Contagious – Tarrus Riley Spreads ‘Sweet Sickness’ On Third Album

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Tarrus Riley vpreggae

It’s early Tuesday evening at Grafton Studios in Vineyard Town, St Andrew. Tarrus Riley has just finished voicing a track, but that is not his only reason for being particularly upbeat. He is in the later stages of preparing his third album for an August release on the Cannon label, VP Records handling distribution.

Following his 2006 Parables, which sent Riley into the big leagues with the women’s anthem She’s Royal, and the gritty rub-a-dub of Beware, Riley is confident that this set (the final number of tracks is yet to be determined) justifies its title, Contagious.

“It very personal. Me a do new tings. Me a experiment with singing, style, lyrics, tempos,” Riley tells The Sunday Gleaner. Me like make album, not a collection of singles, so we can make real music and people can collect music.

“Me like it. Me like the words, the lyrics, the melody. Me enjoy recording it.”

excellent producers

Also, on this set there are producers other than Dean Fraser (who still has extensive input), among them Bulby, Stephen Marley and DeMarco.

A listen through the tracks, down to the most recently recorded, a duo with Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley in which Riley sings “dog nyam dog and puppy suffer” and Marley observes “man a rise bomber like a dem name Cutty”, is proof that Riley’s infectious enthusiasm is justified.

Musically Contagious is roots reggae rich (an acoustic-style track about the musician’s struggle contributed by guitarist Lamont Savory is one of the exceptions) and lyrically strong. Riley says he feels he has grown as a writer; The Sunday Gleaner assesses that he has also grown as a person.

Other growth

There is other growth as well. The troublesome tot he sang about on Parables’, final track, My Baby, (Cyaan Sleep) puts in an appearance as one of the Leith Hall Basic School singers who have a voice near the end of Let Peace Reign. It was written by Mackeon Solomon and Sherita Lewis and features Duane Stephenson and Etana. And at the start, the Vauxhall Choir sings Riley’s, Save The Children, written around the 2006 killing of six family members in St Thomas.

And coming with the explosive growth in Riley’s popularity since Parables has come some negative spin-offs, to which he has responded with Stop Watching on the rhythm to Black Uhuru’s General Penitentiary, produced by Bulby. It will be preceded by an Ity and Fancy Cat skit discussing Riley as he approaches them (Riley has fun acting it out, as it wasn’t yet ready for the in-studio talk) and Tarrus sings:

“Dem sey dem cyaa tek a bone inna me body

An mi flesh dem woulda like fi tear it …

Stop watch you sister success, it will mad you”.

Riley does not dwell on negative comments that have come with his success, but notes “people tend to love you when nobody know you”.

If his third album proves to be as Contagious as he intends it to be, Riley is going to be even more well known.

Honouring the roots

He honours the roots; the opening track about the gun man (distinct from the ‘gunman’) is introduced by Joe Lick Shot, who says in his inimitable style “when I say Tarrus I don’ mean de big black one whey u keep inna yu wais, I mean di big black one whe a sing inna de place”. Tarrus plays on his name (Taurus being a popular gun brand), singing “a me gi dem strength fi a gwaan so rude,” demanding “a whe dem mek gun fa?/Me no see no good whe it a do roun’ ya”.

But Riley is also very much part of the now (he points out that he is a part of the dancehall generation), so deejay DeMarco is one of the producers he works with. DeMarco also performs on the song, along with Vybz Kartel and Riley, an ode to marijuana.

Riley sings that it should be something you can pick up inna drive through like French fries”, while Kartel welcomes Mr Riley “with the herb champagne”. Still, he points out that “is not just about smoking herb. Is really a sacrament an’ a personal ting. Me no really say a man fi walk pon road an’ burn it … Is all about a distinction”.

“Dancehall is our generation music. Me nah separate myself from no artiste. Me an de artiste is one,” he reaffirms.

Riley plays on another personal attribute in Rastafari A Mi Eyesight. “Me wear glasses, the worl’ know that,” he says. “We haffi deal wid the world – people a people. Me use the teaching of Rastafari to be my eyesight. Like She’s Royal; Rastafari show me that.”

And he points out “me no come fi fight no religion. It just divide”. So he sings “I sight the fullness without mi glasses/Defender of the faith no matter what the class is”.

There are a number of excellent songs about male/female relationships on Contagious, among them Love’s Contagious, an outstanding love song on the rhythm to Bob Marley’s Coming In From The Cold in which Riley rejoices “suppen a go roun’ is the sweetest sickness”. He sticks to the illness imagery throughout, with “when you love attack me I couldn’t do nothing about it.. me no want no doctor drugs me …”.

Relationship songs

Soulmate, Young Love and S Craving (“man an woman cyan tame …”) are other relationship songs with the album’s two covers (Human Nature and Superman) also in that vein.

He has tuned in to the experiences of a close friend to wonder Why So Much Wickedness Out Deh? and a yet-to-be-titled song advises not to judge by appearances, as that ragged person you scorn “might be your father you turned your back on/Your brother you haven’t seen in so long … .”

“Is not my music, is our music. Me haffi talk fi people who waan sey tings an cyaa sing,” Riley says.

Earlier works

In earlier works, Riley had done Barber Chair, about the early stages of Rastafari (“he’s growing his hair, he’s left the barber chair …”); on Contagious he sings to ‘King Selassie’, referring to HIM Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica and also personal manifestation of faith (“when dem look pon mi shirt a dozen button whe me have/a whofa picture? A Selassie!”).

Jessica Yapp plays violin and Cat Coore cello on the Niyahbinghi song.

Among the few songs on Contagious that would already be familiar to the public are Cut It Off (Start Anew) and Good Girl Gone Bad, done with Konshens.

Right after next month’s Reggae Sumfest, Riley heads to the United States for a month, then shortly after he heads to Europe, spreading his Contagious music.

And he smiles as he says “through the power of the fans mi getting contagious … There is something for everyone”.

Lovely love songs on new set

If his third album were to be a lover’s rock set, the name would have been Love’s Contagious, the title of one of the tracks about intimate male/female relationships that Tarrus Riley has on the set.

Title track or not, it is a superb song, on the rhythm to Bob Marley’s Coming in From The Cold, Riley holding to the image of love as a wonderful illness throughout.

In the chorus he sings “suppen a go roun”, love’s contagious” and reinforces “suppen a go roun” is the sweetest sickness”.

He continues:

“When yu love attack me

I couldn’t do nothing about it;

Me no want no doctor drugs me.”

And Riley laughs merrily, along with The Sunday Gleaner, as he goes into some medical terminology, including symptoms, and the requisite ‘jook’ of an injection.

Two remakes

The album’s two remakes are love songs, Riley taking on Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and Robin Thicke’s Superman. Human Nature was released previously as part of a reggae tribute album to the ‘gloved wonder’ by a Japanese outfit. “This one is my favourite so I chose it,” Riley says.

Superman was done specifically for Contagious.

He has learnt the value of remakes, as well, saying “is a next humble lesson. Before me start in music you would never hear me cover a song”. Now, he understands “it don’t take anything away from me and people love it”.

His cover of John Legend’s Stay With You, which appears on the Parables album, is very popular.

Riley says Soulmate describes a situation where “sometimes you meet someone and is like you and them deh long time”. And he uses musical terms this time, singing about a “perfect kind of harmony/I’m your words you’re my melody”.

He also deejays on Soulmate, going back to his early days in music when he started out as a deejay, dropping the line “I’ll be your roaring lion nah be no Romeo”.

Undeniable drive

Young Love was written on Riley’s first trip to England in 2008. When it was studio time he was tired and not in the mood to work. When he heard the music, done by the same people who produce Bitty McLean, “me start write instantly”. Young Love is about catching up with a girl from the early school days (“even as a little child, you did have you own style; I knew you would grow to be a special lady”). And now that everybody has grown up there is some regret as well: “All of my days in high school I played the fool; I plead my innocence you should have been mine”.

Riley laughs as he introduces S Craving to The Sunday Gleaner, a song about that undeniable drive. It starts with a phone call to arrange a tryst and in one verse Riley asks a woman about a particular satisfaction of the urge and she replies “the smartest people do some foolish things”. in another verse he asks a man the same thing and gets the reply – “the strongest people turn inna weakling”.

And he concludes “man an woman cyaa tame”. In the end it comes back to the phone call and the woman says “you no easy at all”, to which Riley replies, “you no easy either.”

– Mel Cooke

Original Post Jamaica Gleaner


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