Album Review: Mikey General - Hailelujah Song
by Angus Taylor
These days it’s the norm for Jamaican artists to work with international production houses. A gratifying result of this global nature to the business is that a rising label from Europe can connect with a veteran vocalist who may not have received all his dues.
Mikey General is one such hardworking, distinctive and yet underrated singer. Born in England, he got his musical education on name sounds in Kingston and then London. Having sung for the likes of Fashion Records in the 80s he relocated to Jamaica in the 90s where he struck up a still solid friendship with Luciano. Mikey’s large frame belies his high, buttery, slightly childlike voice. It’s a voice that sits well on his impressive new album with Catalan imprint Reggaeland – founded by producer (and Rototom MC) Marcus Reggaeland and engineer, rhythm maker and multi-instrumentalist Genis “Genious” Trani.
Reggaeland started in 2004, growing out of Marcus’ Reggaeland FM radio show. In recent years it has yielded albums from Spanish artists Jah Nattoh, Miguel Arraigoh and Maia, Catalan group Tixulum, and Jamaicans Malijah, Chantelle Ernandez, Singer Jah and Anthony Que.
Marcus knew Mikey from his time organising parties in Barcelona and linked him while in Jamaica in 2011 about voicing with Luciano. Instead he decided to use the higher pitched man and the seeds were sown for this project – voiced at Tuff Gong and then in Barca when Mikey was on European tour.
Trani’s rhythms tend towards the organic with a summery vibe that many European productions lack. Played mostly by himself on guitar, bass, keys and drums (with assistance from the label’s backing band Blackstarliners), they travel in tribute through the various eras of reggae where Mikey has been active. The two previously released inclusions give an idea of the album’s scope – deep roots single King Selassie I Alone (replete with Robbie Shakespeare-type sliding bass) and the gospel-tinged Jah Will Be There (on the Change rhythm).
The first half dwells in the late 70s/early 80s - recalling the beginnings of Fashion - with Mikey singing over gentle horns and fuzzy synths in fittingly understated style. Opener Roots Rocking Reggae has a similar swing and flavour to Aswad’s Roots Rocking and a bridge very like Dee Sharp’s Let’s Dub It Up - listing inspirational greats such as Larry Marshall, U Roy, Sugar Minott, Sly & Robbie and many more. There is plenty of dreamily woozy major key niceness (the UK lovers of Inna Million Years) and a soupcon of minor key toughness (the superb Word Sound and Power). The lyrical topics in this section are often comparable in their dualism between the physical and the spiritual to Luciano’s latest longplayer Qabalah Man.
Then the music travels further into the 80s with the Sly & Robbie Syndrum-driven, heavily Baltimore reminiscent Rastafari Never Lies. The midway point is marked by its sole guest backing: the digital stepping combination with deejay Sir Wilson Harder They Come Quicker They Run (played by Rototom Spanish reggae contest winners Chalwa Band and including some unusual deejaying from Mikey himself).
This song serves as a conduit to the record’s second half: which from title piece Hailelujah Song onwards showcases 2000s poppy one drop as per Reggaeland’s Reggae Reasoning base. General’s slight, gooey, sweet natured tone is less suited to the melismatic histrionics of these emo-reggae songs than the languor of the classic sounds. Yet there is something cohesive about Trani’s production that maintains unity (while taking a few of the nasal edges off of General’s voice).
In a way this feels like two LP length albums – a vintage and a modern one – combined. But with good songwriting and sonic integration throughout, the results are more consistent than Mikey’s 2012 self-production African Story African Glory: showing Reggaeland is a force to be reckoned with in creating quality, nostalgic rhythm tracks.
Mikey General - Hailelujah Song
DIGITAL RELEASE [Reggaeland]
Release date: 12/03/2013
01. Roots Rocking Reggae
02. Inna Million Years
03. No Follow Babylon
04. Early In The Morning
05. Word Sound & Power
06. Only For A Time
07. Rastafari Never Lies
08. Harder They Come, Quicker They Run
09. Hailelujah Song
10. Jah Will Be There
11. Wanna Be Happy
12. Sort Out
13. Let's Pass Love On
14. King Selassie I Alone
15. Won't You Forgive Me