Caribbean Playlist (March/April 2013)

Recent music releases to get your fingers tapping

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Hope, by Sheldon Blackman and the Soul Rebels (Urban Sound Studios)

Since his migration to Norway in 2008, Sheldon Blackman has been back and forth between his adopted country and his home in Trinidad, doing live performances — but Hope is his first album with the Soul Rebels. And even though the fourteen-piece band has only two Trini members, Caribbean music firmly roots this album, from the classic calypso vibe in “Steelband Oi” to the sweetly smooth reggae style of “Miss You Today”, with a strong pan line throughout. 

Blackman’s father Ras Shorty I was the father of soca and jamoo — “Jah’s music” — a soca-chutney-gospel fusion. And his son, though not as evangelical as his father or younger brother Isaac, is equally gifted at fusing musical genres, as well as transforming them. “Lonely” is hauntingly beautiful smooth jazz that compliments Blackman’s robust vocals, while “Stop the War” has a doowop melody with a soca swing you’d never have heard in the 1950s.

Blackman saves his most intricate work for last: “The Most Beautiful One” is a powerful number that evokes images of smoky jazz cafés, and features Amina Sewali and Blackman on one of the most sensuous duet chorus lines you’ll ever dance to. And the title track brings us full circle to a place of peace — and hope: “Oh my soul, why art thou so weary / Oh my spirit, why art thou so heavy / Hope is yours.”

 

One Love, One Life, by Beres Hammond (VP Records)

The four singles on Beres Hammond’s recent release One Love, One Life will give fans of the lover’s rock veteran a nice hit to inoculate them until we hear more from him. The title track is an empowerment anthem of sorts, exposing the inevitable hater crowd: “I ain’t singing for fame / One love, one life, give thanks I’m living.” “You Stand” has a feel-good reggae gospel vibe and a message of integrity.

“In My Arms” is classic Beres, designed to rockaway. And in “No Candlelight”, the singer delivers a stinging breakup song that is sure to make top ten lists on the radio: “Ain’t go light no candle anymore / Ain’t go wake for you anymore / Ain’t go waste my time sitting there / Worrying ’bout when you’ll appear.”

 

All Gold Everything, by Trinidad Jame$ (Gold Gang Records)

Nicholas Williams, a.k.a. Trinidad Jame$, may be many things, but he certainly isn’t a liar. In his video single “All Gold Everything” (from his debut mix tape Don’t Be S.A.F.E. — I’m afraid to google the acronym), he does sport all gold, on everything. It shows up on his fingers, neck, teeth, shades, bicycle, and even his shoes. But all that bling may be premature. 

Although Def Jam Records signed Jame$ after his self-produced mix tape went viral, execs will have some work to do. Not only is “All Gold Everything” bereft of lyrical appeal, but the lack of good editing and direction in his video makes him look . . . well, cheap. Guns, gold, and the posse are all well and good, but the rapper does not have Ludacris’s swagger nor 50 Cent’s imposing look, so he comes across as a member of the crew, instead of head honcho. 

Jame$’s rapping style — I use the term loosely — also lacks any unique flow; he’s just talking along to the beat. And despite the nod to his place of birth in his moniker, and liberal use of T&T flag memorabilia during the video, it remains to be seen if the people of Trinidad and Tobago will claim him as enthusiastically as he has claimed them.

 

Best of Panazz: 20th Anniversary CD and DVD set

If you’re looking for a pan album this year, this should definitely be on your list of pickings. As a small band ensemble, Panazz are experts not just at playing pan, sweet pan, but at coaxing subtlety and nuance from songs as diverse as Nat King Cole’s “Making Whopee”, Brazilian choro piece “Tico Tico”, and the Gypsy Kings’ “Medley”. The compilation features favourites like “Pan of the 21st Century”, “Pull the Bull”, “Wave”, and “Portrait of Trinidad and Tobago”. The DVD side of the album is not as crisply HD as one would like, but the audio is good, and the clips of the players’ intricate skill and interviews with band members are entertaining. My favourite track is number three: “Ole Lady Walk A Mile”. Especially with talented guest artists like Arturo Tappin on saxophone, calypso always sounds sweeter in pan.