A Chilean transplant to New Zealand, Jah Red Lion – flexing irie mic skills in both English and Spanish – makes a timely musical statement on his EP Lion Heart, with bass-heavy productions (and a pair of quality dubs) coming from fellow Kiwis Dub Terminator, High Stakes, and Reality Chant.
Claiming most of the productions, Dub Terminator handles the first few tracks, beginning with the booming hip hop-influenced “Never Leave Me Alone.” Featuring a catchy English chorus and fast-paced verses en Español, Jah Red Lion is clearly confident telling his story in his languages.
“Turn Up Di Bass” brings a beat that is expectedly club-ready, emphasized by the looping auto-tuned hook, which does serve to show the range, from pop to underground, that this vocalist is comfortably capable of covering. “Nunca Es Tarde” is also post-reggaeton – wisely avoiding potential genre pitfalls – so while a bit glossy, it still results in a solid modern dancehall production.
“Jah Thunder” – Reality Chant’s turn at the production desk – is remarkably rootsier, with a vibrant theme of ‘money can’t buy love’ that warns of the excesses of material things, hails the joys of dub in one’s life, and places priority on the need for community. Common themes in reggae for sure, but ones that deserve repeating and are well-sung here with emotion and passion atop some thick bass (which deserved a longer outro).
Finally, the High Stakes-produced “Arriba” returns to the club, driven by tight claps; by now it’s clear that Jah Red Lion is ready to step beyond the confines of New Zealand dance halls and into global clubs via his use of multiple hooks, a subtle balance between hard and soft, and a keen sense of purpose.
What about the dubs? “Jah Thunder Dub” features some echoes and reverb, true, but the pairing of drums-n-bass with the vocal is what works most memorably and meaningfully. Less is actually groovier than more, turning the fact that ‘enough of them ah worry bout material things, they don’t know what dub in your life can bring’ into a pressing call for change. Opening with some souped-up low-end theory, “Never Leave Me Alone” is dubbed firmly into MC-friendly instrumental territory, with only the title and a few other vocal shards allowed to emerge from the haze.
Well-rounded and engaging (plus providing excellent motivation to improve one’s Spanish, if necessary), Jah Red Lion has a strong release here with Lion Heart, another winner from the ever-reliable Soul Island label. Check out the album preview mix, or download wherever fine digital releases can be found.