Attention shoppers, this is not a blue light special, it is a ites green and gold light special!
Milton Henry, who releases music all too rarely, is back with a new album called "Roots and Branches Showcase".
This delightful album is released on Iroko records, which have been known so far as a fledging and top quality reissue label, but who recently jumped in the water and are now releasing new albums. Iroko are not producing music yet but have been licensing content from Roberto Sanchez' Lone Ark label for a few months.
They could not have been better inspired, as Roberto is the freaking best producer of roots reggae and rocksteady in Europe. Remember his superb Alpheus album a year or so ago??? That was him. Roberto Sanchez is operating out of his studio near Santander in the Basque region and is churning out gem after gem.
This time, he has really outdone himself. Branches and Leaves is a superb album. In my personal top 5 of 2013, quite frankly. The album is not easy listening reggae. It is in fact quite austere, severe, sparse.
But don't you get fooled for just one second by such adjectives, because I mean them in a VERY positive way, rather than demeaning. For clarity's sake, I confirm: this album is a stellar piece of work.
Milton Henry is not joking at all when he gives praises to Jah, he is dead serious in his denunciation of the evil Babylon system. Yet at no time does he come across as pontifying, boring, hypocritical. He doesnt stare down at you from his altar of righteousness to deliver an arrogant "holier than thou" message or anything like that. Quite the contrary, he invites you, the listener, to share feelings about life, the human race, the cosmos and God and elevate both your and his mind in the process. Quite a win win proposition, don't you think?
He applies the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle perfectly. He doesn't need to shout or shriek his lyrics. Rather, he phrases his lyrics very quietly, cool and deadly. If you've read thus far, by now, you know you should not expect bashment style in "Roots and Branches". We're talking about meditation, philosophy, letting minds be the best they can be though a powerful exchange. In a way, Milton and Roberto act as some sort of spiritual guides in "Roots and Branches", no less.
Milton's singing is quite introspective: rather than vocal pyrotechnics, he stresses his points simply, calmly, and quite frankly, I think he gets the message across more efficiently this way.
To back up this kind of singer and respect his lyrics, his singing and his overall style, there is no better approach than the one Roberto has chosen. His riddims are very simple, and the mix is very classical, but there is very little reverb, effects, not even any drops in the riddim like we so often hear in other productions. None of that music on steroids! In fact, Roberto and his Lone Ark band have crafted riddims to SERVE the singer. The atmosphere is very clear and nothing detracts Roberto and Milton from their objective. I am quite impressed by what they achieved.
In addition, and that's one of the numerous beauties of this album, the riddims are FAR from being toothless! In fact they rank on a par with the best of what Jamaica used to offer in 1979. No f+cking less. The drummer is a clone of Sly Dunbar, the keyboards and synths are perfect and beautifully arranged, and the horns, man those horns. Lord knows (my good friend and saxman Stepper will attest to that) I dont really dig horns, which are often a substitute for lack of inspiration. But Roberto has found a way to arrange those horns just like they should be sounding like. Melodic, not flashy, yet with a touch of sophistication. PERFECT.
The best thing to do with this album is to listen to it on a badass sound system with, preferably a nice pair of old school speakers. By the way, the vinyl is one of the best sounding vinyls I have ever heard. Huge kudos to Iroko's bossman Herve Brizec for painstakingly looking for the right mastering studio and, as importantly, the right pressing plant. An equally best way to discover the immensely subtle arrangements and really awesome mix options is to use a nice pair of headphones: go ahead, treat yourself to something decent, and throw away those ip$$$d earbuds, they sound like crap (and you know it)!!! If need be, do not hesitate, mug an old lady in the street, "Roots and Branches" deserves nothing less than excellent hifi gear...
F*ck, all of this is movingly beautiful, fulfilling and I felt I needed to testify: Reggae is alive and well. It is now produced out of a remote studio in Santander... and Anchor studios in Kingston where the increasingly last mohicans Sly & Robbie operate. Who would have predicted that 30 years ago????
One last thing, and it is important: please do not compare this beauty with the no less beautiful "Who do you think I am". "Who..." was released some 30-odd years ago, and comparing albums so distant in time is borderline disrespectful to the artist, his producer and his label. Just enjoy the fullness, the beauty, the message, the artwork, the overall quality and the beautiful collective effort of all involved. It f*cking deserves praises, and CUSTOMERS. I do want Roberto and Herve to continue putting out new gems like "Roots and Branches" and they need OUR SUPPORT in the form of Euro bills galore.