The album review
It would take much more space than allowed for a CD review to detail all the experience you need to as one listens to Stony Hill, from beginning to end and then listen to it again.
A few examples must suffice. In R.O.A.R., which is about the men in the community keeping the order, Marley lays out a set of rules, among them “no man no tief when de ackee tree bear/It make war bruck out an it happen each year”. Then there is “no cyar no brick when dance a keep/De las’ man whe try bun up like Rizzla sheet.” The song’s authenticity is reinforced by his referring to dumplings as “kegs”, a term I have not heard since Brian Bonitto used it maybe 10 years ago.
In Living it Up (which has direct referencing to the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, when Will Smith was breaking into acting), he celebrates the success of music with “every other day me wash a dozen dub plate”. The beauty of the line is not only Marley using wash with dub plate (a specialised recording for a specific sound system), but also understanding that in dancehall to rinse dub plates (or 45s) is to play a lot of them to good effect.
Slave Mill, one of the tracks on Stony Hill, that listeners would have been familiar with previously, along with Caution and Nail Pon Cross, has the beautiful summary of working life dreariness with “nine to five you know the drill/Weekend such a shortly thrill”, then there is the hook “sand to see the old slave mill/Is grinding slow but grinding still”. The choice of using ‘but’ instead of ‘and’ shifts the nuance of the song which covers racial injustice from slavery to white American males shooting black youngsters with impunity. If Marley had used ‘and’ it could have been interpreted that the mill is grinding to a halt; ‘but’ reduces that leeway, making it clear that it is a slow, inexorable process with no end in sight.
Even as common a topic as marijuana, addressed in Medication (done in collaboration with big brother, ace producer and king of singing the hook, Stephen Marley) gets a couplet with meaning, Jr Gong commenting “....dem fight yu fi years/Now de whole a dem a buy shares.”
The intended audience can shirt as well. Looks are Deceiving immediately conjures expectations of a caution against being easily fooled, but turns out to be encouragement to those who may not see a reflection of success when they look in the mirror. In So a Child May Follow – my personal favourite because of topic, production and delivery – the focus shifts from the adult (“Dread shine your light/So a child may follow/Many have been lost along the way”) to encouraging the child (“Hey young world, the world is yours”).
A rare down on Stony Hill is Autumn Leaves, where there is a disjoint between music and delivery. While the lyrics and music are good, as a deejay, Marley’s voice is not always quite up to the required timbre – although it must be noted that there was no copping out with Auto-Tune. And considering the impressive, effective variations in his vocals all throughout Stony Hill (including the urgent passion in Upholstery), pushing the envelope just that much more is understandable.
With Big Youth’s introduction of part of, I Pray Thee, the connection with previous eras of Jamaican popular music is set from the start. I do have a quibble with Stony Hill, though – I sorely wish Gunman World, was included.
While the cover image works very well, it is the picture of Marley in stride on the inside back cover which really engages me.
Here We Go
Nail Pon Cross
Medication (featuring Stephen Marley)
Living it Up
Looks are Deceiving
The Struggle Continues
Everybody Wants to Be Somebody
Upholstery (featuring Major Myjah)
Grown & Sexy (featuring Stephen Marley)
Perfect Picture (featuring Stephen Marley)
So a Child May Follow