I'd hate to sound like an old man, even though I am but - In this day and age where it seems as if artist after artist and producer after producer tries to outdo one another by dropping the craziest lyrics or the craziest riddim - Isn’t it just so refreshing when something beautiful, but SIMPLE comes along? It’s almost become the signal of the changing of the times when going above and beyond and doing the extraordinary becomes more of the norm than the actual norm - And I’m not talking about a long span of time here, we can go back to . . . Maybe just eights years or so ago and see how different the approach, regularly, seemed to be. But that’s not to say that everyone has gone that route, because thankfully, the is a rather small, but very strong, group of artists who do still seem to apply to concept of keeping things simple when making music. The first of these who comes to mind is the constantly underappreciated Junior Kelly. In the company of artists such as Sizzla and Capleton and Jah Mason (who probably can’t even see ‘normal’ in his musical rearview mirror), Kelly has maintained this sort of SWEET and prevalent (for him) style of just making GOOD music. You can go all the way back to the ‘Love So Nice’ days and register them, for the most part, quite similar to the days of the ”Red Pond” album and while the sounds and the vibes will certainly be different, what won’t be different is the approach of just making nice music, first and foremost. Interestingly, another name which comes to mind is one of Junior Kelly’s most recent sparring partners, Queen Ifrica. Again, when you look at some of her peers, such as the fantastic Tarrus Riley, Etana and definitely Jah Cure (who is so far out there that he probably can’t even spell the word ‘simple’), Ifrica’s style, although clearly colourful, is one which obviously didn’t take a lot of cultivation. Although she has progressed in her skills, and continues to do so, Ifrica is simply going to write a song and sing it - That’s what she does. Rare is it that she seems to favour going in all of these different routes musically and trying to flip and combine styles and genres. She is what she is and that is, at least partially in my opinion, a significant portion of her appeal and why her songs seem to check in on levels and spaces that even those of some of her more popular, and even more talented in some cases, cannot reach. And of course there’s Lutan Fyah whose ever-presence, to my mind, is the greatest testament to his simple style. He remains one of the most active and productive Roots Reggae artists on the scene despite lacking the flare of fellow artists such as Perfect, Fantan Mojah and the aforementioned Jah Mason. Still, while I could go on to mention names like Bushman and Anthony B (up until the last couple of years),
if you want SIMPLE, but MIGHTY Reggae music, it is most likely found in the wonderful class of elders we’re so lucky to still have around recording and performing, such as Ras Midas.
Ras Midas’ name belongs to this group of artists who aren’t necessarily ANCIENT and aren’t exactly the biggest of names, but have risen through the years and have attained a very strong following and continue to be active. Others would be people like Don Carlos, The Twinkle Brothers, Pablo Moses and Clinton Fearon (and wouldn’t it be so LOVELY if I could add the great Peter Broggs to this list as well), who can be found touring some corner of the world on a monthly basis and still thrilling fans around the world with fantastic and CURRENT music (incidentally, Carlos, Moses and Fearon have released albums within the last year or so and, of course, The Twinkle Bros. release new albums every forty-five minutes). Thankfully, they remain in great demand in places like Europe and California in the States to the point where they can make good livings and continue to remain relevant and continue to have audiences who want to hear their classics as well and, ultimately (for my interests) release albums full of new works. Ras Midas, in particular, like a few of the artists that I’ve mentioned is the type of artist who I really wish that I knew more about. He apparently spent quite a bit of his time coming up in England, but for the most part (at least to my knowledge) his musical developmental years were largely spent in Jamaica, but for some reason or another he always seemed to be kind of ’off radar’ for my tastes. He is, however, giving me another shot to get things right in 2010 as he releases what I believe to be his first studio album in a few years, since 2006’s ”Reaching Out”, which was a decent, but fairly unspectacular album (and not the most consistent of efforts either in my opinion) from the Clarendon born (yes, another one) Midas, ”Fire Up”. I believe the album was completely recorded and produced in California, for Midas’ own JML imprint, as is most, if not all, of his for quite some time now. Clearly, this is a better album than the album that was ”Reaching Out”. The high points are a bit higher and the median quality level of the songs is noticeably higher as well (meaning the consistency is back) and that is the highlight of the album, as you might imagine, from someone who I’ve just detailed as being a very straight forward artist. I’ve really enjoyed the fact that I’ve seen this one getting a lot of mentions in the online community and apparently it’s doing quite well and amongst Ras Midas’ fans the response has been very supportive. Also, unsurprisingly, it seems as if ”Fire Up” has led Ras Midas out on tour yet again and has seemingly renewed and reinvigorated his interest in making the music (not that it ever waned) and that’s reflected in what happens here because the album turns out to be one which is absolutely befitting someone of Ras Midas’ experience with now nearly FORTY years in the business of making Reggae Music.
That is exactly what ”Fire Up” is - It is REGGAE MUSIC. There are no complicated mixes of styles and there isn’t much in the way of ‘loose’ moments, it is very straight forward and simple Reggae music. What should also be said, initially, is that just looking at the track lengths of the tunes, what you might notice is that, despite the fact that the album checks in at a somewhat (but too) low twelve tracks, there is only one of these songs which is less than five and a half minutes long, so you’re definitely going to get a very HEALTHY twelve dosages of Ras Midas’ brand new album, ”Fire Up”. The first prescription is also one of the most potent as Ras Midas tells us about the ‘Rasta Revolution’. Checking in at the longest song on the album at just shy of eight minutes long, the tune almost seems like two in one with Midas delivering both on the Morant Bay Rebellion and Bloody Sunday. Of course the most interesting portion of the tune is that he applies ‘himself’ to both situations by calling them Rastafarian causes but the connection, almost certainly, lies within the purpose and Midas’ perception of the purpose of Rastafari and His Imperial Majesty. To my overactive brain, it is genius and I’ve had so much fun from ever sense I got to really start vibing the tune dealing with the various directions in which it could be taken (not to mention the fact that its length helps it so much by providing a ‘mood’ for the tune). What a very nice start! Charged with and succeeding in keeping the vibes of ”Fire Up” nice and high is the next tune in, ‘Dread Feelings’. Ras Midas, vocally, is never going to be confused with Robert Nesta Marley, but the way this tune is written, I swear it could have come from Marley’s vault and no one would think it out of place at all. Certainly that should tell you about its qualities, but to just reinforce the point - Like I said ‘keep it simple’ - You don’t get more SIMPLE or more BEAUTIFUL (TEARS!) than this song. The title track runs next and, as always, you’re definitely going to be interested in exactly what the title song of any given album is about because it says so much, potentially, about the rest of the album as well. In this case, Ras Midas uses the refrain ‘fire up’ as in “fire up Jah loving”, to burn away the ills of the world. This is just a cool song, very relaxed and very matter of fact, Excellent start.
In my opinion, the title track sets very well the stage for the best tune on ”Fire Up”, ’Nuclear Graveyard’, which comes in just a couple of songs after. You want to talk about COOL? Ras Midas approaches the tune with all the intensity of a midday’s nap, but what he’s saying is quite potent as he jumps in with a SCATHING social commentary of what he feels the world is becoming. What REALLY caught my ear is just how subtly MIGHTY this song is, a quality, I might add, which is so prevalent when you deal with a very straight forward and simple method of music making. In the very later stages of the song, Ras Midas just begins to speak and leaves with me the single-most meaningful moment on the album when he says very plainly:
There’ll be no flesh left in babylon
It will be dry bones. Dry bones”
The man says this with SO MUCH quiet-confidence that should any of my wonderful readers get a chance to speak with Ras Midas, I’m going to need you to ask this man for a day as to when this will happen, because when he says “SOON!”, you KNOW he’s already seen it. HUGE tune!
Much like on that wonderful tune and most before it, through the album, Ras Midas seems to maintain this very comfortable mix of spirituality and social situations which is exactly what you’d expect him to do. He may, in fact, do this TOO well as, as you get further and further into ”Fire Up”, you certainly well get the idea that this one isn’t AT ALL going to appeal to many beyond the hardest of Reggae heads - Thankfully, you and I are such people so we won’t be complaining much, will we? ‘Rain & Fire’ begins a stretch of three somewhat similarly vibed tunes, which are also somewhat similar in quality as well. While a little less melodically gifted than several of the other selections here, this song makes up for it in its overall sound (it sounds very BIG) and Midas’ rather epic lyrical approach. And because something tugged my mind in this direction, I will jump ahead to the tune ‘400 Years’ (which you, just like I was, are already thinking is a remake of the Peter Tosh song, but it isn’t), which metaphorically speaks to the suffering of Afrikan sons and daughters and it is GORGEOUS! I mean, I’m easy to cry on a big tune, but this one had my eyes tearing with my head bowed because, it is just so powerful and it contains some lyrical similarities to the aforementioned ‘Rain & Fire’. I digress - The next tune in the strong stretch of three is ‘No Bread’ (and its frustratingly familiar sounding riddim), a very nice sufferer’s anthem. That song precedes the EXTREMELY interesting and similar ‘Hole In The Bucket’, on which Ras Midas takes the old saying and provides with such a sweet and befitting tune in its name. I drive these songs together, obviously, because I think that they’re actually two parts of an idea of expressing just how hard things are for many people.
“Hey Mr. Big stuff, it’s you I’m talking to
You give my brothers a six for a nine
Then you drunk them with the bad wine
Babylon, you drunk them with the bad wine”
What he’s saying, simply, is that something is WRONG! And that’s definitely the prevailing sentiment that comes these three (now four) powerful tunes.
You’ll find somewhat of a similar ideology behind ‘Trouble Town’, but this tune reaches more in the direction of violence in Jamaica and across the world and is speaking directly to those individuals still pursuing and thinking of pursuing that type of negative lifestyle. That is in stark contrast to the very ‘full’ sounding ‘Good Old Days’, which simply sets itself up as a call for the great days gone by. For me, this is the perfect cap for ”Fire Up” as what Midas has done is to paint a somewhat bleak picture on a few of the other tunes, but this one seems to give the direct alternative. I should also mention the nature of the vibes of this song because they’re very interesting. It’s not the type of ‘rah rah’ and ‘cheery’ song you might expect, it’s pretty near melancholy actually, but in that type of sound, you really get the idea that Ras Midas MISSES the days gone by (and his family and his old friends as well). By its end, it proves to be one of the best tunes on the album.
And lastly, I’ll mention the two changeups here. One is a love song, ‘Come Back Darling’ which is pretty near exceptional actually. Its riddim MIGHT just be the finest composition on the whole of the album, so even if you find it not your type of song (and you might not), you should definitely be able to appreciate its musical quality. Finally, there’s ‘Lean On Jah’ which is a remake of the classic song ‘Lean On Me’. This one, I don’t particularly like and I didn’t expect that I would after I figured out in what direction it was going. Ultimately, however, it is pretty much harmless and doesn’t, at all, detract from the album’s total quality.
Overall, I do want to make the mention of two things. First of all, in terms of writing - Ras Midas is in a fine form throughout “Fire Up” and I know that I built this review on the notion of being SIMPLE and while I am sticking to that (obviously, you’re reading it, aren’t you?), what I will say is that the man definitely uses quite a few very intelligent metaphors in his lyrics on the album, so while simple still, do pay attention. And secondly, something that I alluded to - The album SOUNDS superb. Reportedly Ras Midas recorded it with his own band and perhaps the chemistry between musicians and artists is what really makes the sonic appeal really high for this one (again, that is, if you really like Reggae music). Aside from that, it’s just what I said, “Fire Up” is a very good Reggae album. Nothing else. It doesn’t break new ground and I’m not even sure that Ras Midas was going for that, but what it does do is to reinforce just the notion of making good music. I’ll listen to and write about big names until I lose the sensation in my fingers from typing and go blind from the computer screen, but good music is something that will ALWAYS grip my attention. Ras Midas’ new album = ‘good music.‘
-Reviewed by Achis’ Reggae Blogspot
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