Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18: U-Roy, "Chalice In The Palace"

Artist: U-Roy
Song: "Chalice In The Palace"
Album: Dread In A Babylon
Year: 1975

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While many see the "special" titles given to the most elite artists in history as insignificant or even over the top, the fact of the matter is, there is a reason why these performers were singled out from their peers.  Whether it was "The Genius," "The Teacher," or even "The King," such labels have become synonymous with the performer in question, and few can argue their right to such a title.  However, when artists of this caliber are discussed, there is always one that seems to be left out, and it was he who earned the title of "The Originator," the one and only U-Roy.  Hailing from Jamaica, he was not the "first" DJ, nor was he the first to put his talents on record; yet he was without question the first such performer to expand his sound beyond "the islands," and bring international recognition to the style of "toasting."  Having already spent more than a decade honing his craft, when U-Roy released his major debut in the form of 1975's Dread In A Babylon, the sound was nothing short of stunning, and it forever changed the landscape of the music of his home land.  Bringing a brilliant combination of amazing lyrics, largely rapped over some of the finest reggae and dub ever recorded, U-Roy perfectly captured all of the energy of the sound systems of his native land, and few songs better define his sound or the genre as the sound found in his 1975 classic, "Chalice In The Palace."

The instant that "Chalice In The Palace" begins one can only imagine how much it would have "set off" a sound system, as U-Roy sets himself to perform over one of the most famous rocksteady songs in history.  Using a tweaked interpretation of The Techniques' iconic song, "Queen Majesty," the tone and groove set into place is nothing short of perfect.  The way in which producer Prince Tony Robinson adds more of a dubstep feel to the song is exactly what the song needed to provide the ideal background for U-Roy's vocals, and yet the emotional beauty of the original version is not in the least bit lost.  The smooth, steady bounce to the song is easily able to draw in listeners from every musical persuasion, and one can easily argue that this ability to quickly and simply cross musical boundaries is one of the most defining aspects of all "island" music.  From the light keyboard progression to the way in which the guitar bounces along with the drums, "Chalice In The Palace" is without question one of the most catchy songs ever recorded, and this is highlighted by the way in which the bass seems to almost be dueling with the brief, but bright horn sections on the song.  The combination of all these sounds gives "Chalice In The Palace" a uniquely upbeat feel, and the mood of the song stays as strong as ever, even after repeated listenings.  This is the element that sets the music of U-Roy apart from his peers, as the song never "gets old," proving just how perfectly arranged and balanced every element of the song was crafted.

However, even with this amazing musical creation, there is no arguing that the focus of the song is entirely on that of the vocal performance of U-Roy himself, and his work on "Chalice In The Palace" is without question one of, if not his finest work.  Perhaps moreso than any other vocal recording in history, throughout the entire track, it is clear that U-Roy is completely letting the music dictate how and where he lets his delivers his words.  From singing to shouting, he gives into the power and groove of the song, and this raw, unrestrained sound develops into one of the most stunning vocal performances in history.  Furthermore, the subject of which he sings is one to which so many can relate, as he works a story of the classic "rich versus poor" love frustration, setting himself opposite a Queen with whom he yearns to be.  Yet U-Roy is certainly not taking the traditional approach within his lyrics, as all he seems to want to do is, "...really, really, really want to have a chat with you..." and, "...come out of the palace to lick of my chalice..."  Though this local slang may be lost on many listeners, the term "chalice" is a reference to his smoking pipe, and this gives the entire song a fantastically honest and strangely endearing feel, and this is one of the many reasons why U-Roy was able to rise above his peers.

Though the combination of the music and U-Roy's vocals are absolutely stunning, one can argue that due to the power and style of his voice, many of the songs found on Dread In A Babylon would have been hits even without the music.  U-Roy's voice is rarely less than completely captivating, and regardless of personal music taste, one cannot help but get completely caught up in his performances.  The sheer joy and relaxed mood found in most of his songs is honest and pure in a way unlike any other performance in history, and it is much the reason that the songs of U-Roy are perfect for any mood or situation.  Perhaps due to the way that he completely gives himself to the music, U-Roy's influence would quickly spread across the world, with an influence that can be heard in everything from hip-hop to soul, and even within the sound of legendary  punk bands like The Clash.  The way in which U-Roy paints the classic idea of love attempting to overcome class is absolutely fantastic, and there are few lines in his catalog that are more memorable than when he sings, "...seeing that you wear the crown, and I wear the dread, I'm feeling kind of red and I wanna have a chat with ya..."  This is a feeling to which all can easily relate, and it is this completely honest and universal approach that earned U-Roy the iconic status he holds to this day, as well as what helped his 1975 song, "Chalice In The Palace" rise to an equally legendary place in the overall history of recorded music.

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