Monday, October 25, 2010

Duane Stephenson 'Black Gold' Review (VP)

After his debut album August Town, Duane Stephenson returns with another fantastic set of modern roots- reggae music. August Town produced hits such as Cottage In Negril, Mr. B, and the anthemic title track. The up-tempo, roots jam Love Inna Di City (featuring Anthony B and Mystic Roots) superbly showcased his inherent ability to craft a tune and why the decision to pursue a solo career was definitely the right one for Duane Stephenson. With ‘Black Gold’ Stephenson delivers roots- reggae in its finest form. Tight and powerful musical arrangements play an integral part in the sound that he has developed with the help of Dean ‘Cannon’ Fraser, who serves as musical director for ‘Black Gold’ the same as he did for August Town.

The album begins with Nah Play, a perfect and powerful one drop with an amazing breakdown and melody, complete with a message shedding light on the upbringing of impoverished garrison youths who seem to only pick up the gun. Listen for some real Jamaican Dub the last 10 seconds of the track as well. Next up is Fire In Me, a tremendous ballad stressing the fire and desire he has to succeed in a relationship. Stephenson has a real talent for expressing feelings that are brought on by the ladies.

Truth Is featuring Mutabaruka slows down the pace but still manages to deliver a powerful message to the leaders who don't seem to appreciate the reality of the sufferer. Stephenson encourages them to persevere and trust in the almighty and thus overcome anything. Mutabaruka’s deeply passionate delivery really shines bright. Deception shows a softer side of Duane Stephenson. Spanish guitars and soft drums set the musical tone as he delivers a tune about the mind games that lovers tend to play.

Suffer’s Heights (Rockers Version) is the first of several Boom Tunes on ‘Black Gold’. He tells an amazingly vivid story like only he can about the impoverished state that the tiny island of Jamaica is in, Suffer’s Heights being the bottom of nothing, "The youths them can’t find no dinner, and ah pure old clothes them dress up inna." The instrumentation done by the one and only Dean Fraser is, simply put, amazing. Next up is Woman, a dark, spanish- guitar- driven ode to the ladies. Stephenson croons "Cause when god made this land, his greatest gift to man, was certainly a woman." Fraser displays his undeniable expertise on a saxophone solo that would make Steve Gregory and Wham proud.

On the title track Black Gold  Stephenson clearly and fervently expresses his displeasure for governments and their love for oil, specifically mentioning the ‘Eagle’ and ‘Three Lions’. People every where are suffering, yet it seems their main focus is on crude oil. "Nature Boy, is this your great vision of democracy? For you no longer care for the people in despair. Well, it seems you've trade your soul for Black Gold."

Jah Works is another Boom Tune. The words are strong and descriptive, telling people to stand up for what they believe in. The message is clear: Everybody has something beneficial they can teach to somebody else. "People don't understand when Jah start something new, so never be afraid of the works Jah performing through you". This solid tune really showcases Stephenson’s writing ability as well as his faith in Jah.

Rescue Me features Gramps Morgan. This is a song that sounds like a conversation the two could easily have about similar love stories. It’s a very well-arranged song with excellent harmonies and it is evident from the outset that the two were meant to sing together.

Duane calls on Queen Ifrica for the John Holt classic Stay At Home , telling the story of a young gal mixing up in the negativity that plagues the world. Queen ifrica gives a good verse but nothing spectacular, no disrespect. Her add libs over Stephenson's vocals are definitely a nice touch. More is another ballad for the ladies. He truly has an affinity for this. Any woman would be honored to have someone put such deep thoughts about them into a song. There’s no stopping this crooner!

On Cycle Goes On, with its driving bassline and well-placed horn riffs, Duane delivers a meaningful plea for Jah's help as the never ending cycle of crime and violence destroys Jamaica. "The cycle goes on, peoples house and dreams ah get fire bomb. Can we seek a resolution? Why can’t we change the situation? Break the cycle."

Ras Shiloh compliments nicely on Soon As We Rise. Voiced on Kemar Mcgregor's ‘Classic Riddim’, they each stress the importance of serving Jah and living in a positive way. "You've sold your conscience, compassion is absent, but we won’t stick around to be trampled down.” No, the negativity will not hold them down. They will rise above it without question.

This excellent piece of musical artistry ends with another gem. Stephenson adds a lovers rock flavor to Larry Duane Addison’s mid-80s pop-soul lament Members Only. He re-paints a vivid picture of the heartbroken bringing their pain and troubles to an exclusive party. A beautiful ballad version of Suffer’s Heights closes a masterful set.

Duane Stephenson is arguably one the most under- rated reggae artists out there today. He has an extraordinary ability to put often hard- to-express feelings into song. On ‘Black Gold’ Stephenson can do no wrong! Indeed, with his inherent talents, coupled with the skillful guidance of a reggae legend like Dean Fraser, Duane Stephenson is poised for greatness. In the words of dancehall veteran Apache Scratche: “Can’t hold we down, Jah know dem can’t hold we down, tell a friend dat.” With ‘Black Gold’ Duane Stephenson can no longer be held down so make sure you tell a friend! CRUCIAL! ! !

Track Listing:
1. Nah Play
2. Fire In Me
3. Truth Is featuring Mutabaruka
4. Deception
5. Suffer's Heights (Rockers Version)
6. Woman
7. Black Gold
8. Jah Works
9. Rescue Me featuring Gramps Morgan
10. Stay At Home featuring Queen Ifrica
11. More
12. Cycle Goes On
13. Soon As We Rise featuring Ras Shiloh
14. Members Only
15. Suffer's Heights (Ballad Version)

Gregory Isaacs 'The Cool Ruler' dies at age 59

The Reggae Review family would like to express our heartfelt sympathies to the family, friends, and fans of The Cool Ruler who passed away this morning at his home in London after a lengthy battle with cancer. His family was with him until the end. Isaacs had been diagnosed with liver cancer a year ago and the illness subsequently spread across the rest of his body.

His wife, Linda, said in a statement, "Gregory was well-loved by everyone, his fans and his family, and he worked really hard to make sure he delivered the music they loved and enjoyed. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends."

A prolific recording artist, it is estimated that Issacs had released over 50 albums since the start of his career and his last album, 'Isaacs Meets Isaac,' a collaboration with singer King Isaac, was released in 2010.

Gregory Isaacs was in a class by himself. His works will forever be considered some of the finest reggae music ever produced. The Cool Ruler will be sorely missed!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

77 Jefferson 'In The Right Mood' Review (Self -Released)

If you’ve ever taken a little bit of time and browsed for reggae music on i-Tunes then you know that your options are endless, if not overwhelming. Of course, credit to i-Tunes and artists, bands, and producers for making so many selections available. However, with so much available it makes it extremely difficult for even the obsessed listener to keep pace with the output. For instance, if you were to search for bands like Rebelution or Iration you will notice a veritable cornucopia of similar bands in the ‘listeners also purchased’ area beneath your search results. Where do you even begin?! Unless you have a considerable amount of time on your hands the answer is a simple one: You don’t, which means that you may very well miss some gems that are out there waiting to be heard.
Thankfully, some artists and bands take the initiative to get themselves heard. One such band is 77 Jefferson out of Kansas City, Missouri. We at the Reggae Review probably would have never come across them had they not reached out to us with a copy of their latest album ‘In The Right Mood’. Needless to say, we are very happy they did.
What really stood out after the first couple of listens was the music. The record is full of original, one drop riddims with elements of dub and modern rock. At the forefront of many of the tracks is a jazzy rhythm guitar which makes for a mellifluous record full of many pleasing moments. The vocals are lacking a bit of emotion in the delivery on the first few tracks, however, there is noticeable improvement as the record progresses.
Stand-out tracks include Dive Back In, complete with a heavy riddim track and a classy guitar intro and outro. It’s a tale of forlorn delivered with appropriate expression and emotion. Ride On has a tremulous affect, the feel of a Bad Brains, bass-heavy riddim track with a spirited and smooth-flowing delivery. The Last Time is an up-tempo tune with a nice melody and again there’s passion in the vocals that is well-suited for the pace of the riddim.
‘In The Right Mood’ reaches a crescendo with the final three tunes, arguably the strongest on the album.
Live Like Kings is the spark that sets the record ablaze with its rapid-fire beat and vocals, forcing even the most reserved to move their dancing feet. The Meaning of Love showcases another heavy roots riddim. The dub influence is prominent here on a track layered with plenty of echo and effects. Vampires re-ignites the record again with its effervescent flow and infectious beat.
With ‘In The Right Mood’, 77 Jefferson has produced a quality record. It is most certainly an album that you can press play and enjoy from beginning to end. And, who knows, you might even find yourself rewinding a few times. Recommended.

Track Listing:
1. On My Way Home
2. Me and You
3. In The Right Mood
4. Before Too Long
5. Dive Back In
6. Ichiban
7. Ride On
8. Always Loving You
9. Wisem' Up
10. Lost My Love
11. The Last Time
12. Live Like Kings
13. The Meaning of Love
14. Vampires

Monday, October 04, 2010

Luciano 'United States of Africa' Review (VP)

When it comes to producing consistently good reggae music Luciano is in a very select class. His career has spanned more than 20 years and a seemingly countless number of albums (40+!) and singles. As far as roots singers go, Luciano is one of the best. His latest studio album for VP, ‘United States of Africa’, produced by Frenchie of Maximum Sound is another solid release from the Messenjah.

The title track (one of three penned by Duane Stephenson), set to Frenchie’s wicked ‘Good Over Evil’ riddim, beautifully envisions a unified, peaceful, and healthy Continent. Unite Africa has a similar message but it’s set to an up-tempo riddim.

Luciano tackles some very pertinent issues with this album. In This Recession is as topical as it is timely. He takes a hard look at the why and how of the economic crisis as well as the pernicious effect it is having on a global scale. Murder and Thief denounces the crime, violence, war, and bloodshed that is plaguing mankind while Be Aware (Vineyard Town Riddim) and A No Like We No Like Them (World Jam Riddim) warns of the dangers and dirty works that exist among the leeches, backbiters, and haters of the world. I Will Follow and Moving On, both penned by Duane Stephenson, are quality tunes. The former a song of redemption highlighting the mercy of the Almighty, and the latter a throw-back tune showcasing the Messenjah’s crisp voice over the Supersonic’s classic ‘Only A Smile’ riddim.

Bunny Lee’s ‘Creation Rebel’ riddim is the backdrop for Hosanna. Luciano is right at home on a timeless riddim track. Marley’s ‘Zion Train’ serves as the backdrop for the closing track Another Terrorist Attack featuring Fantan Mojah. Luciano’s timely and concise lyrics are complimented nicely by Fantan Mojah’s volatile delivery and words of condemnation.

“United States of Africa” is full of heavy, roots riddims with a real ‘classic’ feel. Frenchie procured some of the reggae elite for the record including Sly and Robbie, Stephen ‘Lenky’ Marsden, Dean ‘Cannon’ Fraser, Dalton Browne, Mafia and Fluxy, Sticky, and Paul ‘Wrongmove’ Crossdale, among others. The result is an
album full of quality tunes that are very easy on the ears.

‘United States of Africa’ doesn’t quite reach the level of some of Luciano’s previous albums, namely ‘Where There is Life’, ‘Sweep Over My Soul’, and ‘Messenger’, however the record is solid from beginning to end. Luciano continues to churn out consistently good roots reggae. His latest effort will NOT disappoint. Longtime fans will find many pleasing moments while the reggae novice will receive an excellent introduction to one of the most talented roots singers of all time. Recommended.


Track Listing:
1. United States of Africa
2. Footstool
3. In This Recession
4. I Will Follow
5. Moving On
6. Murder and Thief
7. Invasion
8. Be Aware
9. King of Kings
10. A No Like We No Like Them
11. Unite Africa
12. Nubian Queen
13. Hosanna
14. Only Jah Can Save Us Now
15. Another Terrorist Attack featuring Fantan Mojah