Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Eek-Ology – The Mouse Stands Tall

By the time Ripton Joseph Hylton strode out on stage at Reggae Sunsplash in 1982 he hadn't even released his breakout Assassinator album yet. That wouldn't come for almost a year later. What Hylton – better known as improvisational yodeling singer* Eek-A-Mouse – had done was cause a stir in reggae circles, second only perhaps, to the dancehall frenzy surrounding albino DJ Yellowman

Like Yellowman, Michigan & Smiley, Josey Wales, and others, Eek-A-Mouse brought a radical vocal and lyrical originality to reggae music at a time when it needed something fresh amidst the shocking grief following Bob Marley's death in May of 1981. That same year, following a number of singles on producer Henry "Junjo" Lawes Volcano label, Mouse dropped Wa Do Dem, an album as rich, humorous and thorough as they come in reggae. Songs like "Ganja Smuggling" and "Operation Eradication" addressed Jamaica's social and political climate, title track covered his romantic side, and "Noah's Ark" anotated Biblical history. It was a transitional album, one that pre-dated dancehall's slackness era, and it reflected Mouse's narrative versatility. 

But by the time Skidip! was released in 1982, Mouse had discarded both politics and the Bible in favor of carnal commodities ("Looking Sexy, "Modeling Queen,""Fat and Slim"). Perhaps it was a reaction to the disastrous political warfare during the 1980 general elections, or perhaps Eek-A-Mouse, like his slacker brethren Yellowman, just wanted a piece of the action. It proved a short-lived mode, as 1983's phenomenal Assassinator proved the Mouse's most forthright and revealing album, dealing out meditations on inner city violence, ghetto conditions and the developing drug posse wars. 

What was the difference between Mouse and other Jamaican DJs at the time who covered the same topics? Well, simply stature and delivery. Mouse would often jokingly refer to his "6-foot-6" height, contrasting it to the diminutive damsels he would date. Then there was Eek-A-Mouse's one-of-a-kind squeaky, falsetto scat-yodeling. The first time you hear him utter an "Een-a-moy-na-moy," or "biddie-biddie-bong-bong-bong-biddie-ben," or any of his other trademark improvisations, the listener can't help but smile and concentrate harder on what the Mouse was talking about. 

There's plenty of these unique moments captured on VP Records' new 2-CD + DVD set Eek-Ology. Featuring 34 tracks, including three never-before-available songs and many never released on CD, the anthology covers the Mouse's vast repertoire. There's Joe Gibbs ("Once A Virgin") and Linval Thompson (Modelling Bevahior") produced tracks, extended 12" mixes and Peel Session outtakes. No stone (or is that slice of cheese?) is left unturned. Paired with excellent liner notes by Harry Wise and DVD footage from Reggae Sunsplash 1982, there is listening, learning and watching to be done. 

The triumph of this collection, however, is that Eek-A-Mouse is never portrayed as a gimmick. And his serious songs such as "Fallen Heroes," "Neutron Bomb," "For Hire and Removal,""Do You Remember" and others reveal a reflective observer of the Jamaican landscape. Mouse never sugarcoated his commentaries either. Sure, he flavored his rhetoric with eccentric shrieks, squeals. yowls and yelps, but that only added to their exotic charm. Eek-Ology delivers everything we know and love about Eek-A-Mouse's music along with plenty we didn't know and need to hear again to truly appreciate.

*Eek-A-Mouse always refers to himself as a singer, although he's largely been lumped with dancehall's toasters and emcees.

Eek-A-Mouse - Eek-Ology: Reggae Anthology Track Listing:

01. Virgin Girl ^
02. Once A Virgin ^
03. Een A Moy ^
04. Creation *
05. My Father's Land *
06. No Wicked Can’t Reign *
07. Noah s Ark
08. Wa-Do-Dem
09. Tell Them
10. Falling Heroes
11. Ganja Smuggling
12. Operation Eradication (12  mix)
13. Georgie Porgie
14. Do You Remember (12 mix)
15. For Hire And Removal (12  mix)
16. Christmas-a-Come

01. Sensee Party
02. Some A Holla, Some A Bawl
03. Neutron Bomb
04. Anarexol (12 mix)
05. Modelling Queen
06. Stadium Hot
07. Terrorist in the City
08. Wa-Do-Dem (BBC John Peel session) ^
09. Hitler (BBC John Peel session) ^
10. Assassinator (BBC John Peel session) ^
11. For Hire And Removal (BBC John Peel session) ^
12. Star, Daily News & Gleaner
13. Wild Like a Tiger
14. Taller Than King Kong
15. Rude Boys A Foreign
16. Tek Wey
17. Let There Be Night

* First time available
^ First time available on CD

DVD 'Live at Reggae Sunsplash 1982

1. Ganja Smuggling
2. For Hire And Removal
3. Neutron Bomb
4. Assassinator

5. Wa-Do-Dem