Caribbean Playlist (May/June 2014)

New releases to get your fingers snapping — or your head banging

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Penthouse Records 25 Years: The Journey Continues
Various artists

For a quarter-century, Jamaican producer extraordinaire Donovan Germain and his label Penthouse productions have been cranking out hit after hit. This forty-seven–song, two-CD/DVD collection features a veritable who’s who of Jamaican legends — Beres Hammond, Buju Banton, Cutty Ranks and Capleton — along with talented newcomers like Major, Dalton Harris and Shuga. The songs range from lover’s rock to dancehall, and are smooth with great melody. There’s even some dancehall mixed with gospel in “Chaka On the Move”, by Chaka Demus.

Standing out in the mix is a saxophone version of Buju Banton’s hit “Untold Stories”. A remix of “Everything I Got” and the catchy “My Favourite Song”, sung by the legend himself, Garnett Silk — both previously unreleased — also feature.

The 105-minute bonus DVD, hosted by Germain, is a capsule into the history of the Penthouse label and studio, containing interviews with original Penthouse artists such as Richie Stephens and Wayne Wonder. After listening to this must-have compilation and watching the DVD, I can only hope for another twenty-five years of Penthouse records.

 

Casa De Trova: Cuba 50’s
Alejandro Almenares

Almenares is considered one of the greatest musical poets alive in Cuba. Though he’s a veteran bandleader, Casa De Trova is his first recorded release. On disc one of this double album are songs Almenares wrote with his father, while the other contains instrumental versions of some of the same tracks. This has to be an album close to the seventy-six-year-old Almenares’s heart, since he names it after the legendary club was founded by his father, House of Troubadors. Both discs contain intimate instrumentation and some very romantic melodies steeped in Cuban tradition. That’s not to say that the album sounds old-fashioned — Almenares’s skill as a guitarist has not been diminished by his age, and his arrangements are extremely artful. He has also brought singers onto the album to entice a larger audience. Casa De Trova is a splendid album to put on, kick back, and let the music take you away.

 

The Active Ingredient
Standing Penance

Internationally, Caribbean music is known for the likes of reggae great Bob Marley, R&B crooner Billy Ocean, and pop sensations Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Trying to break into the international hard rock market is a band hailing from Barbados, Standing Penance. This quartet — Tearhead (vocals and guitar), Hanji (lead guitarist), Lexx (drummer), and Valkyrie (bass) — possess a sound that will make hard rock fans stand their ground and listen, all the while banging their heads, of course. The Active Ingredient is their second album, released by label Steel Entertainment & Records. This ten-track powerhouse does not let the listener down for a second. The title track kicks it off with an infectious sound that stayed in my head for days, and from there the music just gets harder, including standouts “Hypocrites & Parasites” and “Y U Make Me Bleed”. Musically, all the members of the band shine: Hanji is an excellent guitarist, Tearhead can scream with the best when needed, and Lexx tears up the drums along with young Valkyrie, who converted to bass when asked to join the group. If you like your music hard and unflinching, this album is for you. The Active Ingredient is available at www.standingpenance.com and www.cdbaby.com/standingpenance1.

 

Single Spotlight

A Million Days (Missing You)
Raskal

When he was just twelve years old, Diego Smith (aka Raskal) wanted to become a hip-hop artist. Trying to break into that market in Trinidad is almost impossible, so it’s understandable that he switched to the more accessible genre of dancehall. Years later, in 2009, he got his first break in his homeland with the hit single “I Promise”. Now he’s set for worldwide attention with “A Million Days (Missing You)”. Produced by the team of David Millien and Jabulani, and written by Raskal, this is a smooth reggae number with an R&B feel that shows the singer at his best. My only criticism is the overuse of auto tune. Raskal has a great voice, and I hope he uses it more on his upcoming album release The Rebirth.