Album Review: Gentleman - New Day Dawn
Reggae music is embedded in a global subculture - outside of the Caribbean and West Africa, that is. Many reggae lovers consider “mainstream” a derogatory term. And few reggae artists ever make it into the global mainstream. Gentleman is one of very few examples that lend themselves to study what happens when an artist firmly rooted in a “subculture”, in our “subculture”, makes it into the international limelight.
Like so many others of my generation in Germany, his sophomore album Journey to Jah was what drew me into reggae music back in 2002. At that time, all I could associate with reggae was Bob Marley‘s No Woman, No Cry and UB 40‘s version of Kingston Town. Journey to Jah was the key to a whole new world. A German who made Jamaican music? In a language I had to spend weeks sitting at my desk to learn to understand it? The numerous features on the album made a great introduction to Jamaican modern roots at the time. I quickly caught up on his debut album Trodin On, and subsequently bought every single one of his albums on the very day of its respective release. Only to be disappointed each time.
So my expectations were low when I unboxed Gentleman‘s latest album, New Day Dawn. Even those low expecations were shattered when I first listened to it. Steamrolled pop music with a bit of euro-dance-infused reggae in between. Anyone could listen to this album, and no one would fall in love with it, such was my first impression.
Then I gave it a second run, a third, and a fourth one. And I began to understand. I began to understand the pressure an artist must feel when all lights are shining on him. I thought about the role Gentleman played in this business when he first set his foot on a stage twenty years ago. And the no-longer-“subculture” audience he has to please these days. The urge, I supposed, as well as the desire to grow musically, to not just do the same thing over and over again. And then I felt it. New Day Dawn is the cleanest production Gentleman has ever released, it is his most intimate and mature record to date. It is special in many ways. It is the album I had been waiting for from Gentleman ever since Journey to Jah.
The Deluxe Edition of New Day Dawn comes with 16 tracks and an Interlude. The credits list Gentleman as the producer of almost every track, longside some skilled people he likes to work with: Guiseppe “Big Finga” Coppola (The Evolution‘s drummer), Bazzazian, Frank “Pollensi” Pollak (The Evolution‘s keyboard player), Danny Brownie, and Alborosie, among others. Gentleman seems to have been more in control of the direction the album would take than he had been on past records. His sidekick Daddy Rings co-wrote most of the lyrics with Gentleman.
New Day Dawn stands out in more ways from its predecessors: it is Gentleman‘s first album without a single combination. On backing vocals, Sherieta Lewis does a great job. This skilled vocalist and songwriter usually works with people like Duane Stephenson, Tarrus Riley, Etana, and Jah Cure. Quite a number of tunes feature Jessica Royes and Lee Scharschmidt on backing vocals. Where Is The Love and I Keep Going feature Tamika, his wife, and Treesha Moore, the replacement on tour for Mamadee, who is working on her solo project now. Dean “Cannonball” Frazer graces four tunes with his exceptionally gifted saxophone play. Most of the other instruments have been recorded by musicians of Gentleman‘s slightly rearranged band The Evolution.
New Day Dawn draws generously from genres other than reggae, including most notably eurodance and pop. Memories is an example for the latter - a melancholic pop ballad with a dreamy piano melody line and measured strings. In it, Gentleman processes the loss of a good friend. The sound perfectly conveys the cruelty of loosing a loved one ultimately, and yet there is something in it that says: it is what is is, and you will learn to live with it. Memories is of haunting intensity, and leaves a lasting impression. Should Gentleman perform this tune live later this year, seas of lighters are guaranteed.
Gentleman has not only musically evolved since Journey to Jah. Wings To Fly is an example for his personal development in the last decade. “All of it seems so unfair/but Jah will never ever give we nuttin‘ more than we can bear/I see them ah gwaan without care/forget about the lessons them have learned/so we got no wings to fly.” This is not the Leave Us Alone-rebel talking, this is mature, well thought-through wisdom that can teach you a lot if you pay attention. The kind of wisdom that comes from a long walk through dark tunnels that led you to the light at the end of it. It‘s worldly-wise, conciliatory, and life-loving.
Fans from Gentleman‘s beginnings will delight in listening to tunes like Road of Life - pure modern roots reggae that proves that Gentleman has not forgotten at all where he comes from. It‘s just that these tunes, who make up a good deal of the album, are much cleaner productions now. And then there‘s the more edgy stuff. Push Comes to Shove falls in that category. It‘s contemporary Jamaican dancehall sound, basically. Or Heart of Rub-A-Dub with its thick, heavy, adamantly pounding bass line. This one has the potential to become a standard on any dance in Europe and beyond.
Gentleman never sounded as versatile, as settled, as mature, as personal as he does on New Day Dawn. It is an excellent album that might not at love on first sight, but if you give it a chance, it will be everlasting love. And with its broad connecting factor, who knows for how many youths this album will be a new musical day dawn, as Journey to Jah was for me.
LISTEN TO THE NEW DAY DAWN ALBUM COUNTDOWN:
Gentleman - New Day Dawn
DIGITAL RELEASE / VINYL / CD [Universal]
Release date: 04/19/2013
01. The Journey
02. Road Of Life
03. Walk Away
04. New Day Dawn
05. You Remember
06. In My Arms
07. Where Is The Love
10. Wings To Fly
11. Another Drama
12. Humanitys Glory
13. I Keep Going*
14. Closer To The Light*
15. Push Come To Shove*
16. Heart Of Rub–A–Dub*
*Limited Deluxe Edition