Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reviews In View

A few recent reviews for SFBG:

Waterhouse Redemption (Greensleeves)

Miguel “Sizzla Kalonji” Collins always walks a righteous tightrope, with Babylonian vanities lurking in the abyss below. He belongs to the strict, head-wrapping and so-called “priestly” sect of Bobo Ashanti Rastafarians, yet his current number one song in Jamaica (“Haffi Get It”) contains the colorful chorus “haffi get the pussy but mi nah rape.” Collins was the object of recent concert boycotts due to his often homophobic lyrics, but he's also capable of penning soaring, universal odes about the plight of the poor, urging humans to live in peace and unity. Fans have learned that any new Sizzla album can be either a frustrating bag of mixed messages, or a thoroughly sublime session.

Thanks in part to the contributions of producer Lloyd “King Jammy” James, Waterhouse Redemption is Sizzla at his most conscious. Another bonus for reggae’s faithful: the majority Redemption’s 15 tracks are built on vintage Jammy riddims (signature backing tracks used by multiple artists) including Sleng Teng, Tonight, Mr. Landlord and Ba Ba Boom. Unlike his rough and gruff dancehall singles, Collins sounds especially poignant on these traditional reggae arrangements; his alternating falsetto/tenor signjay (a mix of sung and emcee’d lyrics) vocals are artfully balanced with positive messages.

“One Love” rides the Jammy-produced version of Black Uhuru’s “I Love King Selassie” and Collins insightfully chants “Be careful of what you say and what you do, love and respect make all things new.” Later, Collins is calling for the youth to “Stay Above” on a guitar-inflected, R&B-ish ballad track. With music this good, I hope Sizzla takes his own virtuous advice.
Vieux Farka Touré (World Village)

In Mali, West Africa, the Sahara blues sound traveled from the dusty farmlands of small villages like Niafunké all the way to Hollywood’s Grammy celebrations. Niafunké’s Ali Farka Touré had been the ambassador of Sahara blues for 15 years before succumbing to bone cancer in 2006. His albums The River, The Source and Grammy-winning Talking Timbukutu with Ry Cooder drew comparisons to American blues greats like John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins, mostly due to Touré’s stout voice and minimal arrangements. But he was a virtuoso of Malian music who wove traditional instruments such as kora and calabash into his folk-wisdom-infused compositions.

To the surprise of many, Touré’s son had been secretly practicing guitar against his father’s wishes (Ali didn’t want him to suffer a poor musician’s lot). Now Vieux Farka Touré steps out and reverently pays homage to his father’s legacy while adding his own worldly influences. A family friend and master musician in his own right, the kora genius Toumani Diabaté (featured on two tracks) lent the younger Touré professional guidance, but Vieux proves on songs like “Dounia” and the reggae-tinged “Ana” that his fathers genes were all he needed.

That father–son bond is captured on “Tabara” and “Diallo,” two somber numbers recorded together shortly before the elder’s death. There’s definitely a palpable inhale and exhale taking place on the album, as the younger Touré straddles traditional languages and arrangements (“Diabaté”) with superbly modern grooves (“Courage ”). A dance remix collection Vieux Touré’s album, including selections from an online contest for aspiring producers is set for imminent release – surely evidence that this son of a great will again help Sahara blues travel forward.
From The Shadows (Tectonic)

Call it dubstep noir, dark dub or melancholy minimal electronica: however you spin it, Croydon, UK-based producer Cyrus explores bass music’s gloomier side. His suspenseful, angst-ridden album From The Shadows joins only a handful of full-lengths in the burgeoning London-borne dubstep genre (a new strain of Jamaican dub-influenced breakbeat that mostly emphasizes the half-time signature of 140 b.p.m. rhythms). Recently, British underground purveyors like Skream, Kode 9 and Digital Mystikz have creeped into international prominence and embossed the genre with their own unique influences: UK garage, techno, and South Asian vocals.

Rather than align with the music’s reggae oriented strains, Cyrus has chosen darkness. His music does for dubstep what producers Optical or Photek did for drum & bass, i.e. explore their synth’s farthest sci-fi reaches. Murky, atonal atmospheres, guttural whomph-whomph sub-bass, and cacti-needle sharp keyboard notes populate the album’s 12 tracks.

“Crying Game” references the controversial 1992 movie’s uneasiness and restrained dread via nocturnal sonic drifts and inchworming bass notes. “Mind Games,” “Dirt” and “The Watcher” proceed with similar illbient/isolationist inclinations. “Rasta From” is the album’s only misstep, where a stock Bob Marley documentary clip is sucked into a meaningless stew of dull drums and abstract loops. From The Shadows is mainly for initiated listeners familiar with London pirate radio Rinse FM’s offerings and dubstep’s inherently cerebral pulse. For everyone else, Cyrus invites you to take a walk on the dark side of the street.