Not that good.... just ok ....
Brian M. Coffee | Philadelphia, PA United States | 04/23/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I have to disagree with Achis who did the first review on this CD. I have to admit that we are listening to it with very different ears. Firstly I would like to say that I consider the golden age of reggae to be long gone. The artist on the scene are keeping it alive but the golden age which featured Marley, Tosh, Dennis Brown is the stuff that most true reggae fans love and long for. Today's reggae is mostly dancehall stuff with lyrics that are as bad as American rap music. Sure, it's highly danceable and that's what is keeping it going. Most of my old head (over 40) Jamaican friends really don't like it much. Soca is a different music and a different style. Trinidad is getting too much credit in the earlier review. In my travels thru the Carribean I was actually surprised to hear more soca than reggae! Most of the smaller nations gravitate more towards soca. I am talking about places like Barbados, Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Guyana and on and on. Jamaican is truly the headquarters for Reggae/Dancehall and it's rare that any group without Jamaican groups can hit the charts performing that style of music. Kevin Lyttle from the Virgin Islands scored bit with his "Turn me on" a few years back. Released a year previously as a straight up soca song it did well. Add in a reggae artist and it became an international hit. Rupee from Barbados also has scored a few hits internationally. In addition to Jamaica, soca also has a hard time getting play in the USA. That's also true of reggae and dancehall. But it's more likely that reggae will score maybe 2 or 3 radio hits in the USA each year whereas soca perhaps just one. Either way it's a bad situation for both music genres trying to break into the lucrative USA market. However live soca bands are quite popular in Europe during their massive summer music festivals. Dancehall gets lots of play in the US at venues frequented by the millions of Jamaicans who now live here. Soca musicans work the big carnivals such as NYC and Miami. Now onto the cd review. Byron Lee actually is of Chinese decent but born in Jamaica. He had a small career performing rocksteady and the like before moving to Trinidad. There he formed a huge band that gave up and coming singers exposure. His band was one of the few with a real international tour schedule. The weak point of his band was that they did other people's songs mostly! As on this CD they do decent versions but not as good as the original. In Trinidad his band is known but not thought of as one of the top or legendary bands for the reason cited above regarding lack of hits written by him. I DJ many parties and weddings for people from the Caribbean. I do play some Byron Lee from time to time. Like I said above his music is ok but far from the best. Give him credit for forming various versions of his tour band. Around 1988 he returned to Jamaica and decided to start a carnival parade. The concept was unknown to most Jamaicans but year two had a huge turnout. Jamaicans living abroad are often lumped in with all people from the caribbean. So nightclubs cater to many different nations on many occasions. So here in the US Jamaicans do get to hear Soca and even party to it. While few go out and buy Soca CD's they at least become a little familiar. Achis and others I plead with you to check out singers like Shadow, David Rudder, Destra and others for a more authentic Soca experience. The other thing I want to comment on is that I applaud Trini's for being open to Reggae/Dancehall and other types of music. My fellow Americans are way too closed minded when it comes to music. Don't be like us! I suppose that I am the exception! Big up to Bunji Garlin, Faye Ann, SuperBlue, Charlie Roots and all those who make the wonderful music from T&T. Only 1.5 million people yet so much music!"
Soca Royal, Vibes Royal. . .
Achis | Kingston, JA/Philipsburg, SxM | 09/07/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
Soca apparently is a musical style which is has all but LOST in the approximately eleven-hundred miles which separates its home, Trinidad, from Jamaica. It is widely regarded that Jamaicans (especially young ones) simply do not like Soca music (or calypso before it). This is a fact which is usually mystifying to many as speaking not only to the power of the music itself, Jamaica and Trinidad, in terms of culture are two very similar places. And while dancehall and reggae continues to make waves in TnT (on the strength of WICKED artists such as Khari Kill, Prophet Benjamin, Marlon Asher, Royal Dainties, the incomparable Queen Omega and even Soca heads Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano at time), you really don't see much in the way of return as, save for the occasional stage show (particularly during Jamaican carnival), you don't see too much soca artists from Trinidad making their names in the land of reggae. What is MOST interesting in this case for me is that EVERY single carnival season (and I mean CARNIVAL season in terms of Trinidad's brilliant carnival) you see the various combinations between dancehall and soca artists and most of those tunes which become hits and just generally popular, do so in Trinidad, receiving very little to NO spins in Jamaica. This year alone we saw several big time pairings between soca and dancehall artists; such as, most notably Party Animal from KMC and dancehall ace Beenie Man and the devastatingly WICKED Free It Up from soca ANGEL Destra Garcia alongside dancehall poster boy Sean Paul. Not only were both tunes VERY popular in Trinidad's carnival season (Party Animal (and all of Beenie's other mess) actually closed the show at Soca Monarch and Destra and Sean Paul actually destroyed several stages in Trinidad and neighbouring islands with Free It Up) but you'll find them both on the soca artist's albums (Born as a Winner from KMC and Destra's Soca Or Die, respectively) from this season, even if Beenie Man and Sean Paul were to reach this year with albums (and they won't), I'd be VERY surprised to see either tunes on their albums, even with most of the ears for the albums being international (I will concede, however, that Beenie`s BIG combination with Montano, Big Phat Fish was quite a sizable hit in Jamaica, although in sound the tune was perhaps equally soca and dancehall). Thankfully, me myself, I'm all but shielded from this phenomenon as a born and raised Jamaican who is half Trini, calypso and reggae played in my house all the time and even though it took a minute or two, I now am about as big of a Jamaican born soca head as you'll find local or foreign. I DO actually imagine that it will at sometime come to a point where soca is just as popular in Jamaica as dancehall is in Trinidad, even though you'll find a majority of Jamaicans who regard the INTENSE vibes of soca as downright annoying, there is and has seemingly ALWAYS been one name which doesn't apply to the stereotype and in fact, threatens to DESTROY it on name value alone.
We have in Jamaica the certifiable musical legends such as, of course, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear and the likes and a name making a musical style which sounds NOTHING like his peers but is just as certified as any of them, Byron Lee and his Dragonaires. To put it quite simply: Lee has been making hits for almost FIFTY years. No other reggae artist and probably no other living musician ANYWHERE can make a claim boasting of such statistics and putting the paper down and just actually taking a look at the man himself, Jamaica has perhaps no other greater living or otherwise musical ambassador AT ALL than he who is the one man who not only holds a very special place in the hearts of most Jamaicans of all age groups. Lee has also proven an artist capable of making soca at least digestible to Jamaican ears as it is now the bandleaders most oft-used music style (he actually came from a Ska/Mento background I believe) these days. What Lee does is to simply take a tune (usually a reggae song) and literally `socafy' it. He'll seemingly take a look at a handful of tunes which were popular in any given time in reggae (WHICHEVER the time, he has been known to go back in time) and add a few different sounds, change up the cadence and select from his group of singers and record the tune. His music is of the type where it is almost ALWAYS good as, in the platform he works, its hard to flop a BIG tune (ESPECIALLY considering the fact that the person remaking the tune has entirely WAY more experience and knowledge than whoever produced the original version of the tune and not to mention the fact that he is downright BETTER than most of them as well). He'll also remake soca songs the same way, adding his own special blend of herbs and spices to already quite wonderful songs. Between touring and recording constantly, Lee and the Dragonaires have also managed to remain quite active releasing albums to the public, quietly one of the more active album releasing acts outside of the roots artists. Lee and company now reach again for Soca Royal which is their first studio album (at least by my count) in three years since the solid Dance Party, Vol. 1. Soca Royal, comes via the largest Caribbean music record label in the world, VP Records, previously Lee would actually release them on his own (still functioning to my knowledge and the home studio for most o this album) Dyamic Sounds imprint, but Lee (THANKFULLY) has apparently struck a deal with the label, thus making his already quite easy to find material even more accessible to the people. Soca Royal comes on the strength of a particularly LARGE tune for the group, one which was somewhat of a no-brainer for Lee to choose given its style (and one for this album, given that the original singer of the song is a VP artist) and the album as a whole is a very fine representation of what the Dragonaires are today and of course, just generally DELIGHTFUL music.
Byron Lee has worked with some of the best in the business throughout the Caribbean and there are just a few he regularly employs as his lead singers (although he and the Dragonaires do occasionally play shows backing up other artists as well). The most popular of them in recent years has been Oscar B (a native Trini) and several very strong females as well (including one Cindy Lewis from a few years back) whose style meshes quite well with Lee's vibes and is featured on Soca Royal alongside several nice others. Opening things here is unsurprisingly the title track and aforementioned LARGE tune. You could actually make the case that Soca Royal is one of the Dragonaires biggest hits of all time (and I've heard that case being made by several people) and it is DEFINITELY one of Lee's biggest of the last decade at the very least. The tune was, of course, originally sung by potential future superstar Tarrus Riley and was definitely the biggest of his career as well (even though I like Stay With You more). Soca Royal swept through the Caribbean attracting a big buzz and apparently internationally as well. VP even released it as single earlier in the year and it did quite well there. I love the jazzed up version just as much as the original and it is the main attraction here and it is definitely my choice as the album's absolute biggest (single) tune altogether. Up next is the first WONDERFUL appearance by Oscar B(enjamin) on what is REALLY my favourite tune on Soca Royal (but because it's a medley with several tunes in one, I reserved that distinction for the opener), the Heritage Medley. The Medley features several BIG reggae tunes in soca style and is just truly DAZZLING. Usually this type of tune is really best appreciated in concert and live settings, but I don't know if it was just my mood or what, but the Heritage Medley took me back! The tune had tears in my eyes, featuring big tunes from the likes of Junior Kelly, Glen Washington and of course Morgan Heritage (with Down by The River, probably the biggest stretch on the medley). LOVE IT! Completing the opening of Soca Royal is one of my ODD favourites from this carnival season and a selection I was pretty surprised to see Lee choose, Bring It. Bring It is a half chutney - half soca tune originally done by chutney artist Hunter and even more popularized by a remix with Bunji Garlin (even though I prefer the original) and the tune in its original is kind of an odd, yet curiously addictive, praise of the almighty RUM. In this version, its STILL odd, not one of my favourites here at all, but still, not a bad song.
The first half of Soca Royal definitely for me was the big half, although there are hit tracks scattered throughout, I just love the big tune remakes. Such as the Carnival - Wuk It Up Medley. The tune is a remake of Patrice Roberts' big tunes of the same name (actually `Carnival' is better known as Mo Wuk) and I absolutely LOVE IT. I'm partial because I've fallen in love with the vibes of Ms. Roberts over the past two or three seasons and this year was probably her most solid to date as even apart from her mentor and boss Machel Montano and her cousin Garlin, Patrice Roberts scored hits on her own through Carnival and KEPT the vibes going straight through Crop Over (and her combinations with Montano were big as well of course), love these versions. Up next Lee mixes in a version of a big tune from one of his few peers in the game, Beres Hammond, We Gonna Talk. This is a prime example of what I mean that you can't flop a big tune, particularly in the care of Lee. NO ONE on the planet can do this tune justice like Hammond himself or even come close, yet this version is still pleasing if for no other reason than the wonderful bouncing background and now I just wish we could hear Hammond sing over this one! Also here is the `Bajan Medley', Woman By My Side - Nah Goin' Home medley. The very nice medley is a combination of two big tunes from the 2007 season from Bajan singers Peter Ram and Biggie Irie, respectively. I go back and forth as to which I prefer (currently its Nah Goin Home) but both sound fine hear and both were obvious choices for Lee and he and company definitely do not disappoint. Check the Rebel Medley as well (and the Tribute to Ken Boothe), which is a medley containing some very nice lover's rock pieces and is essentially a soca version of the Love I Can Feel riddim. It features several very nice tunes from the riddim including Toney Rebel's Fresh Vegetable, Beres Hammond's Tempted to Touch and of course John Holt's CLASSIC riddim title track. The second half of Soca Royal also features its fair share of nice tunes and hits. Check Lee's cut of Toots Hibbert's original BIG hit Seet and Dandy. The tune is a SHOWCASE of some truly wonderful steel pan playing throughout and the tune (which I haven't listened in quite awhile) arguably has never sounded so NICE (which is saying a lot). Always on My Mind is a somewhat awkward remake of Da'Ville's hit tune of the same name. Again, its not a bad tune actually, but it ALWAYS makes me go and listen to the original, like instinctively! Not awkward at all is Lee's remake of Adrian Dutchin's hit tune and it sounds ALMOST as strong as the original (keep an eye on Dutchin if you really love soca, recently crowned Guyanese Soca Monarch and VERY popular in Barbados singing for the island's biggest group, Krosfyah at times, HUGE tune this season with No Place Like Home). Check the high energy Hands High which I KNOW I know from somewhere, I just can't pinpoint where. And Soca Royal goes out on a royal note with a cool rendition of rock royalty Chuck Berry's classic My Ding a Ling.
Overall, its been more than fifty years since Byron Lee began playing music and in his time he has established, destructed and reset his standard of making music and he's still doing it on pieces like Soca Royal after all these years. Oscar B sounds as good as ever as he, himself, is in the process of making quite a legend of his name as well. Last year we were struck with unfortunate news of Lee's having an illness, but he hasn't let that stop him from creating absolute magic as he has bounced back (apparently HEALTHY now) in fine form. Soca Royal isn't the best you'll hear from the Dragonaires, but what it is, is true to the form which Lee has created in all of his years in music: Simply one of the best times to be had on album this year.