Saturday, April 24, 2010

Junior Kelly 'Red Pond' Review

Junior Kelly established himself on the reggae scene with the timeless classic ‘Love So Nice’ in 2000, making him a star throughout Jamaica. Kelly’s breakthrough song utilized the indelible bassline played by Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett on the riddim to Bob Marley’s ‘Stir It Up’, as he pondered a question most people ask at least once: “If love so nice, tell me why it hurt so bad?” Kelly’s commanding juxtaposition of precisely timed, deejayed rhymes and melodic singing, coupled with his vivid storytelling abilities, took the song to the top of the Jamaican charts, a position it held for 15 weeks, making it the island’s longest charting number one tune for 2000.

Kelly’s stunning introductory album for VP Records “Love So Nice”, released on January 25, 2001 presented a diversity of songs, from the sufferers’ anthem “Hungry Days” to the melancholy brought about by a lost love on “Sunshine”, in addition to the hit title track, which created a demand for Kelly’s music throughout The Caribbean, North America and Europe.

In November 2001, Kelly was in a serious car accident in Kingston, which left him with a punctured lung, five broken ribs and a fractured pelvis. Hospitalized for several days, he endured an intensive rehabilitation program and made a full recovery. As the decade went on, he released a succession of hit singles and two more albums for VP, “Smile” (2003) and “Tough Life” (2005), furthering his renown as a skillful mediator between traditional roots music’s spirituality and social conscience and dancehall’s gritty everyday realism.

Despite the disturbing trend evidenced in several current dancehall hits, singjay/songwriter Junior Kelly remains true to making empowering reggae music, a mission he embarked on nearly 25 years ago. Five years after the release of Kelly’s critically acclaimed “Tough Life”, he returns with his much-anticipated fourth album for VP Records (his 8th album overall) “Red Pond”, which was released on April 6th. The title “Red Pond”, like all of Kelly’s lyrics, was inspired by real life situations, particularly the conditions in his community of Frasers Content, Spanish Town.

“Red Pond is the nickname of the area where I was raised and still reside and there is a sinister meaning to that name,” explains Kelly who was born Keith Morgan on September 23, 1969 in Kingston. “We have seen a lot of violence and blood in that community, I see people dead in front of me yet I stick to my roots reggae and don’t fall for the peer pressure in the music business. Dropping this album when roots music is kind of on the back burner and naming it “Red Pond” is a testimony to my will to hold on to more tangible music, despite what I see all around me, because what kind of music can instill hope in your life other than roots music?”

‘Red Pond’ begins with the powerful tune Celebrate Life. Kelly chants his usual positivity over a solid, roots riddim. Nuthin’ Wrong With the World follows, a brutally honest commentary about the earth’s problematic and destructive society of people. Kelly reasons: “Nuthin’ na wrong wid de world, a de people wey dem in it. Cussing and fussing every second, every minute…wasting time away.” Boomshot!

She’s Gone, featuring the sweet sounding Lukie D, breaks from the traditional roots reggae Kelly is famous for and treats the listener to a smooth r&b groove. The Firehouse Crew truly shows their diversity.

How Better Ah Go Come flows over a wicked, modern day re-working of the Java riddim created by Augustus Pablo. An all-star music ensemble is featured on the riddim track including Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis on drums, Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith and Tony Chin on guitar, George ‘Fully’ Fullwood on bass, Aston Family Man’ Barrett on piano, Ossie Hibbert on organ, and the incomparable Tommy McCook on sax. Kelly rides the riddim with aplomb.

Slackness adds another dimension of diversity to the album. Kelly rides a beautifully crafted ska riddim to perfection. Lyrically he is in fine form as he laments the ‘Slackness before his(my) eyes.. Madness.. Evil under disguise….Oh what a big surprise’, all too recognizable in the world of humanity.

The all important love of self is explored on the stirring, semi-acoustic Believe In Yourself, which Kelly has been singing in concert for a few years but hadn’t previously recorded.

‘Red Pond’ includes several combination tracks that are worthy of mentioning. Besides the aforementioned She’s Gone featuring Lukie D, Papa’s Song featuring Ras Shiloh and Too Late with Queen Ifrica add nicely to a very well- rounded record from Junior Kelly.

Many might say that ‘Red Pond’ was long overdue. However, Junior Kelly’s output is not as prolific as many of his contemporaries because he does not comply with every producer’s request to “voice” (record) him on their “riddims”, which is the cornerstone practice of the reggae/dancehall industry.

Instead, Kelly remains selective preferring to feel a connection towards a riddim track before voicing on it. “Producers approach me on a monetary level asking how much would I charge to voice a song and I tell them what I can do is listen to your music and if it moves me, then we can work something out,” explains Kelly. “The joy you get from creating, money can’t buy that.” Kelly describes his collaboration with “Red Pond’s” primary producer Melbourne “George Dusty” Miller of the Fire House Crew as “the true essence of the creative process; we took an organic approach to music making, just recording songs without the confines of creating an album.” Created over a four-year period, “Red Pond” boasts an all star cast of Jamaica’s finest musicians whose synergistic efforts fashioned rich, multi textured one-drop rhythms which propel Kelly’s thoughtful lyrics into 15 triumphant selections that stir the soul as readily as they move the feet. Yes, ‘Red Pond’ is an album worth adding to any reggae collection.

Junior Kelly - Red Pond

Track Listing:
1. Celebrate Life
2. Nuthin' Wrong with the World
3. My African Child
4. She's Gone
5. Murderer
6. Waan Lef' De Ghetto
7. Stumbling Blocks
8. How Better Ah Go Come
9. Believe in Yourself
10. Slackness
11. Real Love
12. Papa's Song feat. Ras Shiloh
13. Too Late feat. Queen Ifrica
14. Treacherous Waters
15. One Bright Day