything else actually) but I would think that the Pop music crowd, which may be a billion people, would also love Soca music) in the consistent sense. So Soca could definitely use a bit of help in letting the masses know that it does exist and, as usual, the best type of help that one could receive is the type which they give themselves. Maybe [Hopefully], years from now, we'll be able to look back at 2013 as such a significant time for Soca music largely based on the strength of a single all-conquering tune which would subsequently go on to attract a global level of attention and take with it not only its creator, but his wife and a whole heap of their peers. And while we certainly do have a little while to go before that happens, the proverbial stars do seem to be aligning properly and again, hopefully, this is the beginning of that time.
And it isn't too surprising that another name hoping to be apart of this journey is VP Records. Still the biggest label in Reggae music, VP has invested a bit of time in the genre of Soca throughout the years and although that investment has definitely seem to wane in recent years, over the last year the shrew label has made BIG news for Soca music in the form of signing up a pair of its biggest stars to album deals. Both Bunji Garlin and Mrs. Bunji Garlin, Fay-Ann Lyons are now officially on the VP roster and both of their next albums (Bunji's tenth by my count and, ridiculously, Fay-Ann's first (how do you win three road marches and not have a single album in the 2000's?)) are eagerly anticipated. Furthermore, just a week ago Garlin's deal got an upgrade when international major, RCA, joined VP in presenting Bunji Garlin's music. A very big deal.
Throughout the years, VP Records actually released a pair of albums from Garlin - 2001's Reggaefied "Revelation" and 2007's golden "Global" ["I am no superhero, I'm not He-Man. Di gal dem have wi in high demand. Mi doh know if you agree man, mi gal name Fay-Ann Lyons, so I am she man"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!]. They've also worked on projects from the likes of Machel Montano, Edwin Yearwood and the immortal Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, of course, and they once ran series such as "Soca 101" and "D'Soca Zone". Still, VP's largest and most present foray into Soca music has been its indomitable "Soca Gold" series. As I said, the other series are gone (and have been for more than half a decade) and it's been quite awhile from the last time they did a solo album for anyone, but "Soca Gold" has continued and I would be shocked if ever VP did exist in any similar form that it does now and they didn’t do this series. To my opinion its presence is as guaranteed in any given year as that of its 'sister', "Reggae Gold" and "Strictly The Best". The three have been yearly signature releases from the label for a very long time and "Soca Gold", in the face of growing material, particularly Precision Productions' "We Muzik" (which is fantastic) remains the most visible and high-profile Soca compilation. The question, however, is now that they're paying so much attention to Soca music again, if VP might take this opportunity to kind of step up the quality of the flagshipping "Soca Gold". It's interesting that so much of this has happened in a year where one of the biggest names in Reggae music, Tarrus Riley, who previously was a VP Records star went in a different direction for the second consecutive time in putting out an album, "Love Situation". And I-Octane also did an album, "My Journey", for Tad's Records. In their respective absences perhaps VP could place the same promotional vehicle behind more Soca music (like Patrice Roberts!), that has been so impressive in Reggae music for years and years and all of that begins with their very first official Soca release of the year, "Soca Gold 2014". As I typically do, I did really anticipate this set, to see in what new direction, if any, it may go in. It may be more of an issue for "SG2015", but I do think that this is likely to be one of the more listened to installments of this series and I wanted to see what they would do with it.
'Big People Party' by Farmer Nappy
… pretty much the same thing they always do with it. Thinking about it now, I don't know what else they could have done. Perhaps focusing on one or two names, particularly (at the risk of wasting something you were likely saving for an album) or maybe a second disc or something like that. You'll find none of that here, but what you will find, as you always do is a decent Soca compilation which features some big names and not some others, a DVD which promises everything it typically does and perhaps most importantly, a beautiful woman (and she is something special) on the cover. To my opinion, the CLASS of "Soca Gold 2014" comes in its first sixth. The first three songs here are the best songs on the album and you can put them in any particular order you like. Unsurprisingly leading the way is the aforementioned Bunji Garlin with one of his biggest recent hits, the downright intoxicating 'Carnival Tabanca'. Probably one of the best slower songs of Garlin's entire career, this track has done a major amount of damage in its time and it came as no shock at all when VP decided to attempt to push it even further. Curiously, however, I still don't think that the video has an official video, but that should be a formality as should this song continuing its rapid rise. Another sizable hit chases 'Carnival Tabanca', in the form of veteran Farmer Nappy's 'Big People Party'. If I were to be nice to Soca music for 2014, I would call it 'average'. It just hasn't been a very good year, which is unfortunate. But one of the brightest lights has surely been Farmer Nappy and the Farmer's sweetest crop has been this set which is of the quality that every time you hear it, you love it more and more. Finally, rounding out the opening of "SG2014" is reigning nine-hundred times St. Vincent Soca Monarch, Skinny Fabulous who is 'BTW [Behaving The Worst'. The inability to behave properly is a GIFT and that failure is illustrated brilliantly on one of my favourite tunes from Skinny in recent years which is something different from the also reigning Vincy Road March champion. As I said, to my opinion, those are the best three songs on this album and you can put them in any particular order though, at the moment, I'd favour 'Carnival Tabanca', but an hour from now that'll likely change.
'BTW [Behaving The Worst]' by Skinny Fabulous
This album, much like "Reggae Gold", for more passionate fans typically generates as much discussion for who isn't on it than who is and although this year, as every year, does feature a few glaring omissions, I think that, as far as variety, it does a good job in mixing things up. One particularly very interesting stretch of songs comes in the latter stages of the middle of the album and makes a family affair out of "Soca Gold". At the head is aforementioned Fay-Ann Lyons with her cut of the Oil Stain Riddim, 'Done D Party'. This isn't my favourite song from the Silver Surfer, but that track behind it is something terrible and makes a winner out of almost anything on top of it, especially from someone as talented as she. Of course Fay-Ann Lyons is Bunji Garlin's wife, Garlin's cousin, Patrice Roberts, also returns to the series with her infectious 'Somebody'. Roberts is a perennial favourite of mine and though it seems as if she doesn't get the same attention that she used to, it isn't her fault at all as she persists in making big and infectious pieces like this one. Speaking of infectious, the well reliable Nadia Batson also returns to "Soca Gold" and is being a 'Bad Influence' on everyone who picks it up. This is a song I enjoy more now than I used to and may continue to grow on me if I listen to it more. Batson is a bona fide star (and VERY attractive) and I could listen to her, in this form, endlessly. Later on, also making an appearance (her first for the series), is JoJo with 'Shake Dat'. I believe that JoJo is Nadia Batson's sister and although 'Shake Dat' isn't a highlight for me here, hers a name I will certainly keep an eye on for the future. And also check 'Fete Everyday' which comes from Problem Child who is Skinny Fabulous' older brother. This is a decent and fun song (the riddim on that song is crazy), which is usually what you can expect from Problem Child.
And you know that you cannot have "Soca Gold" without Edwin Yearwood so the series poster boy (who, I think, has been on every edition of it with the exception of one) also turns in a fine effort with the well titled 'Last Man Standing'. Yearwood has millions of fans bigger than I, but I have to give him credit for a song like this which is of the cool and colourful variety that he has given us throughout the years. Another Bajan veteran pushing a tune for "SG2014", Biggie Irie, who still isn't going home, goes even higher with the GORGEOUS 'Need Ah Riddim' for De Red Boyz. This man has an uncanny ability of finding this type of hard-to-shake composition and he found another golden one with this tune which is, easily, amongst the best songs on this album. And much credit goes to producer Mr. Roots whose Vintage Riddim underpins a pair of the best songs on the album, 'Come Out To Play' and 'Jab Jab Nation' from veterans Benjai and Tallpree, respectively. The former is probably one of the best songs I've heard from Benjai… GOOD LUCK getting that thing out of your head, while the latter keeps up a big stretch that Tallpree has been on in recent times. It is sterling! The same track also deals with 'Tun Tun' from Ricardo Drue, which isn't one of my favourites but, again, is really hard to dig out your head, especially with that chorus. Farmer Nappy's is the only name you'll find on "SG2014" twice as he returns later on with the electric 'Addiction' alongside Imani. Normally, I don't like songs like this (which kind of border on Techno - yet another genre whose fans would likely LOVE Soca music), but this one has something about it which made a fan out of me. I cannot quite say the same about 'Monster Winer', a combination featuring Kerwin Du Bois and the always interesting Lil Rick. It, too, is kind of electric and catchy, but I don't like it very much.
'Jab Jab Nation' by Tallpree
"Soca Gold 2014" also features another the remix of 'Run Away' from Ki, which earned him a Chutney Soca Monarch crown. This version features Olatunji and is absolutely delightful. Ravi B also gives us 'Bread', which is a more than solid effort from the veteran. And finally, 5 Star Akil makes his "SG" debut with his hit tune 'To Meh Heart' which took quite awhile to grow on me, but finally has these days. It is an outstanding effort from someone who is, hopefully and likely, making the first of many appearances on this series.
Overall, yes "Soca Gold 2014" is basically more of the same that fans of the series have come to expect through the years but that doesn't mean that it is bad. You can certainly go through and speculate about what and who should have been here (which, really, is some of the fun surrounding an album like this one), but just going by what it is, it's a decent Soca compilation which carries enough big names to earn the attention of the more casual fans (I think that "Soca Gold" is probably enough to do that) ahead of the potential Soca boom which is, HOPEFULLY, just ahead. Until then, however, while "Soca Gold 2014" may not be a landmark release for this series (it isn't), with a combination of any good fortune and common sense, that release is on its way and the journey there should be damn bright for Soca music.
CD + Digital