Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer
CD: Tough Life
ARTISTE: Junior Kelly
LABEL: VP Records
RATING (FROM FIVE STARS):
CONFESSION. I almost did not listen to 14 songs on Junior Kelly's Tough Life. I got to the third song, Rasta Should Be Deeper and from the opening drum roll, the horns and Kelly alternately rasping and crooning, sending his voice soaring and then diving like a picherie on a crow (sorry if you don't understand the reference, town people), I got really, really attached to the return button on the CD player.
To top it off, the topic is very important and the lyrics are excellent, as Kelly tackles the matter of unruly young Rasses with:
Deeper Rasta should be deeper
Than to wear khaki an' turban
every day ...
Is more than the turban
An' more than the robe
An' more than the natty hair
Is much much more than to say
Selassie and Marcus I ...
There is an impressive change in timbre as he rasps "dem a wolf dem a wolf so me see dem spiraling down", then sounds almost sublime as he follows with "Kelly a Rock of Gibraltar standing firm on solid ground".
Then he reinforces the matter with "yu see de elders dem whe set it must be turning in them grave/jus' to see how dem younger Ras behave". It is very, very good.
Of course I got past, though not over, Rasta Should Be Deeper and got to track 4, the well-known love song Receive, where again the outstanding elements of Rasta Should Be Deeper, good lyrics, good music (including hornlines), excellent lyrics and impressive, varied delivery are presented in a compact though unhurried package, as is the case throughout the entire album.
When Kelly emphasises that in "we laugh, we cry, sometimes we fuss/but that happens to all of us" it is precise and expressive; when he changes his voice into a semi-nasal twang to deliver "you are mine, mine, mine" it is not discordant.
In fact, harmony in voice and among instruments is one of the hallmarks of Tough Life, and although Junior Kelly could probably deliver a ketchup advert and make it sound very good, the level of writing is impressive.
In some ways Tough Life comes in pairs, as the critical look at some of those who claim Rastafari is repeated on Not I ("some bwoy fi know all dem locks fi cut off/cause dem a deal with pure folly roun' ya/a mix up de yute dem inna filth", Kelly says in the intro). Then there are also two remakes, both duets, the first on the album being Love You Like That, the title given to the remake of Someone Loves You Honey with JC Lodge. The other is Hold The Faith, as the remake of Hold On to What You've Got with Dennis Brown.
Then Kelly sings, as in really sings, not sing-jay or whatever it is called, both love songs. On Touch My Heart he reminds me of Frankie Paul (and that is not a dis, OK. Rumours and all, F.P. is a big, big singer roun' ere) in resonance, and again goes for his notes on Jam For A While.
Kelly addresses matters of the heart several times on Tough Life, with Ease My Pain having elements of jazz and R&B (it is the only song on the set for which no musicians are credited), while Loser addresses the fate of a man who ill-treats his woman.
Speaking of pairs, there are also two songs on otherwise popular rhythms on Tough Life, thankfully placed consecutively towards the end of the set. They are Dem Story (same rhythm as Chuck Fender's I Swear and it is a Fifth Element production) and The More I See Her (same backing track as Capleton's Small World).
The standard of the lyrics is high across the board, but sometimes Kelly hits a writing peak such as on Youths Dem Nah Cool, where he says "morgue a de profit/Dovecot a de interest" in the commentary on the viciousness of the young 'shottas'. Then there is beautiful imagery on Jah Give Me Strength when he says "dolly through bad min' an' iniquity/Come out without a scratch because I no licky licky".
From real old school style deejaying on the D. Brown remake to a precise lip smack just before the last verse of Rasta Should Be Deeper, Kelly shows that his roots in the music business are deep and he does give thanks to his brother Jim (you all should remember him from Kilamanjaro) as his 'guiding light' in the 'thank yous'. Then there is the fiery Blaze which shows that he is very much up to date on the burning of what needs to be incinerated.
With the observation "gun play/body found/cost of living make me frown/Separation is a big factor/Blin' a lead blin'/white collar crime/and I see that we aint got no leader", Tough Life sets the tone for a very good set as the opening and title track.
Musicians who worked on the album include Deleon 'Jubba' White, Nick Fantastic, Melbourne 'Dusty' Miller, Donald 'Danny Bassie' Dennis, Dean Fraser, Mitchum 'Khan' Chin, Sly and Robbie and Robert 'Dubwise' Browne, with the Daffodils and Pam Hall among those who provided good support vocals.
1. Tough Life
3. Rasta Should Be Deeper
5. Love You Like That
6. Touch My Heart
7. Hold The Faith
8. Jah Give Me Strength
9. Not I
10. Youths Dem Nah Cool
11. Satan Throne
13. Jam For A While
14. Ease My Pain
15. Dem Story
16. The More I See Her
17. Be Wise