Army, “Rasta Awake”
[I Grade Records, 2005]
The unstoppable I Grade Records recently introduced its “New Release Trilogy” with Ancient King’s Conquering Sound representing the element fyah and NiyoRah’s A Different Age symbolizing earth. Army’s long awaited Rasta Awake is the wind. It is a brilliant presentation of three significant offerings from this burgeoning roots reggae label.
Wind is the perfect inscription for this release as it well characterizes Army’s vocal style, and his self-described “positive universal message”. This veteran Cruzan singer possesses a silken voice that lilts as though on a breeze. But like the wind, he has enough force to carry, propel and move.
Consummate musician Tuff Lion of Bambu Station crafted a beautiful soundscape for Army’s mellifluous voice, alluring lyrics, and lush imagery on this latest album. Rasta Awake is superlative in its rich, multi-layered textures. Army’s previous solo albums, Struggler and Yesterday’s News, don’t feel as thick as this album. Its sound is wonderfully atypical of roots reggae yet it is very much conscious rebel music.
“Honorebel” is my go-to track. I cannot get enough of the running pace or images of a receding earth in this song. I can imagine the ground underfoot as though I am running through his words:
Sometimes ina this ya power struggle you don’t feel the vibes
But you got hold it steady staying true to life
Can’t eve lose your focus cause you know say Jah guide (wow yeah)
Watching many streams and rivers and the inlets go dry
While they mining many mountains for the riches inside
Deep down well it’s a mystery revive your history
What you gonna do when you really got to face the man
On that sentence day
The other track that tops my list is “Preying Mantis”. I love its dreamy, floating feel. Imagine yourself lost in thought, sitting at the edge of a pond at dusk on a languorous summer day as fireflies alight, crickets call out, and the daylight insects like the preying mantis begin their retreat:
Division of my people makes it simple for bread to turn to stone
And sometimes in the middle of the day memories might take you home
What if it could all be a dream so many circles going round and round
So many fishes swimming down and down
All you hear is change is now all you hear is change is now
The guitar licks on “Preying Mantis” sound at times like a mandolin or balalaika, or a flamenco guitar. It’s an enchanting piece.
“Small Number” opens with a couple of subdued guitar strums and snares with a near military cadence. Then a balmy samba-like rhythm guitar floats on top. The backing music suggests gentle, beach music but this is a somber piece about battling youth. A bit of metaphorical irony but it works.
Initially, I wasn’t enamored with the title track “Rasta Awake” but as I really listened to the lyrics, I grew to enjoy it. I hear the relentlessness and vigilance of Rastaman in this song. Steady pulse rate of 60. One-drop heart beat. Rasta in the heart. I listen to this track on headphones because I can feel a heartbeat in this song. It is a graceful exit to the album and a beautiful testament to Army’s commitment to Rastafari and Jah works.
This collection of thirteen tracks is undoubtedly eclectic. A few, such as “Don’t Move My Mountain” or the ballad-y “Cry Fi Mi Sistah” carry a standard rootsy vibe. But overall most of the tracks hold characteristics so outside of the reggae norm. Listen to the quizzical sounding guitar in “Men Will Doubt” or feel the early 70’s R&B tone of “Mr. Monday”. Some roots reggae purists might object to the variance but Army–with Tuff Lion’s composition and production, and production work by Tippy Alfred, Kenyatta Itola, and Abja–took some musical risks that culminated in a vibrant body of work.
Oh, I have to retract my statement about the fire-earth-wind campaign as being “brilliant”. It’s nearly brilliant. The I Grade Records team neglected the fourth element: water. Army’s poetry abounds with water motif in his streams, rivers, inlets, deep waters, eye water. He is wind and water, movement and flow.
Be sure to pick up Rasta Awake. Immerse yourself in it and flow with it.