Hope Review

Craft, sweetness and hope
A review of Hope by Sheldon Blackman & The Soul Rebels, originally published in the Sunday Guardian for December 30, 2012.
On Malo Jones' The Last Days of Jonestown, I found local musicians exploring the swampy dissolution of blues rock with surprising honesty and no small success.
Sheldon Blackman’s Hope, produced with his band The Soul Rebels, finds the son of Ras Shorty I channelling his father’s vibe across a wide range of disciplines backed by a Nordic musicians. Roots soca recorded in Oslo.

It’s surreal to hear 80’s era soca being anchored with such authority by drummer Thomas Dulsrud and bassist William Pedersen Stavik.
After an odd introduction, an aural soundscape meant to be a rallying of crowds to a train ride, the band explodes into Steelband Oi, a lavway that might credibly have been played to coax a weary mas band home by a combo on its second wind late on a Carnival Tuesday afternoon.

The next number is a fusion jazz number, Reach for the sky (Mama Africa) suggests a signal from Blackman that anything can and will be permissible on this album.
While the music is wide ranging, with bluesy ballads and skanking rockers, the themes are almost painfully constrained. After so many years working abroad, much of Sheldon Blackman’s songwriting seems to be straitjacketed into the lesser themes of his father’s legacy.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Garfield Blackman’s work was not just diverse and genre defining, it was adventurous and exploratory before it became mired in dogmatic preachiness.
The man who mastered calypso, evolved it into soca and then anchored it in conscious music with Jamoo left impossibly large shoes to fill and it might be argued that the whole Blackman family, raised to compose, sing and play, have been enthusiastically stepping out in all directions.

But this is an album about loving and losing love, irritatingly vague social concerns, maternal love and feel good aspiration.
When the album really works, it absolutely soars.
The hypnotic beauty of Ocean, with its snaky bass and seductive harmonies is a siren call of bubbling rhythms.

The title song, Hope, seems to speak to where Sheldon Blackman finds himself as an artist.
As Peder Øiseth’s wailing trumpet provides sympathetic counterpoint, Blackman sings...

“Deep within my soul I seek for direction
Hoping that in thy message I find a solution
Cause in my heart and in my soul there’s such confusion
The question and answers I can’t find them nowhere and from no one
I say oh my soul why are thou so heavy
Oh my spirit why are thou so heavy”

This is where the snide reviewer might note that Blackman has good reason to be worried, particularly after wading through the desultory old-school reggae beats of Fret not, Good Things and Miss you today, but there’s so much craft in the best work on the album that it would be absurd to dismiss it on its weakest moments.

There’s so much sweetness to the music when it meets the words in that deft lockstep of sound, meaning and mood that Blackman can channel when his head is fully in the game, but he needs to step away from the easy Marleyisms that plague this work and pull it down into the maudlin and ordinary.

When he stands boldly on the shoulders of his family’s legacy of work as he does confidently on Ocean and Hope, speaks his mind and sings his soul as he does on the achingly spare Lonely, well, then there’s more than hope, there’s little that’s more fulfilling than that.
blog comments powered by Disqus