Thu | Feb 22, 2018

Chalice reworks 'A Song' well

Published:Tuesday | October 11, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Tanto Metro (left) and Devonte.
Duane Stephenson
The members of Chalice are (from left) Demar Gayle, Stephen Golding, Keith Francis, Desi Jones, Dean Stephens, Alla and Wayne Armond.
The cover of Chalice's album 'A Song'.
Tarrus Riley
Charmaine Limonius

I must admit that I have done Chalice's album A Song great disservice in my listening for review purposes. After I listened through three or four times, I have ended up playing from track nine (Youth Man) through to the closing track 14 (A Song) over and over (and over) again, revisiting the first eight tracks less often.

It is not that the first third or so of the set is bad. Hell no, not when it starts with a classic about keeping rockers alive like I'm Trying, followed by the wish for eternal reward for a good life in Good To Be There. Nah, it is just that six tracks (five songs, as the title track is done twice) appeal to me immensely. They are (in running order) Youth Man, Heroes, Si Mi Ya, Praise Him and the A Song double punch.

But before we get to the end, there is the beginning - and beginning not in the sense of where A Song begins, but what the album is about. And make no mistake, the set is about excellence, as it beautifully adapts an approach that has been used repeatedly to connect established performers and songs to newer audiences. So Chalice has guests on each of the songs - for example, Tarrus 'Singy Singy' Riley is the new voice on Good to be There and Richie Stephens is the band's guest on Heroes.

However, unlike the tribute album to Jacob 'Killer' Miller tribute album Songbook: Chapter a Day, released in 2005 a quarter century after Miller's death and other such posthumous song updates, Chalice is very much alive and active. This creates the latitude for arrangements to be reworked extensively (so Praise Him, featuring 'The Artist M' is now a superb nyabinghi track) and the original voices (notably Wayne Armond and Dean Stephens') to be utilised on the new, often subtly adjusted, rhythms.

Also, in a departure from the accustomed approach, Chalice has not gone strictly for younger performers. So while Skygrass is on I'm Trying, so is the gravelly timbre of Ernie Smith. And Sanjay is the guest on Figure You, but Richie Stephens does the honours on Heroes. Sadiki features in the first take on A Song, but Tanya Stephens changes the gender focus of Cya Dub.

Then the exquisite, acoustic version of A Song (it is actually called A Song Epilogue in the track listing) which closes the album is done by Charmaine Limonius. The guests are well chosen for ability and synergy and Chalice's production touches are evident - I can't remember Richie Stephens sounding quite like he does on especially the first line of his Heroes guest slot. Tarrus Riley's inflections in the vocal interplay of Good To Be There are well worked out and delivered.

Underpinning it all is the quality of the original material, making the album's name very apt, even if there was no title track to support the title. These are superb songs in the first place, whether the subject matter is love and food (Stew Peas, which now features Tanto Metro and Devonte) or Blaze (a fitting take on the band's name, addressing the marijuana legalisation movement).

In some cases the lyrics are not adjusted from the original. Where there are additional lyrics the standard is almost always kept high. So on I'm Trying Skygrass puts it:

"If riddim was a plant I would roll it up and smoke it

Plant a couple hundred acres watch the music grow quick"

Tanya reverses the responsibility for dance proficiency in Cya Dub, which criticises a woman's bubbling skills, from the get go, asking in the introduction "a wonda when me tell you me work a Shades or Palais Royale?" (both famed exotic dancing clubs in Ocho Rios and Kingston respectively). Then, she turns the woman's clumsiness ("then I feel your knee come creeping up, to a tender place") in the song to self-protection:

"A tell de worl' say me knee you like me nah no sense

Yu nah tell dem say me knee you inna self-defence

De man a lamps me

De man a poke me

De man a heng on so tight de man a choke me ... ."

However, it s not universal bliss and joy - I found the added deejay lyrics to Stew Peas basic in construction and delivery. Also, the adjusted start to Heroes not as good as the original, which I searched for and bought on a cassette with a grey/silver insert many years ago.

Those are minor quibbles about an outstanding album based on the enduring power of that most basic of requirements for music in an era where it is as much watched as listened to - A Song.

Speaking of which, where is the slow tearjerker Still Love You? I'm missing that Chalice boom tune.

Track listing

1. I'm Trying (feat. Ernie Smith & Sky Grass)

2. Good to Be There (feat. Tarrus Riley)

3. Blaze (feat. Wild Life)

4. Easy Street (feat. Ari Lopez)

5. Cya Dub (feat. Tanya Stephens)

6. Figure You (feat. Sanjay)

7. Stew Peas (feat. Tanto Metro & Devonte)

8. Joy in the Morning (feat. Isha Bel)

9. Youth Man (feat. Duane Stephenson)

10. Heroes (feat. Richie Stephens)

11. Si Mi Ya (feat. Rootz Underground)

12. Praise Him (feat. The Artist 'M')

13. A Song (feat. Sadiki)

14. A Song Epilogue (feat. Charmaine Limonous)