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I'm a Winner
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on June 16, 2009
Format: MP3 Music
`Simply' making it as an artist in the current packed and ever growing era of modern Reggae music can be hard enough without certain other factors playing a role. Taking one's talents and combining them with the proper opportunity to not just score a hit or two but to actually DEVELOP as an artist and continue to capture the imagination of the masses is quite difficult task, in and of itself, but there have been quite a few artists who have had more than just these typical obstacles standing against them in recent memory. There are, of course, downright COUNTLESS examples of artists believed and regarded as sounding SO MUCH like another (generally more popular) artist that people simply have problems gaining access to their music because they don't receive proper credit for singing the songs they actually sing. For example, I can't tell you how many times I've been asked the question, "Have you heard Luciano's new tune?", and upon hearing said new tune, I do discover that while it is in fact NEW, it isn't actually Luciano and is, instead, Bushman, Natty King or another baritone voiced Roots Reggae singer whose catalogue, partially, is forever doomed to be attributed to someone who is not themselves. In my mind, that would also make the accomplishments of Bushman, Natty King, Prince Malachi and the likes even more impressive as, even if you are able to differentiate them amongst themselves and The Messenjah, you would have to admit that they definitely serve a very similar purpose and their `making it' would have an increased importance because of it. And the same could be said for artists in the position of the artist in question in this review, who have to, for one reason or another, spend their careers virtually in the shadow of another artist either because they came through the same channels as that artist, or even if they're related to them. Of course the PRIME example of this would be ANYONE choosing to make Reggae music in this day and age who would be equally `cursed' and `blessed' with the surname Marley. To be forever NATURALLY compared to the King of the music that you make definitely carries some sort of weight to it, even before you ever set foot into a studio. There are other examples such as (Little) Kirk Davis, older brother to Beenie Man who has to now play second fiddle to his superstar brother; Junior Cat who did VERY well for himself despite being the brother of one of the most talented artists the Dancehall has ever seen, Super Cat and countless others who have to go through more than just worrying about jumping on a big riddim to get their break out moment.

So what if someone had to do it twice? Such is the rather unusual case of one Spanner Banner, who not only wasn't affected by two of his brothers' downright ASTRONOMICAL rise to top of the game (at two different times) but seemed to actually revel in and THRIVE under those conditions. Initially busting on the scene with a few different hits (I think the biggest of which was probably Chill, which would ultimately become the title for his second album) Spanner Banner often performed on shows headlined by his elder brother Pliers, of internationally popular Chaka Demus & Pliers fame. Looking back at those older pieces, Spanner sounded and even LOOKED a great deal like his brother, yet, his OBVIOUS TALENT was what ultimately gained him a big following (even to the point where he signed a deal with a major label for a time in the States, Island) and, not to be overlooked, the fact that his talent was so great at the time that his biggest accomplishment was a tune that he wasn't even known for singing, Tease Me, which Pliers and Demus would adopt and turn into a MASSIVE international hit. And after a few years of being consistent with his style, very much a young Mr. Loverman type, Banner would assume a roll in the music where, although not the most popular name on the scene, not rising to the levels of a Sanchez, Wayne Wonder or the likes, but being WELL regarded by those who knew his name and appreciated his music. THEN, as coincidence would have it, another brother of his, Richie Spice (who I think Banner is older than), who was making music all the while, eventually CAUGHT FIRE and became a virtual living, breathing WAREHOUSE of hits as everything he brought out caught on with an audience. Having gone through that, even to this day, Spice's name remains one of the most sought after in Roots Reggae and it just so happens that it coincides with a bit of a `return' of sorts for Spanner Banner as he, who hasn't had an album in eight years by my count (since 2001's kind of `funky' sounding Real Love for Heartbeat), now returns with his (again, by my count) fourth studio project, the potentially popular, I'm A Winner. Spanner Banner did continue making tunes throughout that time between albums and it just so happens (yet another coincidence) that his actual style seemed to have kind of drifted between the Mr. Loverman approach (I.e. Pliers' style) to now, a more MATURED and Roots sound (I.e. Richie Spice's style). The story behind I'm A Winner is also VERY interesting. The album comes via Bonner Cornerstone Music (and is distributed through Zojak, which is a very popular move these days) which is about as much of a `family business' as you can have. The family name here being Bonner and the label which supposedly was established around fifteen years ago for the purpose of promoting and releasing Spanner Banner's (and family) music and career, now tangibly does just that. The Bonner Cornerstone label also received a boost about a year ago as Spice himself left former home base label, Fifth Element, to `return' his official business to his family's imprint. I wasn't honestly looking VERY much forward to I'm A Winner as, although I definitely and acknowledge Spanner Banner's talent, it doesn't typically translate well on an album and I can't recall being overly impressed with any of his album releases to date. HOWEVER, Banner has been making impressive vibes lately which is reflected on the album which ultimately fulfills on what it's title indicates.

I may be one of the only ones who think this but I find Spanner Banner's vocal style to be quite a bit like Richie Spice's. His tones are usually higher (and his range is much greater than Spice's) but still quite similar to his brother's and when you're trying to make Roots music, like much of I'm A Winner, that's a good thing. Getting things started on Spanner Banner's new album is one of the more familiar selections on the album altogether and, thankfully, one of the best also, Solid As A Rock. The tune comes across Arif Cooper's now CLASSIC Guardian Angel riddim from a couple of years back and it was definitely one of the more overlooked pieces on that STACKED riddim but it may have been a sleeper as well. It's just a very nice tune altogether and an EXCELLENT opener for I'm A Winner. Net up is a perhaps even more familiar tune to us and to the Bonner family as well for that matter, One Love. Richie Spice scored a MAMMOTH shot on the same riddim which backs One Love, Don Corleon's PEERLESS Heavenly and although Banner doesn't reach the heights of his brother's effort on the riddim, Brown Skin, One Love is still a BIG tune for the album and I can't honestly say that I EVER remember hearing this thing really, making it, like the opener, a real sleeper of a tune. And finally, ending the opening of I'm A Winner is a tune which I'm sure I've never heard but may is definitely one of the best tunes on the album and may just be the strongest of the first three, the classically vibed Everything. This thing is just SWEET ! At its core, Everything is a BIG praising tune for His Majesty (though, wonderfully, not the biggest such tune on the album) and I'd really like to see it get some type of a push to the more MATURE listeners as I'm sure it could really catch on with that crowd. Very nice opening on a rootical tone.

If you just keep I'm A Winner rolling through sequentially, the next tune you'll come to following Everything is my choice for the album's biggest effort altogether, the EPIC Jah Is Merciful. Even given Richie Spice's top notch catalogue, were he to have sung this song it would STILL rank quite high on his list and for Spanner Banner? It's probably the most powerful tune I have EVER heard him sing. Period. Reggae heads will probably recognize a few (STRONG) tunes (or riddims) on the balance of I'm A Winner also. Such a tune would definitely be the very nice Angels Around Me across Kemar McGregor's DOMINANT Rub-A-Dub riddim. Again, the tune didn't receive much attention but can lay a claim to being one of the better tunes across the riddim which birthed so many hit tunes including Richie Spice's MASSIVE Di Plane Land. Spanner Banner also reached the BIG Chemistry riddim from last year with his tune (Ain't Got) No Ties On Me and you'll find that same phenomenon going on that he may have had one of the better tunes on the riddim, but the lion's share of the attention was placed on other tunes on it such as his brother's tune Street Life and most importantly, D'Angel's Strong hit. So if you weren't paying attention then, do it now. And you may also recognize the single from I'm A Winner, the very nice lover's piece, Rolling Stone. This tune came across Penthouse's DIVINE Automatic riddim and, unlike previous cases, it did actually receive quite a bit of spin and justly so. The Spanner Banner of old, in my mind, had he stayed with that pure loverman type of vibes would have grown to make tunes like Rolling Stone and it's just cool to see that now that he is older and more skilled, that he still can make tunes like this occasionally and score with them same way. Big tune. Some of the more unfamiliar tunes on I'm A Winner are also pretty good and worth more than a few spins. Check the title tune which took a few just to grow on me with its very unique vocal approach (he starts the tune potentially sounding like Jah Cure to go on to use this deep `talking' voice at times) and because of that unique approach you should give it a few spins because the star of the tune is DEFINITELY the wonderful message of pulling oneself up and really becoming a Winner in life. I also like the strangely unique Best Friend tune. This one goes on a few levels actually because Spanner Banner, to my ears, never REALLY names who is his Best Friend, thus its left to interpretation and, at times, it appears as if he's talking of his special woman, but from a mental aspect he could also be talking about The Almighty BUT he could simply be speaking of his actual best friend. Regardless the inspiration of tune, its very NICE and one of my favourites on I'm A Winner. Walkin' In Rhythm has a very serene type of vibes and even though its not really one of the best here, I still mention it simply because I could see that tune being the favourite for a lot of people given its kind of catchy type of vibes and its really NOT a bad song (none of the tunes on the album are). I'm sure I recognize the tune Life from somewhere, or at least the riddim, but I can't quite pinpoint it. Still it's a very good song about just appreciating life and nature and more of the simple aspects of life (like LOVE). And it proves to be one of the better written tunes you'll find here along with its very nice sound. Life goes to help set the stage for the downright STRANGE She Groove Me (which I'll leave for you to decipher) and a tune which I KNEW would be on this album before even seeing the tracklist, Holiday which features Richie Spice as well as another Bonner brother Snatcha Dogg (a DJ). This tune also appeared on Spice's (best) album Spice In Your Life and is just a unifying tune from the brothers. Its certainly not the best tune you'll hear but they literally HAD to go in together on something and the not so bad Holiday is it and a not so bad ending for the album.

Overall, I could say quite confidently that not only is I'm A Winner the best album Spanner Banner has EVER released, its also better than Richie Spice's last two albums also! If Bonner Cornerstone were looking for something SIGNIFICANT to propel themselves from an album standpoint, then I'm A Winner is a very good start. Musically speaking, its on point with the STRONG Roots albums we've seen so far this year but specifically here what you're dealing with is an artist who has spent his entire career distinguishing himself from other artists (like his brothers) and that carries over well on I'm A Winner. Its just well done from beginning to end. This one is recommended to all fans, new and old, of modern Roots Reggae and I'm interested to hear what comes next from Spanner Banner as although he gets outshined by his more popular siblings; between me and you - He may just be the most SKILLED of the bunch.
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