Review first appeared in Examiner Aug. 6, 2012.
The mark of a profound artist is introducing captivating new sounds, or converting you to the ones you thought you heard before.
Reggae is a strange and wonderful musical release, bringing forth aspects of R&B, modal jazz, African and Latin notes, and using offbeat rhythms in that universally recognized call and response you either love or love to hate.
John is such a musical genius, you will love, love, love.
John, originally performing in the 1990s as Yogie (“I Go Crazy”) with a memorable falsetto voice, has already released four solid studio albums, other singles, and a battery of hits (“Miss You,” “Baby Tonight,” “When You Say,” “Lucky Man” — from the 2011 Axe/Lynx summer promo in the United Kingdom).
He’s also a well-established reggae producer in Jamaica, having come from a fine lineage (Beres Hammond is one of the most famous results), as well as a collaborator with Nelly Furtado and Michael Franti. The man knows chart-toppers, largely responsible for the hits that shot Beres Hammond (“Can’t Stop A Man”), Marcia Griffiths (“Shining Time”), and Sly & Robbie and The Family Taxi’s 2011 Grammy-nominated album The One Pop Reggae.
Courtney John’s own work of art combines the best of reggae — the lovemaking tempo, the island breeze, the cascading call and release, like a cooling waterfall in the scorching sun — with the modern flourish of Motown R&B vocals, a touch of jazzy vocalese, and that extra-something else found only in forward-thinking far far ahead of his time.
“So Beautiful” instantly puts the listener in vacation mode, relaxing on a tropical island, whether it’s Jamaica, Malibu, or Kailua. The tripping-on-the-tongue instrumentals go well with the heavenly yet down-to-earth vocal echoes. I immediately went back in time to the glorious age of my early childhood, romping around on the beach in Waikiki, eating plate lunch, and playing tag with my friends. This could be a Jawaiian mix, easily; there is no time or place boxing it down.
The breakout hit is “It’s Gonna Be Alright.” It’s what everything reggae is supposed to be, less dread-lock ganja bastardization, more crystallized tones, pleasant and full, almost classically rock, wrapped up in a palatable but sobering and clever social message about rising above one’s earthly limitations: “You gotta hole in the bottom of your shoe… you gotta million and one bills to pay… still I say… it’s gonna be alright.” Definitely a song for our time.
All 10 tracks off John’s new album embrace the best of reggae — feeling good, feeling hopeful in troubled times, reaching for better, for the peace of that island style — with an almost childlike appreciation for the musical classics (rock, pop, R&B jazz) most of us grew up with. Many of those tracks also completely fold into a brand-new hybrid of music, the ultimate fusion, where anyone from any walk of life or cultural background can claim it as their own personal anthem… whether they’re local boys in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, or the Pacific Northwest.
“I have had great success in the music business and I am always grateful for the tremendous response I get from those who hear my music, whether live or recorded.”