LABEL: LION OF ZION ENTERTAINMENT
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 2012
I tend to be a bit of a reluctant listener whenever I encounter an entire musical piece being marketed under an indigenous genre, even though the artiste doesn’t seem to have any form of relation to such a group apart from their mere attraction to it. In fact, it makes me very nervous when I have to watch such singer or group execute their a plan when I consider how the slightest mishandling of a genre of music which, some people hold dearest, can quickly backfire in their faces, though they really intended to do it justice. You can imagine then with me the horror of my predicament when my boss shoved this new album across my desk saying that it was reggae album (and based on my background I would be the best one to handle it). I should’ve known. When he mentioned the name Vanessa Mardueno and it didn’t strike a bell, I quickly realized that what I feared most was upon me! I have never heard the name Vanessa Mardueno in any reggae circles before now and, so I had to do a bit of research. My findings led me to understand her story and appreciate even further the musical style of the the south California Native with a Mexican background (with a strange affinity for reggae music) who, has so much to offer musically in her debut album, ‘Oh My Soul’.
It was probably was the tenderness of her voice that sent me scurrying for answers. In case you’re wondering what she sounds like, I’d call her a grand mash-up of a Nelly Furtado and South African group, The Arrows, over classical root reggae beats, of course with dabs of Latin music. Her PR team prefers “No Doubt meets Portishead in Reggae” but you can be the judge of that. What is important to note is that the unique soulful sound which she brings to the table is invigoratingly good and, it was enough to cause me to sit-up and listen.
You know why we appreciate book of Psalms so much? I reckon that it is because David and the other writers were so able to communicate the deepest and most varied emotions of people in a powerful manner. You know that what he is saying is exactly that which you are trying to say; it’s just that he does it more eloquently. That’s exactly the case with Vanessa’s piece of work. She captures so many emotions through simple words and complementary music which also almost seems to utter its own message.
Opening song ‘Maybe’-which apparently is a mould for the other songs-, does that for me. It communicates the uncertainty one can feel even in the midst of certainty sometimes and leaves, the listener to wrestle through that. Meanwhile the subtle presence of the guitar riffs and other musical accompaniment in the background appears to ask its own questions, especially after the refrains.
‘Party Goes On (He wails)’ is the archetypal roots reggae song and sounds so well executed that it is difficult to tell whether or not this wasn’t a hit from the rich pre-modern reggae era of the early 1980’s. What is so interesting about it is that it presents a candid, even frightening, message over a spritely beat. It’s characteristically the approach that The Arrows tend to take (‘In the Words of Satan’), and it really takes guts to sing along with soul-searching first.
The album isn’t complete without the prayerfully sung, ‘I Am All Yours’ nor without the slew of like songs which follows, such as ‘No One in this World’, ‘What A Shame’, to name a few. In each case, her words have a divine address and she repeats lines like a refrain from a reverent hymn.
Title track ‘Oh My Soul’ is psalm 42 all over again on the necessary but, slower than usual, ‘one-drop’ reggae beat which the album consistently presents.
As far as features go, there are only two guests; Christafari and Dillavou, who really, though present, offer little to take away, really. Still, their voices add a welcomed variation in sound at different intervals on the album.
The album closes with the consistent ‘Marvellous Groove’, as far as sound goes and, she even experiments just a bit more vocally, going beyond her normal range of voice to present this powerful finale. The message is one of hope and confidence and it closes out the album well, to say the least.
So, where does this album come up short for me? In all honesty, the lack of variation in song themes and sound really began to eat away at my patience. I might be mistaken but, I really wished that she would have said more and experimented further with her musical options-push the envelope, for want of a better phrase. I believe as she grows into her voice though, Vanessa Mardueno will be a voice/soul to reckon with as she is not one to be simply ignored-take it from me. I look forward to what she will come up with next!