CD REVIEW | 'Conquering Lion' veers from the expected
On the face of it - literally - singer Bushman's early 2018 album on his Burning Bushes imprint is as straightforward as a roots reggae album can get.
It is called Conquering Lion, Bushman is Rastafari, the cover art is a lion's face fused with a man's (one eye each gazing at the viewer) and to either side there is a warrior with shield and spear. To cap it off, there is a red, gold and green background.
The thematic expectations are, therefore, set and duly met in the title track, King Rastafari and closing Jah Alone, for example, with the quality delivery that is expected of Bushman. However, when a vocalist can trace his career trajectory back to the 1997 Nyah Man Chant album (which has Call the Hearse and multi-artiste Remember the Days) and a superb 2004 set Signs (which contains Lighthouse and Downtown), quality becomes ordinary. It is unfortunate, but true, that when a consistently good performer (like Bushman) is assessed by their past (especially most recent) outings excellence can be taken for granted.
So, if Conquering Lion had stopped at the expected, for me the album would have fallen into the unwelcome slot of 'yeah, Bushman do what Bushman can do again and again'. However, there are three tracks which, when added to the expected, move the album into the unexpected and engaging. Maybe coincidentally, they are all not roots reggae songs.
Placed consecutively, in order of appearance on the album, they are the slower, near R&B-tinged Cynicism, up-tempo Somewhere and Jungle Proverbs, which is well accented by a solo brass instrument.
These songs foreground Bushman's voice more than the drum-and-bass-driven roots reggae tracks, and signal the independence of a man well into the third decade in which he is putting out music and sure of his capabilities.
Thematically, 'Conquering Lion' leans heavily on spirituality and the expression of suffering under social pressure. This is broken down in the set by the song of loss, 'Always on my Mind'. Preceding that, though, is the hilarious 'Music', in which Bushman demands that the selections take Centerstage and not the person presenting them, as he sings:
"Mr Selector stop the talking and play
Can't hear what the music a say
Don't wanna lose the vibes. don't wanna go home
Is like you playing for yourself alone"
Taken as a whole, Conquering Lion fuses Bushman's established musical persona with ventures into new territory, showing a willingness to diversify and experiment which satisfies now and bodes well for the future of an outstanding voice projected by a man who obviously takes his art and independence seriously.
- Intro speech (Charlie Chaplin)
- King Rastafari
- Conquering Lion
- How You Living
- Jungle Proverbs
- Burning Love
- Always on my Mind
- Evil Con Evil
- We Mean It
- Jah Alone