Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

I-Wayne: Philosopher King of the Reggae Ballad

Fans of roots reggae might have wondered what happened to I-Wayne, who burst on the scene back in 2005 with the hit Can’t Satisfy Her, from his album Lava Ground. He hasn’t been idle. At a revealing private performance for media late last month, he revealed that one way he gets inspiration for songs is to take a walk on Port Henderson Hill in his native Portmore, Jamaica, an area packed with history: the eras of Sir Francis Drake, the holocaust of the slave trade, the struggle for Jamaican independence and then of the Rastas have been interwoven over the centuries there. It’s fertile territory for deep thinking, which is what I-Wayne offers on his long-awaited new album Life Teachings. This guy is a serious artist – relevant without being preachy, romantic without being saccharine, he combines the confrontational, politically-charged fire of, say, an Anthony B with the easygoing spirituality and charm of Luciano. If those artists go back a few years, so does the vibe on the album: it’s real roots reggae, with a band, and real bass and drums, recorded in the same clean, efficient style as a Dr. Dread production from around the turn of the century. It’s out now on VP, the folks behind the Strictly the Best compilations for what seems about a century.

At the concert, a popular New York reggae dj marveled at how she thought that the first track, Burn Down Soddom (an original) meant that the album was going to be “all Rasta”- but then she was completely taken in by the ballads, “something nice and romantic, that a guy can sing to his girl,” she explained. No doubt she also liked I-Wayne’s soaring falsetto – he goes way, way up, further than Dennis Brown sometimes, into Al Green or Philip Bailey territory. As much as those songs, like Real and Clean – a plea to keep things down-to-earth – or Empress Divine, or Pure As the Nile work a catchy boudoir angle, the real gems here are the more in-your-face tracks.

It takes awhile for these to make an appearance here. Burn Down Soddom has to be the most laid-back incitation to arson ever recorded, with a woozy, lengthy dub passage. Herb Fi Legalize is the obligatory weed smoker’s anthem, a peaceful tribute to the healing herb that contrasts with The Fire Song, a no-nonsense, straightforward dancehall duet with Assasin to “get rid of dem thoroughly, burn burn dem no apology.” But Drugs and Rum Vibes is a surprisingly plaintive stoners-vs.-drunks narrative, cynically referencing the the CIA’s role in the illegal drug trade while alcohol-fueled violence kills thousands more.

Wise and Fearless is a message to the youth to understand how a cycle of violence can keep an evil, illegitimatepower structure in place. After all, di wicked aren’t about to Change Them Ways, as I-Wayne makes clear on the next track, an unselfconsciously gorgeous tune that contrasts with its grim lyrics. The title track is a casually amusing polemic in support of a vegan lifestyle (with plenty of ganja). The album ends on a surprisingly brooding but potent note with Do the Good, a seize-the-day meditation since there may be no tomorrow, and “plastic man dem fake like dem love ya…but dem blood ya.”

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November 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Rudie Crew’s New Album Rocks

The Rudie Crew are best known as a great live band. Their latest album This Is Skragga – streaming in its entirety at bandcamp – proves they can capture the crazy enegy of their live shows in the studio. If this is actually a live recording, except without the crowd noise, that wouldn’t be a surprise. With guitars, keys, horns and what seems like an endless supply of toasters on the mic, they blend a 60s and 70s roots groove with a 90s dancehall vocal style. Imagine Super Cat backed by Toots’ band, and you get an idea of what all this sounds like.

The opening track, Propaganda benefits from fat, oldschool production, with boomy bass, spicy horns, a guitar solo that starts out hilarious and goes creepy quickly, followed by a smoky off-kilter sax solo. In matter-of-fact Jamaican patwa, the singer warns of the nefarious misdees of the CIA and the FBI in the service of corporate interests, something that ought to be getting everybody’s attention: “Come off your myspace and facebook and ask why!”

The second track, Dem Neva Know is a straight-up, vintage roots reggae sufferah’s anthem, like something off Black Uhuru’s first album but more raw. They follow that with the title track, a punchy ska shuffle with blippy bassline, slinky organ and the horns kicking up a mess when they need to. After what sounds like a succession of vocal cameos, they hit a wicked downward hook that just won’t stop. The last song is Party Girl – she’s she’s impossible to catch up with, and too rich for your blood. The band eventually works its way into a murky boudoir scene done dancehall style. The whole thing is streaming at bandcamp – enjoy.

September 7, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, ska music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mykal Rose Plays Downtown Brooklyn

Former Black Uhuru frontman Mykal Rose’s career spans both the roots and the dancehall era of reggae: seeing him outdoors under the trees this afternoon was a little like being at Sunsplash back in the 90s, for part of roots night and a little of dancehall night too. New York is just like MoBay in the summer now, hot and full of tourists – but you can’t smoke “marijuana, the healing of the nation,” as Rose put it, on the street like you could before Rudy Mussolini and his thugs took office. So it was nice to hear Rose kick off his show, the last one of this year’s Thursday noontime BAM concerts at Metrotech Park, with Sinsemilla. They played part of that one again at the end of the show, by request: “You know us Jamaicans, we don’t take no for an answer,” Rose laughed. In between he and his tremendously good four-piece band and two backup singers mixed the classics that the surprisingly energetic massive had come out for along with some more dancehall-oriented fare, including a couple of tracks from his new album Kingston 11.

The early stuff was a trip back in time: this could have been 1980. The band was strictly roots, the keyboardist sticking to electric piano on the verses and sometimes organ on the swells of the choruses, the bassist holding down the fat riddim along with the excellent drummer, who kept it simple and smart while the guitarist would throw in the occasional dub flourish. The cautionary tale Shine Eyed Girl, General Penitentiary with its catchy bass pulse, the watch-your-back anthem Plastic Smile, the bouncy What Is Life with its vibrant harmonies and even the anti-choice number Abortion got the crowd waving their hands and swaying. Then Rose snarled, “Get up, motherfuckers,” and launched into the “new segment,” as he put it, and suddenly we were back in 2010 again. As cheesy as the synthesizer lines were, at least his dancehall stuff is conscious. The first of these was the best, Run From Police, which as Rose explained had topped the reggae charts all over Europe (28 weeks in the UK, he said): “When you gonna make it number one in New York, motherfuckers?” he wanted to know. He big-upped Super Cat and Shabba Ranks, did a relatively rapidfire sufferah’s number, the bitter, synthy ballad Feeling So Lonely (“for the ladies”) and then it was back to the oing-boing-boing toasting and the classics. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner segued into Happiness and then into a new dancehall song, followed by Party in Session, Ganja Bonanza (one of his solo hits, a pleasant surprise), a little Sinsemilla again and finally closed over an hour and a half’s worth of music with the politically charged pop-reggae smash Solidarity. Rose’s voice has deepened and taken on a rasp in the decades since Black Uhuru ruled the charts, but he still rose to the level of the topnotch group behind him, pretty impressive considering how many thousand times he’s sung this material.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment