Feel Good Playlist, Vol. 1 – Stripped Sessions
Kalpee (FVP Records)
When artists strip away the production value of an album — an “unstripped” EP of the same name was released last year — down to just voice and one instrument, the listener becomes part of an intimate dialogue that can go either good or bad. Bad is easy to do, good takes work. Clearly, Trinidadian singer Kalpee has done the work to move the five songs here away from minimalist island pop infused by his Caribbean accent and modern mechanical riddims towards a sonic profile that suggests acoustic chill and mature reflection. His voice is direct and clear, juxtaposing ideally with a guitar at its reverberating best. Here is a chance to do more than just mentally “go tropical.” Instead, listen to the angst and ardour, the adoration and apathy of Caribbean youth. With musical cues suggesting reggae — “Put a Record On” hints boldly at Marley’s “Three Little Birds” — and calypso on “Climb”, the singable lyrics resonate universally.
Aftermath — Reprise
Payge Turner (Middleman)
A funny thing happened some months ago. Trinidad-born singer Payge Turner — now based in Seattle, via Kansas — entered the US television competition The Voice and blew the socks off a nation. Not the US, yet, but her own native land — with a voice and posture that point to great things, if curated wisely. On her new single, Turner mines her song catalogue to reprise a ballad that speaks to a kind of traumatic loneliness: “Deep down you cripple the feeling you’re losing your mind / Damn, don’t you replay the pulse of the aftermath.” The song takes a turn from its original acoustic alternative/progressive vibe to develop a more traditional electric rock tinge, progressing towards a denouement that finds peace again. Turner’s voice — which wowed a nation, chauvinistic but clueless of a career — shows signs of power that transcends the easy connection to a soul singer’s sonority. Talk about discovering anew, or the Columbus effect — this song reintroduces island greatness.
Natiruts & Ziggy Marley, feat. Yalitza Aparicio (Sony Music Entertainment Brasil)
The ubiquity of reggae music is cemented by the fact that Brazilian reggae band Natiruts (say “natty roots”) asked Ziggy Marley, son of the icon, to share the singing credits on this trilingual song asking for unity in the Americas. Joining the singers is Oscar-nominated Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio of Roma fame, to speak into existence the words that open the song, in Spanish: “We don’t want walls. We are bridges.” Released on the day Donald Trump stopped being US president, this song is a precursor of a kind of hope for a renewed connection within the Americas to values that affect all. Social justice is highlighted in English lyrics by Marley, and in Portuguese by Natiruts vocalist Alexandre Carlo. “Our dreams are so big,” he sings, “they can’t fit in the cellars of this ignorance / And the awareness of what we are and can be is the fire of hope.” The idea of consciousness, of messaging the Third World, has always been at the centre of reggae music. This wins.
I’m Thinking You Should
Will The Wolf feat. X.O. Drew (On Lock Records)
During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, island artists and songwriters had time to reflect. They had time to record and rejig careers to fit the new space where audiences are now. The evolved sensibility of singer-songwriters, capturing these times in short sound bites, is appealing. At just under three minutes, this song — which could be a cautionary tale of breakup confusion and remorse — serves up an island pop groove that belies the singer’s origins. Will The Wolf has transformed from one half of the introspectively acoustic Trinidad pop duo Buffalo & Back to become more than a voice, but an entertainer also using the medium of video to tell stories that tug at heartstrings and show sides of Caribbean life that are sometimes beyond the mainstream. With production from Michael “Tano” Montano, the song percolates at a cool tempo with a modern hip-hop groove.