Friday, June 25, 2010

Real Ghetto Pres-shuh

I left a couple of things dangling in the One-Drop Reggae post two weeks ago, so I decided to follow-up...

The 2006 set of 40 more Rasta-oriented, one-drop riddim hits (on Greensleeves Records) that arrived too late to be reviewed earlier is excellent, a good buy even if not quite as terrific as that 2008 CD/DVD combo release I raved about. CD 1 launches strongly with the catchy "Ganja Farmer" by unknown-to-me Marlon Asher (echoed further on by Gyptian's "Sensi" and Alborosie's "Herbalist"), but then drops ten stories when the so-called Perfect shouts, interminably, "Nuh Badda Mi," followed by hammily dramatic "Gash Dem" by Chuck Fender. And so it goes for 37 more numbers about equally divided between irritating chanters (exceptions are Sizzla and Lutan Fyah who manage to inject some melody into all the shouting) and the serious singers of both Rasta consciousness and lover's questions.

Thus easily recommended are Sizzla's "Chant Dem Down" and "Phantom War" by Lutan Fyah among the talk-tunes, and "Brown Skin" by Richie Spice, the hard-driving and unforgettable "How Do You Feel" by Anthony B. (Flava McGregor's only production in this lot of 40), lovely Alaine's "Jah Jah Cry," "What Will It Take" by Jah Cure (a complex, upbeat arrangement; see next paragraph), Ras Shiloh's "Rastaman Up in the Hills," and all three numbers powerfully presented by Natural Black: "Never Quit," "Nice It Nice," and "Life Be the Same Way." Special mention too for the Nyabinghi drumming and drifting flute divining "Holy Words," which combines Bescenta's floating vocals with the serious thought of chanter Warrior King.

Another one-drop CD that I found, approximately titled Kings of Kings Presents Gibraltar: Reggae Hits Vol. 3 (on Jet Star, released in 2000), offers tracks by names big (Sizzla, Luciano, Capleton, Jah Mason, Norris Man) and small (Iley Dread, Junior Alexander, Sugar Black and Lehbancheleh) plus a few otherwise situated--Mikey Melody, Yami Bolo, and the remarkable Jah Cure, international cause celebre and legal project, a young singer jailed for rape who proclaimed his innocence so often and so convincingly that people around the globe agitated hard for his release. (He's pardoned out now and recording again, working to rebuild a career, but so far without major success.)

At any rate, all 18 tracks are variations on the single fast-running Gibraltar rhythm, but so cleverly arranged and voiced that one doesn't get the urge to drop it straightaway! Worth repeated listens are "Bad Road," Norris Man's potent opener; Luciano singing a Reggaefied gospel sermon with organ and chorus, "Moving On Up"; the busy, overlapping mix of master vocalist Anthony Red Rose, emphatic commentator Natural Black, and a sweet-singing female chorus; plus Jah Cure's bouncy "Dance Hall Vibes," with the youth a bit hoarse-voiced but still sounding, well, charming. Even more catchy and bubbly is "Juggle" by Mikey Melody--packed with hand drums and quick soundeffects and a family-friendly message.

Negative votes accumulate around Jah Mason's "The Most High," which has a screechy, near-Free Jazz saxophone stupidly burping along, and "Inna the Ghetto" which pits (the precise word) Junior Alexander's rant re: the evils of Babylon against that female chorus, now sounding foolishly displaced from a different song. But still I give the Gibralter CD an 87, 'cause you really can dance to it.

Finally, I sought out the recent album (From August Town on VP Records) that Duane Stephenson and sly-fox saxmaster Dean Fraser, who played on and produced, built around the powerful hit titled "August Town." Back-checking a bit, I discovered that up-and-comer Duane has recorded duets with recent contender Tarrus Riley, son of Jimmy Riley, one of Jamaica's longtime hitmaker vocalists. But Stephenson--who writes and sings and smolders on camera, alternating social conscious songs with romantic lovers' rock--earlier still began as single-name "Dwayne," sharing vocals with Gyptian on the droll and streetwise "Rude Boy Shufflin" (another highlight of the 2006 set above), then became regular "Duane" for his own heartfelt cut on producer Flava McGregor's great Trumpet riddim, titled "Giving a Helping Hand."

After these foot-in-the-door moments came the opportunity to work with Fraser for "August Town"--Dean's tune and riddim, Duane's autobiographical lyrics; Duane the connected new kid, Fraser the classic saxman who'd been around, and regularly called on, since the last days of ska and the heyday of Lee Perry and the Wailers. So the album is practically a microcosm of Jah-makin' music--straight soul ballads, rockier r&b built on fluid-drive guitars and mic'ed-up drums, songs for sad lovers (where'd that "lovers' rock" designation come from, anyway?), and splendid "politrickery" and rude-boy violence limned and slammed in the several songs of conscious reasoning.

I hear at least a half-dozen likely hits among the packed CD's 15 songs--the first two ("Ghetto Pain" and "Misty Morning"), the last two ("Fool for You" and "Dream Weaver"), and the middle three ("August Town" sandwiched between "Without You" and "Chant Love"). But rather than analyze the whys, let's just say that Duane Stephenson should have a golden future. If you are a fan of Reggae, Marley or modern, you need to track this one down.

But as wonderful as these CDs are, each is in its own way, I can't seem to stop humming, can't get out of "My Head" as it were, the Gyptian hit with its varied iteration of "Mi 'ead keeps spinnin' around." And I choose to follow Jah Mason who'll "Take me where I always wan' t' be, Like being divine with such a dignity." Or top singjay Turbulence suggesting forcefully again and again to his fickle lover, "There Is the Door" (over the same one-drop, be it noted, as Gyptian's powerful "What Are You Fighting For")--all of these songs drawn from the near-perfect Cousins Records set Strictly One Drop 2007, and persuading me every time to sing right along.

Yet the saddest and most haunting, the performance most suggestive of the grief and violence lurking on that tragic island (everywhere except the tourist resorts), is Lukie D's prayerful calling-out song "Father," with multiple overdub voices weaving in and out, echoing and lamenting:

Father, Jamaica needs you now,
Father, we need you to come now,
Father, mankind have lost their vow,
Father, if we ever need you, it surely now.

Can somebody tell me right now
How we ever get to this?
Acting so uncivilized
Like beasts and savages.
Wo-ho-o-oh, all the children are crying,
Fathers are dying, mothers are dying,
We just can't live like this...

And yet they do--in August Town and Spanish Town and all the numbered districts of Kingston--living, and dying, just like that.

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