Album review: Jesse Royal “Lily of Da Valley”


Jamaica’s had an influx of talent as of late: Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, and Chronixx name just a few of the next generation of island vibes. And dancing on the outskirts, but not for long, is Jesse Royal. Overall, his talent is irrefutable. Song structure, catchiness, control of the genres, and a sexy voice seemingly pour out of Jesse, whose Lily of Da Valley (Easy Start Records, 2017) offers up an eclectic dance around the genre. He also has a commitment to very 80’s stylings. Loads of synth drums, fetching choruses, and contemporary social consciousness drum up images of Steel Pulse. Comparisons to Peter Tosh also come easily, maybe because both musicians have songs titled “400 Years”, and Jesse’s “Rock It Tonight” parallels Peter’s “Rock With Me”.

Speaking of “400 Years”, it starts the album off, but it’s also unparalleled. The rock-esque intro and laid-on one drops, along with Jesse’s mix of heartfelt singing and rapping feels like Damian Marley’s rootsier tracks: “All the people really want is hands and hearts together,” Jesse offers as horns blister and drum n’ bass enthrall. The clav adds low-end character. Jesse goes on: “Still not getting the respect due.” The rises and falls are quintessential reggae.

Two other tracks are exceptional:

On “Roll Me Something Good”, Jesse provides one of the best ganja anthems written in a decade. The upbeat groove, moderate tempo, and the high hat double-time on the chorus, and maybe the synth drum fills too, create a song designed more for the dance floor than for dorm room. The vibes are nice! “Chalice haffi bubble all night,” Jesse repeats, and adds, “A wiseman said to me/ herb is our destiny.” Message aside, the music alone is supreme.

Also, the finale, “Jah Will See Us Through”, thunders with the album’s best bassline, and sensuous backing vocals. “You must know/ not just believe,” Jesse warns; “Learn from your lessons/ and stop your pouting.” The anthem returns to what the intro had: a mix of vocal styles, instrumentation staying firm to tradition while always building and moving, and a passionate message: “Tell my nieces/ and my nephews/ that Jah will see us through.”

So, yes, traditional lyrics abound across these 14 tracks, but this seems more as a guideline for Jesse. Singles “Modern Day Judas” and “Finally” appear herein trues Rasta form, along with the minor key “Always Be Around” lover’s rock: “This is just an appetizer,” Jesse swings with minimal-but-apparent Autotune. One style I’ve yet to get into is dancehall, and Jesse tries one here: “Full Moon”. And you know what? He slays.

Only “Real Love” fumbles, and not for anything other than being overdone, lacking character, unlike its partner, “Rock It Tonight”, which finds a 70’s reggae vibe. “Hey bartender/ fling a likkle ginseng in the blender,” Jesse muses, adding, “You see that likkle brown thing in the red dress?/ Won’t you send her this bottle of moet?/ Everything is on the Natty tonight.” Oh, that’s smooth, bro… Even if it’s a little questionable when he offers, “The Natty get lucky tonight.”

Despite traversing the sounds, Jesse Royal has a cohesive sound, and so Lily of Da Valley holds together nicely. To get back to Tosh, Jesse has the same urgency in his music, the same pain shines through, the same hope. My ask is that Jesse pursue personal stories in his songs. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who shoot for style over content, Jesse seems eager to bring Jamaican reggae to new places. For a first formal release, though, Jesse Royal lives up to his name. His reign will be long and great.

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