Album Review: Sizzla Kalonji - 876
Its unclear when it was that Sizzla set his sights on being a vocalist, but he seems to be continuing this diversion from his firebrand delivery in a sing-jay style from the past on this latest album entitled 876, the area code for Jamaica. From the first tune on this album, a gallist version, Longing For his falsetto strains to flesh out the romantic discourse. There is a spoken portion which furthers his case.
On the ganja tune, Leave My Ganja Alone his delivery is more apropos to his brand, but the message seems a bit dated in relation to the current day lifted restrictions on use in his place of residence, Jamaica. Although its clear here in the song that the climate in the Rastafarian community is skeptical of the actual freedoms allowed in terms of cultivation on a large scale as it relates to self-reliance. The groove has an interesting bass line that drives his lyrical flow for a catchy chorus, sung in his range as live drums fortify his strength on this tune.
For Street Life the falsetto vocal style returns and varies from being in and out of tune, but the groove is solid, again with a good baseline that helps him deliver passionate lyrics that warn the young girls and boys to “put your head to your books” in a repeated hook.
Beautiful Place starts in a ballad pace that sets the tone, moving into a strong, live one-drop with a falsetto chorus which carries the high pitch well in a call and response with background vocals. The segue to this Show Them The Way is sung over a lush ballad with binghi drum sounds, strings, its an ode to positive role modeling and care for the underprivileged with love as the solution with it’s hook, “All they need is someone to show them love…." and verses like “young girls getting pregnant, so much underage, young men turn to violence not living out their age.” Again, recording in this lounge singer style doesn’t help make the case for this serious topic any more palatable. The final seconds of the song feature an excerpt of a speech from Emperor Haile Selassie that is delivered in Amharic.
From the first 20 seconds, Breath of Life comes as the best song on the set. Like a meditation coach Sizzla sings within range thereby allowing the message to come across clearly and the phrasing to work over the excellent one-drop with its bubbling piano sound, soaring bass line and background vocals with lyrics on the power struggles and importance of focusing on the breath for the chorus “Only Jah alone flow the breath of life”. Recorded in Trinidad by the dream team of Vychalle “Kid” Singh and Jason “J-Vibe” Farmer along with veteran hitmaker Robert “Bobby Digital” Dixon its a sure shot. All three of these producers collaborate throughout the album, and have assembled a strong grouping of live musicians to play the live instruments, drum, bass, keyboards all well played, recorded and mixed.
Any time a rasta man starts a song with “sexy girl” it presents a plan of action for seduction. For Love Me the rhythm is sultry as the keyboard line echoes the song from the ’60s Am I the Same Girl released originally by Barbara Acklin and remade by Swing Out Sister. The gallist reasoning goes on with “You see that I am the best and you can do without all the rest”, reminding the girl in question that he is “not ashamed” of this love.
For Never Ending Love Kalonji comes with more gyal reasoning, this time he’s exploring some influences from artists like The Wknd with a spacey ballad track singing more falsetto with some auto-tuned effects shifting the pitch a bit and a volley with EDM influenced effects. There is a spoken word breakdown, that is seductive and slick in its R&B approach.
A duet with Samira Taylor carries this lover’s theme further with You Belong To Me the best of this set of gyal songs. The artist vocals are sung in range, the phrasing is solid and punchlines are well done. Ms. Taylor has great range and timing, engaging the listener with her own dose of a love potion for Kalonji.
Another duet follows, Bad Mind, this one with Jah Cure, an artist that set the tone with his colleagues for great songwriting, strong vocals and creating an original rhythm album set in last year’s Grammy nominated: The Cure. It is full of elements that a good song possess, a story line, good phrasing, and engaging groove, it’s produced by Jason “J-Vibe” Farmer.
High Grade comes in like draw from the chalice with a strong chorus, horn sounds and effects that echo some of the best Fatis Burrell/Xterminator grooves Sizzla used to chant over. The sung hook is good too, “the high grade that is my grade, calm mi nerves so don’t disturb when me a blaze.” The song turns into a freestyle in the verses, but the hook is a solid point of reference.
As the album begins to close, Babylon Kingdom Fall comes with the most eclectic, experimental dancehall style rhythm produced by Vychalle “Kid” Singh from Trinidad. The chant is some of the best in years, without the falsetto detracting from the potency. Furthermore the vocals are recorded well, with Sizzla’s voice in the front and a breakdown that helps the message get its due.
The final tune Watch Over You is a lovely groove with a Spanish style flamenco guitar produced by Sheldon Stewart inserted throughout the mix, as Sizzla sings a prayer of peace and safety. The harmonies here have an African influence that reminds one of the melodies of ancient traditional songs from the Motherland.
These last few songs are some of the best on the set, they could have been better positioned in the sequence of the album to break up the atonal versions that don’t seem to be the best representation of artistry for someone at this point in his recording career.
Sizzla - 876
DIGITAL RELEASE [Judgement Yard/J-Vibe Productions/868 Music/Zojak World Wide]
Release date: 02/26/2016
01. Longing For
02. Leave My Ganja Alone
03. Street Life
04. Beautiful Place
05. Show Them The Way
06. Breath Of Life
07. Love Me
08. Never Ending Love
09. You Belong To Me feat. Samira Taylor
10. Bad Mind feat. Jah Cure
11. High Grade
12. Babylon Kingdom Fall
13. Watch Over You