Crown Dem Kings

Milton Henry and Roberto Sanchez have collaborated on the best album of 2013, and one of the best albums of the new millenium.

Milton Henry is a very lucky man.  Maybe the luckiest man in the business right now.  Not because he is a gifted singer who at one time recorded for Joe Gibbs, Lee Perry, and many other legendary Jamaican producers.  Not because he was an integral part of the Wackies House of Music crew during their golden age, recording for the legendary displaced Jamaican reggae producer Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes.  Milton henry is the luckiest reggae artist on the planet right now because acclaimed producer Roberto Sanchez saved his heaviest, most authentic roots reggae riddims for Henry’s Branches and Leaves Showcase.

Milton Henry’s Branches and Leaves Showcase, produced by Roberto Sanchez and released on the Iroko Records label, is the best reggae album I have heard this year.  That is a bold statement, especially when you consider the other solid reggae albums that have been released this year.  Cedric Congo Meets Mad Professor (Ariwa) by Mad Professor, Stepper Takes The Taxi by Sly and Robbie, I-Surection by Talisman, Topsy Turvy World by Kiddus-I, Sound The System by Alborosie, Be Strong by Midnite, and The Eight Year Affair by Protoje – all are great, solid roots reggae albums released this year.  I love each of these albums. However,  Milton Henry’s Branches and Leaves Showcase is a more than just the best reggae album  released so far this year.  It is the best reggae album I have heard in at least five years.  A modern reggae classic.

I subscribe to a theory that every 2-3 years, an album is released that virtually resets the “reggae dial.”  In effect, an album that sets the bar for a sound, vibe, and spirituality by which every release after is measured against.  Stephen Marley did it with Revelation Part 1:  The Root of Life.  Damian Marley did it with Welcome to Jamrock.  Buju with ‘Til Shiloh.  most recently, Protoje did it with The Seven Year Itch.  This latest album by producer-extraordinare Roberto Sanchez and Wackies throwback Milton Henry is rock-solid from the roots to the branches.  A classic roots reggae album inna a showcase style.

The title of Milton Henry’s breakout Wackies album ‘Who Do You Think I Am’ is a fitting question for those who are not familiar with this legendary Jamaican vocalist.  Born 1950 in Allman Town, Central Kingston, Henry received vocal training along with another young singer named Horace Andy at the Mico Practising school.  He left school at the age of 15 and recorded his first song for a young producer who was also making his session debut:  Joe Gibbs. According to Henry, also at that first session were Errol Dunkley, Roy Shirley, and Keith Blake (Prince Allah), each of whom walked away from the studio that day with a hit recording to their name.  Henry and Blake, who performed together as The Leaders, had a meager hit with “Hope Some Day.”  After performing with several different vocal groups, replacing Max Romeo in The Emotions (a trio featuring Henry, Loyd, and Robbie Shakespeare), and cutting a smash hit with Lee “Scratch” Perry under the name King Mideus, Henry makes his way to NYC in 1975.

It is in the Bronx were Henry hooks up with Jamaican-born, Bronx-bred reggae producer Llloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes, whose Wackies Sound System and studio.  Henry initially became involved with wakes on the business end, running the record store.  Eventually he was able to record enough solo tracks for an album.  His debut solo album, Who Do You Think I Am, was released in 1985, some twenty years after he sang his first song for Joe Gibbs.

Roberto Sanchez was just a youth man when Henry released his solo debut ‘Who Do You Think I Am’ in 1985 on the Wackies label.  Sanchez, a gifted musician, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, cannot be touched right now.  Everything that emerges from his A-Lone Ark Muzik Studio sets the bar for modern roots reggae.  Sanchez became a household name among serious reggae fans beginning in 2010 with his deep roots showcase album featuring Earl Zero ‘And God Said To Man.’  He followed in 2011 with another strong effort, Alpheus’ ‘From Creation.’  He now brings forth a showcase album that will surely solidify his name as the premiere roots reggae producer in the world – a modern classic that will occupy the CD players and IPods of reggae fans for many, many years.

The Branches and Leaves showcase starts with a brutal chanting riddim by the Lone Ark Riddim Force which features an uncharacteristically dread Milton Henry chanting “It’s a crisis…a world crisis, you no hear, what a gwaaan?”  It is a perfect opener for the album as it sets the tone for what will be a heavy listen.  The album is tracked brilliantly, containing 6 vocals, each followed by the dub track.  The album never lets up.  “Rastafari Cannot Die,” “Rastaman Beware,” “Gimme Gimme Take Teke,” “Let Go The Ego,” “Hold My Hands”… Sanchez keeps the pedal to the metal all the way through, and Milton is right there with him along for the ride.  It’s tough to select stand-out tracks from the album, as they seem to all roll into one another making for one heavy listen experience.  Sanchez seems to salute the golden Wackies sound of “lovers soul” with the track “Hold My Hands” toward the end of the album.

Please visit IROKO RECORDS to listen to the album.

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