Upbeat (July/August 1997)

New music from the Caribbean

Tears of Gold

Baron (JW Records)

Here are eight sumptuous tracks by Timothy Watkins Jr., the Baron, one of the mellowest voices in the business. His 1997 Carnival CD featured soca by some of calypso’s best-known songwriters; it includes Jahaji Bhai, Splendour and the Glory, a tribute to mas, and Double Standards, a slow groove which showcases the power of Baron’s voice. Festival Jamming is a tribute to Carnival celebrations around the world. Leston Paul’s musical arrangements offer lots of punchy brass, and favour the melody line rather than flashy individual instrument leads. (DJ)

Nah Give Up On The Culture

Shirlane Hendrickson (APCD-512)

When Brother Marvin’s unity-building Jahaji Bhai  became a hit last year, there were those who questioned the facts of the song (racial/cultural “brotherhood” in the bad old days). This album from US-based, Trinidad-born Shirlane Hendrickson is an extended retort. The Answer is delivered with African drums and Yoruba chants. Hendrickson then dons carnival costume for the saucy Carnival Time and Carnival Woman before simmering for an eloquent tribute to Nelson Mandela, Oh Mandela. In the end, Nah Give Up . . . delivers a clever mix of social commentary with just a touch of bounce. (ES)

Lovers Rock, Volume 4

Various artists (Penthouse Records PHCD 2048)

Superband Chalice, musicians Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare) and producer Donovan Germain make this is a collectors’ compilation. Featuring Penthouse stars Buju Banton and Wayne Wonder, reggae icons Marcia Griffiths, Junior Tucker and the late Garnett Silk, plus contemporary singer Richie Stephens, Lovers Rock combines soothing irie “rockers” (Beres Hammond and his Queen and Lady) with the upbeat skank rhythm of Vanessa (Thriller U) and the lyrically strong Wanna Be Loved (Buju Banton). Twiggy’s remake of Mariah Carey’s Can’t Let Go is a fitting finale to the reggae romantic’s seduction CD. (NM)

Hey Jude

New Creation (1996 Tattoo Records Ltd. 960302)

“Lennon must be turning in his grave!” is the usual stunned response to New Creation’s remake of the Beatles classic Hey Jude. But listen without prejudice and you’ll soon feel that the original’s injunction to “Take a sad song and make it better . . .” has been honoured. This track took New Creation, a young five-man group out of Trinidad, as far as No. 6 on the British video charts last April, an enviable leap to modern musical stardom by any reckoning. The original ballad is jazzed up by ragged reggae chanting on all four mixes. Just in case they don’t wow you with the original radio mix, there’s Hey Jude fffb (Fabulous Furry Freak Bros), junglist which has some break-wild drumming, as well as R&B flavour and extended mixes. There’s been no official word from McCartney about what he thinks of this “New” Jude: it’s possible he doesn’t even recognise it. They’re generations apart in sound. (NM)

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Celestial Harmony

Anselm Walters, Felix Roach and other artists (Sanch CD9603)

Here is a truly unexpected album from Trinidad and Tobago — though it shows something of the sheer breadth of music-making in that rhythm-soaked land. It’s a collection of light religious numbers in an easy, sentimental style, offered in a spirit of devotion and contemplation. Schubert’s Ave Maria is here, Massenet’s Meditation, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, Franck’s Panis Angelicus. The other tracks are religious “pops” — The Holy City, The Lord’s Prayer, My Tribute, How Great Thou Art, He Touched Me. Let There Be Peace On Earth finds a place; so does the Londonderry Air. The arrangements highlight piano and violin: Felix Roach is a skilful and fluent pianist, whose local nickname is Sugarfingers; Anselm Walters is a violinist in a country almost devoid of string players. They work regularly together at the Trinidad Hilton, sometimes including the other musicians on this album — Gerald Charles (bass), guitarists Patrick Gouveia and Anthony Walters, pannist Hayden Ifill. But it is Roach’s playing that holds these performances together. Perhaps this is the Caribbean’s answer to Chant, Adagio and the other meditative chart-busters of the semi-classical world. (JT)