Prince Allah: Stand Firm review – Steve Topple for Pauzeradio.
To say Prince Allah is a veteran of the Roots movement is probably an understatement. But this legendary artist has lost none of his spark, as his most recent project demonstrates.
The album opens with Some A Dem. It’s pure, classic Roots. The musical arrangement uses an extremely effective one tone chord drop-down across each bar. This gives the track a swaggery, edgy feel. A bubble rhythm on the keys and a percussive one drop, with the kick drum on the second and fourth beat, let you know you’re in safe Roots hands. The combination of Ska horns, whose appearance is fleeting, and a syncopated Rocksteady bass take the track direct to Marley territory. Just to make Some A Dem that bit more ambiguous, a Hammond organ appears for some added Soul.
But it’s Prince Allah’s vocal and the arrangement of this which are most interesting. He effortlessly soars the base melody across the first, third and fifth of the root chords. Also, instead of having the backing vocals performing a call and response, his vocal has been doubled up to do this. So, it’s almost as if he’s answering his own musical question. The whole track is a near-faultless set piece for the rest of the album.
Stand Firm is up next. Again, all roads lead to Roots as do the track’s musical devices. But in contrast to the syncopated, almost Jazz-like melody and arrangement of Some A Dem, Prince Allah smooths these over in Stand Firm. His powerful, resilient vocal is drawn out, gliding across bars. It’s a clever use of a musical device to match the title and subject matter. The doubled-up call and response is back. It’s musically in contrast to the main melody, being more improvised and fluid. And again, Prince Allah’s vocal ability impresses – covering a wide range and at times dipping into a falsetto. All in all, an ingenious vocal juxtaposition to Some A Dem while maintaining musical continuity.
The next track is Life Is. Once more, there are clever intricacies which set it apart from its predecessors. It’s in a minor key, to start with – in contract to the rest of Stand Firm. The bass, which is now on a clear lick, very prominently sets the beat on the second and then just off the third. While a bubble rhythm is there, the one drop is all but absent from Life Is. The drums and percussion take somewhat of a back seat, apart from a persistent washboard and a drum flourish at the end of every fourth bar. If you removed the bubble rhythm, the track could almost stray into Hip Hop territory. But Prince Allah’s commanding vocal also makes sure you know what genre you’re dealing with. Stirring stuff.
Stand Firm concludes with Love This Way. Musically it’s the most complex track of the album; fascinatingly so. While the bubble rhythm is standard, a one drop is diversified. This begins with a roll just before the first beat of the first bar in the musical pattern. It ends with the drums performing an almost Rock-like break at the end of the fourth bar. This composition gives the effect of moving the track along quicker than its actual BPM; as does the syncopated bass. Gone are the call and response vocals. They’re replaced by a Gospel-like backing, and that Hammond organ returns with its Soul. It’s a joyous, modern day Lover’s Rock piece – giving a fitting end to the album.
Stand Firm also offers Dub remixes of each track. The quality of these is top-class, allowing the listener to hear the tracks from a different musical perspective. Moreover, it’s good to see Prince Allah keeping the Dub version tradition alive.
Lyrically, Stand Firm showcases Prince Allah’s storytelling at its most potent. The album has a clear message, mapped out with a beginning, middle and end. It gives a clear ‘what, how, when and why’ of his overall message of faith.
In Some A Dem, Prince Allah deconstructs how so many people are consumed by the system, but that there are those which knowingly use it to their nefarious advantage (the ‘what’ of the lesson). “Always boasting on vanity, with no love for humanity” he notes, pulling apart our society’s obsession with celebrity, fame and power. The track is also a side-eye to politicians and corporations, as Prince Allah discusses their love for “corruption” and “destruction”.
He directly offers a response to these people (the ‘how’), and the system that created them, in Stand Firm. It’s an affirming lesson that, despite all the odds seemingly being stacked against us, we have to maintain our faith that good will prevail. The track is almost a cautious “Song of Praise”: “For brimstone and the fire burning”, as it is currently around the world. But Prince Allah also urges us to keep that firm stance, even if we wobble, as he proclaims:
“For in the morning, yes
“Fresh and dem blooming.
“But in the evening
“Dem fade away…
“So, stand firm…”
It’s a poignant yet uplifting song. And it leads perfectly into Life Is.
The track is a clever follow-on lesson, discussing how, despite what life may throw at us (and ultimately present the temptation to become ‘some a dem’), it’s supposed to be this way (the ‘when’). Prince Allah is almost setting out the times when we have to ‘stand firm’: “don’t burn your bridges behind you… live good, live good… today”. The minor key accentuates the circumstances he’s setting out to good effect. And the track acts as a sobering reminder that however positively you live your life, there’s negativity just waiting to swallow you up.
The ‘why’ of Stand Firm’s story is Love This Way. The track needs little explanation. Suffice to say, while it’s Lover’s Rock in formation, it’s actually not about a partner. The song is about love more broadly – whether that be family, friends or Jah. It is the most fitting conclusion to the album, because the three previous tracks all build to this point: that, despite all the bad the world contains, the path we have to trod and the fight we have to fight, love is the ultimate reason for all of it. “Not rich in wealth, but rich in love, today”. Exactly so.
Stand Firm is a glorious project. It’s full of the musical deliciousness that Prince Allah has served up throughout his life. However, it’s more than that. Managing to mix all the ingredients of what our lives are really about into just four portions is no mean feat. But he’s done it, and it works beautifully. Exquisite. Review By Steve Topple 15/01/2020