How does an artist follow an album considered by many to be the best reggae album of 2014? If you are Midnite, you get right back in the studio with the same brilliant production team and follow that album a few short months later with one that nearly eclipses it entirely.
Midnite’s Beauty For Ashes was not only a contender for the best reggae album of 2014, it was the most popular, most played, and most purchased reggae album of the year according to iTunes. It was also a crowning achievement for a band who, over the past twenty-five years, has changed the sound of reggae, transformed the structure of the reggae song, and resurrected the entire roots reggae genre. Of course, someone failed to notify the Reggae Grammy Committee, whose annual adventure in obsolescence continued unabated in 2014 with the nomination of one great reggae album and five of the most uninspired, unoriginal, and just plain awful “pop contemporary” reggae albums released for the year.
Midnite must have liked what they heard on January 2014’s Beauty For Ashes because they teamed up once again with Ashes producers Zion I Kings for December 2014’s Ride Tru (I-Grade Records), which debuted at number four on the Billboard Reggae Charts. This uber-talented and unpredictable grouping of musicians from St. Croix have constructed yet another modern roots reggae jewel with heavy R&B and hip-hop influences – a departure of sorts from Ashes, which was perhaps Midnite’s rootsiest album since 2012’s Children of Jah.
Lead singer Vaughn Benjamin‘s deepening knowledge of the I-niverse is matched only by his ever expansive vocabulary, which is the most impressive of any reggae lyricist I’ve heard in decades. He eschews the worn and cliched reggae lyrics used by many of his contemporaries, preferring to engage the listener in a lofty, almost academic discussion, the likes of which would be right at home on the pages of Darwin‘s Origin of Species, W.E.B. Dubois‘ The Souls of Black Folk, or the African Sociological Review.
Ride Tru opens optimistically with the dawning of a new day on “Calm The Day,” a beautiful vocal piece by Vaughn Benjamin. Benjamin, who built a career as one of the great contemporary roots reggae chanters, explores his ever-evolving singing voice on soulful cuts like “To Ge Da,” “How I & I Carry Through,” and the title track. However, don’t fret! There is plenty of Rasta righteousness on Ride Tru to fill everyone’s cup. Benjamin gets back to basics on brilliantly produced roots tracks like “Restore,” “Conquering Lion,” “Voices of the Remnancy,” “I Beseech Jah” (feat. Pressure) and the dubbed-out “Credited.”
Midnite and Zion I Kings have crafted another incredible piece of work which nearly eclipses Beauty For Ashes in the process. The group seemingly has an endless arsenal of quality material from which it mines the thirteen gems included on this album, and one listen to it gives every indication that they are still on the come-up, even after twenty five years of non-stop recording and touring.
Midnite has proven once again to be the most important, influential and prolific reggae band in more than two decades. They have single-handedly wrested reggae back from the grips of the crackheads and shit-talkers, reshaping, restructuring, and restoring its respectability, and I, for one, am thankful to be here enjoying their world.