Midnite - Beaty for Ashes (Islas Vírgenes, 2014)
The idea of a milestone album is pretty laughable if you'reMidnite. After all, with so many albums so many miles have been covered that marking any temporary resting place as one of special significance makes little sense.
But Beauty for Ashes is a milestone of sorts for those involved. It's the first of a trio of long-players helmed by Tippyof St Croix’s I Grade Records using rhythms by US/VI production troika Zion I Kings - the follow-ups being byPressure and Lutan Fyah (both featured here). Despite a decade old association with I Grade, it's also a landmark in that it's Midnite’s most accessible effort since the up-tempo JA style roots of 2011’s Andrew Bassie Campbell production Kings Bell.
As with Kings Bell Midnite keyboardist and musical director Ron Benjamin is not producing the music and singer/lyricist Vaughn Benjamin’s dense reasonings are laid over less languid, more conventionally classic roots backings. Zion I Kings rhythms possess a meditative depth that can be likened to the Roots Radics with a temperate, distinctly non Jamaican feel. The horns and guitars evoke cool misty mornings in ancient tropical lands – while the drum and the bass pitch and roll like ships on choppy seas.
Midnite’s reputation for prolific issuing of their recorded output is matched by the amount that stays unreleased. Several tracks originally considered for the project have been culled in the process of its making and the final ordering is as sure and flowing as can be.
A theme of Vaughn's thinking is the interconnectedness of everything. And this is a central concept of the record - both in using a network of collaborators and in the lyrics. Songs like Same I Ah One (with Pressure) and Same Boat We stress importance of losing our island mentality. Compassion for all races, especially women and children figure strongly. Generation Again says of man and woman “Separate and equal, are together an equal”. Other topics include technology (All I's On You) and substance abuse (A Healing).
Vaughn’s voice is insistent and haunting, ancient and yearning, as if calling to us from a dream. He is often content to take the chorus in the collabs with Pressure, Lutan Fyah and Ras Batch. Yet even when he has a song to himself he locks with the music and chants his messages at an intense, measured pace. Every thesis, antithesis, digression and dialectic is given sufficient room.
Where musically this might not be as commercial as Kings Bell, it is the next step for people that don’t “get”Midnite. Those that find the majority of their albums impenetrable may have an easier time having heard Beauty For Ashes. For it is surely one of Midnite’s most significant and faultless works – although its true substance is hard to gauge until the Pressure and Lutan Fyah sequels follow.
review by www.reggaeville.com