New music from the Caribbean

A roundup of new tunes in the Caribbean

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PICK OF THE MONTH

Lifeline

Suzanne Couch (Cane Juice Music)

This polished adult contemporary release by Jamaican singer/pianist Suzanne Couch may come as a surprise to those whose vision of the Yard accommodates only reggae in its various forms. Couch is a quite accomplished balladeer whose material could hold its own next to a Gloria Estefan or Dionne Warwick. For this outing, she’s assembled a tremendous team, most notably the prolific US arranger/producer Rob Mounsey, who’s worked with everybody who’s anybody in American pop and who slathers on the strings and horns and lavish orchestral touches required of any self-respecting adult contemporary/easy listening release. Couch has a crisp, throaty delivery which recalls by turns Warwick, Estefan, Roberta Flack and Crystal Gayle. It’s not a terribly powerful voice, but her phrasing is bang-on and she uses her vocal assets very effectively on straight-up romantic ballads like Lifeline and Put Me Together Again¸ and the reggae-tinged How Sweet The Night. She’s less assured on jazzier numbers like The Rainbow Never Ends (and I’m not sure that rap by spoken word poet Reg E Gaines quite works either). The one aspect of the album not to be faulted, however, is the songs: 12 indestructible pop numbers sprinkled here and there with feather-light touches of reggae and island style, penned for the most part by Couch and writing partner Brian Jobson. For purchasing info visit www.suzannecouch.com. (GP)

 

SOCA etc

Substance Will Survive

Lady B (Electro Sounds Digital Publishers)

When Lady B (Beulah Bobb) passed away late last year, a huge shockwave went through the calypso community. Bobb was best known as a member of United Sisters, whose  Whoa, Donkey (written by Bobb) came within a hair’s breadth of taking the 1993 Road March crown. But Lady B was also a dedicated, long-time calypsonian whose carefully crafted topical songs were good enough to please even the impatient crowds at the San Fernando semis. This excellent CD includes a number of Bobb’s articulate, sharp-edged satires, such as Dollar Waste where she pokes fun at an expensive ring bang concert in Trinidad’s Savannah. “This is not a dollar wine,” she sings, “it’s a dollar waste! Gi’ we waste, waste, waste,” punning on both Colin Lucas’s hit Dollar Wine and “waste” versus “waist.” As with most kaiso, these tunes require close listening and some knowledge of recent Trinidadian events, but they are worth the trouble. Produced by Lady B herself, Substance sports neither a record company name nor a release number. Ask for it at Crosby’s, J&W, Straker’s, or your favorite Caribbean record store — and hope for the best. (MG)

 

Let Us Rejoice 

Brother Resistance (Rituals C08401)

Brother Resistance founded the rapso movement well over ten years ago, and his unique combination of African-sounding arrangements and political poetry is one of the most powerful currents on the contemporary calypso scene. His first CD collection, called simply Resistance, came out in 1996. Since then he’s made frequent appearances on various Carnival compilations, which have included some of his most inspiring songs — for example, Homegrown Violence, a daring remix of Attila the Hun’s misogynistic 1945 calypso, Treat Em Rough, with Resistance providing overdubbed rapso commentary. Now, at last, Rituals has packaged the best of these tunes with a handful of brand new performances for Let Us Rejoice — and yes, it is cause for rejoicing! In addition to Homegrown Violence, the set ranges from upbeat dance tunes like Bring Yuh Love and Rejoice to serious songs like Ring De Bell (Y2K), Can I Get a Witness (a chilling account of the Middle Passage), and the powerhouse protest of Advantage. Rejoice! (MG)

 

Champions

Square One (Carib Disc International SO(2001)001)

Square One just keeps on pumping. And with the number of albums they have under their belts, one might expect this 20-track CD to be a rehash of the old tricks. Yet  the group has mustered enough creativity and variety to make this album interesting. Put It Up and Take Me Home (Soweto) are pleasing departures from Square One’s usual approach, with absorbing rhythms and frontwoman Allison Hinds employing a different singing style. Fishing Rod offers some South African-style guitar along with nice harmonies, while Saltfish Water adds a French Caribbean flavour. Take Me Home (Middle Passage) is further proof of the band’s desire to transcend its soca-band typecasting. In all, this latest Square One effort will satisfy the group’s large fan base while allowing them to test new musical waters. Most of the tracks were written by band members Cecil Riley, Anderson Armstrong and Terry Arthur, with Peter Wiggins, Ian Wiltshire and Stedson Wiltshire (Red Plastic Bag) making contributions as well. Guest artists include chanter Peter Ram, guitarist Ian Alleyne, keyboardist Nicholas Branker, and sax man Arturo Tappin. (RK)

 

REGGAE

Halfway Tree

Damian Marley (Motown Records,440 014742-2)

On this sophomore foll)ow-up to 1996’s Mr Marley, Junior Gong attempts to broaden his international fan base, as well as showcase his versatility. He succeeds at combining elements of dancehall and reggae with hip-hop instrumentation on such songs as It Was Written and Stand A Chance. However, a large portion of the album sees the results of this musical experimentation go from strange to simply mediocre, the Swizz Beats-produced Halfway Tree being the most glaring misfire among several similarly forgettable tracks. Unsurprisingly, the young Mr Marley achieves much greater results when sticking to a more familiar hardcore reggae sound, most notably on Catch A Fire, and the lead single More Justice. Except for three somewhat vital appearances by Yami Bolo, the artists featured — who include Ruff Ryderz’s Eve & Drag-on and Mr Cheeks of the Lost Boyz — do little to affect the album’s overall rating. Still, although we aren’t presented with any truly groundbreaking material, there’s an undeniable superstar quality about Damian Marley. (MT)

 

Modern Roots

David Kirton (Bird’s Eye Music DK003)

Barbadian David Kirton ventures yet again to Jamaica and the studio of producer Mikey Bennett for Modern Roots, his second release. Kirton and Bennett have recorded a selection of songs —  mainly during live jams — with fine lineup of Jamaican musicians, including Third World’s Stephen “Cat” Coore. The clear-voiced Kirton renders serious lover’s reggae like Woman So Special and With Your Love, and catchy airs like To Know Jah and Slow Down, in his own dreamy, joyous style, capping the work with the powerfully rocking Music Maker. Of the ten tracks, eight were composed or co-authored by Kirton. (RK)

 

JAZZ

Caribbean Jazz Colours

Various Artists (CRS Music Ltd, C-0069)

This ambitious, crackling album of ten live tracks and two bonus studio numbers features some of the Caribbean’s hardest working jazzmen. Barbadians Arturo Tappin (saxophone), Ricky Brathwaite (horns), Ronald Lashley (flute), and Jamaican and Trinidadian guitarists Maurice Gordon and Michael Boothman came together one starry night in rural Barbados some years ago — this new release is the result. In near-studio quality, influences of reggae, blues, ska and Latin intermingle with a range of jazz styles, from standard and straight-ahead to bebop and contemporary. Soothing tracks like Maurice Gordon’s Natural Mystic faintly recall the great Wes Montgomery. Dem Two, a studio track from St Lucian Luther François, percolates with delight. The other studio number, by St  Lucian Daniel Louis, makes Caribbean Colours a near-complete Caribbean jazz presentation. (RK)

 

LATIN

The Rough Guide to Merengue and Bachata 

Various Artists (World Music Network, RGNET1039 CD)

For this CD you’ll need turbo-swinging hips, fleet feet and a large handkerchief. Hips and feet for the merengue, the Caribbean’s fastest dance music, and a hanky to sit down and weep into while you listen to bachata’s songs of bitterness and broken hearts. Both genres come from the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s Hispaniolan neighbour; but while merengue, which emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, went on to challenge salsa as the world’s favourite Latin dance beat in the 1980s, the equally intoxicating bachata remains little known outside the DR. This is a good introduction to the many styles of merengue, from traditional perico ripiao played on accordion, drum and metal scraper, to tipico bands which add sax and percussion, large dance bands with full brass, and contemporary versions influenced by rap and hip hop. In between practising your two steps with your beloved, take time out for the tumbling guitar-led, Afro-percussive bachata, originally inspired by bolero. That way you get to dance and cry all in one go. (SL)

 

ROCK

Port of Spain Style

jointpop

jointpop’s new release, Port of Spain Style, reflects the richness of Trinidad’s small indigenous rock music scene. Lead singer and songwriter, Gary Hector, grew up on Shadow, Sparrow, U2 and the Rolling Stones in roughly equal parts, and you can hear it: this is rock music that could only have come from Trinidad. Damon Homer’s guitar strum is rooted in soca. The rhythm section of Graham Granger and Gerard Rajkumar wouldn’t be out of place on the rhythm rack of a steel orchestra. It’s impossible to hear the opening bars of the title track and not think of Carnival Tuesday. After 1/2 Past Nine was released as a single, but all the songs are great. Bashment to Halloween ought to be studied as part of the UWI’s sociology curriculum. On the original CD sleeve, to avoid recognition when jointpop toured New York, Hector assumed the name of Mick Richardson; it fits. (BP)

 

Dead Fairies

Incert Coin 

Incert Coin is one of those Trinidad-ian heavy rock bands whose music might just as easily have been recorded in Los Angeles. There is no hint of calypso, reggae or soca here — instead, there’s the imprint of Metallica, Tool and Iron Maiden. The album is well made and the music far better than many American progressive heavy metal acts. Dead Fairies follows the new fashion set by bands like Sum 41 of way-short CDs. But, apart from the title track and one other ballad (Waiting in the Rain), the album represents a half-hour of brutal power no travelling headbanger seeking a souvenir or pining for his hometown mosh pit should be without. (BP)

 

Reviews by: Michael Goodwin, Roxan Kinas, Simon Lee, BC Pires, Georgia Popplewell, Matthew Tam.

Music editor: Georgia Popplewell