Album Review: Spiritual - Awakening
He sees himself as a teacher and a humanitarian whose aim is to propagate love and peace and somehow or other the humility evident in his words and songs ascribe high levels of credibility to his claim. “I am a servant of Jah for the children of the world with one aim and one destiny,” Spiritual is quoted in his own Biography, and since I had already listened to his new album entitled Awakening, no stereotype-alarm lights blinked in my head when I read this.
This is Spiritual’s second album after My World in 2010, which however stirred rather little attention compared to what can be expected from Awakening. In a recent interview, with Reggaeville, Spiritual stated that, growing up in West Kingston, he has always been around influential reggae musicians. He drops names like Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and Joe Higgs and states that he used to go to Joseph Hill’s Yard to pick Mangos and listen to the rehearsals of Culture. These mangos certainly had what it takes! It seems like it was Hill’s birth tree that Spiritual ate from (Jamaican’s often have a tradition to bury a newborn’s navel string under a tree, the birth tree, which then has a livelong connection with the child).
If I hadn’t known any better, I could have sworn I was listening to a posthumously published Culture album, so inspired is Spiritual’s voice by Joseph Hill. One thing is for sure, his spirit lives on in this artist, who appreciates the comparison and calls Joseph Hill his teacher. In terms of singing style and the character of his voice, he is very close to the sound ideal of the 70s established by his role-models and tutors, “They taught me everything that I know” he stated in the interview.
Produced by Bobby Digital, Clifton “Specialist” Dillon and Horace Chin, and published through VP Records on February 3, Awakening is the result of the collaboration of a nostalgic cast of Jamaican Reggae Musicians: the late Nambo Robinson on trombone, Jamaica’s all –time-saxophone-favorite Dean Fraser, Sly Dunbar and Leeroy “Horsemouth” on the drums, and reggae music veterans like Ian Coleman (guitar/ Burning Spear) and Robbie Lyn (keys/ Bob Marley, Peter Tosh) are worth mentioning in this context.
Contentwise, Spiritual does justice to his artist name. Spiritual growth, self-realization, compassion, gratitude, and the praise of Jah and of Africa are the prevalent topics on the album.
The harmonies and keys on Awakening are inspired by the era of songs like Burning Spear’s Slavery Days, which can easily come to mind when listening to Black Man Story, the opener of the album. The intro of Stand Up To Rasta, with its staccato piano and clavinet lines, which are covered in mighty and long brass and vocal harmonies, is as typical for the reggae of the 70s as it can be. Lines like “I was born in sinner ship and inequity, but now I’m back again, living spiritually” describe spiritual development, and humility, and mark the singer’s attitude. Time Has Come is all about seriousness, “di fun it a done” and compassion, “When I see people out there suffering, I suffer, too.” Musically, the riddim is, characterized by clean guitar thirds which add to the overall soundscape of the song like the musical manifestation of the balance and calmness that comes with a clean consciousness. A personal favorite on this album is Liberation, on which Spiritual thanks Marcus Garvey and approaches him as Mr. Mosiah. This song is also home to Iba Mahr, the first of the two feature guests on this album. His voice, with its unmistakable vibrato and precise syllabic singing style undoubtedly, is one of the most distinctive within the reggae revival, and in this feature, it melts together with Spiritual’s and seems to merge with it during the chorus. In Rule Di World, Spiritual encourages us to ask our selves what would happen if we ruled the world. The bluesy and heavy Give Thanks and Praises carries a warning and mystic undertone in the singer’s voice and the instrumentation. For both, the blue note plays an important role in keeping the melodies thrilling and the tension high. The seventh track of the album starts with the word “holy” sung by an epic and mystic choir who rolls out the red carpet for an uplifting song entitled Ethiopia, which is dedicated to the praise of the biblical Ethiopia and other holy places like Nazareth, Bethlehem or Judea.
Show Me The Way is a prayerful feature with Droop Lion in search for guidance, and in The Lamb, Spiritual alludes to issues which “from a lion point of view” can be seen as controversies in the live of spiritual practitioners, particularly of the Christian faith, which’s Jamaican version the singer experienced during his early childhood days. Where Is The Love and Free Africa fill the gap to Tell Me Who, which takes its strength from a firm hook raising provocative rhetoric questions. Want No More is, like the album as a whole, a piece of art which carries a deeply transcendental and, well… spiritual, attitude. Live Righteous is the epilogue of the album, and it gets on well without any special musical highlights in terms of making the listener want to hit “play from the top” after the last note of Awakening falls silent.
Chances are high that Spiritual won’t remain an insider tip among vintage 70s roots reggae lovers for long. Both artist name and album title reflect the main theme of the album, a call for spiritual awakening which manifests itself in flowery, yet simplistic musical and lyrical elements. Sometimes, there is only a thin line between continuity and monotony and between persistence and repetitiveness, and sometimes, you get the feeling that this line is crossed at the expense of variety and creativity. Those, who look for innovative stuff are definitely wrong here. However, this manifest of typical 70s roots instrumentation combined with a traditionally grounded voice and singing style will definitely find its place in in the reggae world. According to the artiste, we can already look forward to an “even tougher” album, and therefore, we have every reason to keep an eye on Spiritual.
Spiritual - Awakening
ALBUM DIGITAL / VINYL / CD [VP Records]
Release date: 02/03/2017
01. Black Man Story
02. Stand Up To Rasta
03. Time Has Come
04. Liberation feat. Iba Mahr
05. Rule Di World
06. Give Thanks And Praise
08. Show Me The Way feat. Droop Lion
09. The Lamb
10. Where Is The Love
11. Free Africa
12. Want No More
13. Tell Me Who
14. Live Righteous