Over the past twenty years, the way people discover, buy and consume music has evolved beyond recognition. Maybe rather than evolution, the best word to describe these changes are revolution. No longer is a record shop people’s first place to look for new music. Instead, it’s the internet. Now downloading is perceived as the future of music. Then there’s mediums like Soundcloud, Mix Cloud and Bandcamp, where you can discover new music and share it with friends. These are like the music shops for the new millennia. Soon, a whole generation of music lovers will have grown up buying and sourcing music online. They’ll never have set foot on a record shop. This is a shame, as music has never been so inexpensive. Of course this problem is made so much worse by file-sharing and illegal downloads. Since the introduction of computers, which could copy CDs record companies have been fighting a losing battle against illegal downloads. Worse was to come, with universal access to the internet and the introduction of broadband. Suddenly things got a whole lot worse. As a result, record companies are less profitable, able to sign fewer new artists and constantly seeking new ways to release music. During the last few years, various ideas have been tried. Radiohead asked fans to pay what they thought an album was worth, albums were given away with newspapers. Record companies have tried innovative ideas to deliver music to consumers. Offering Recordings have come up with their own idea for Sage Monk’s album Heartache Allegory, giving the album away free. However, does giving music away free cheapen the music? That’s what I’ll tell you after I’ve told you about Sage Monk’s debut album Heartache Allegory.

Recently, Sage Monk was a guest artist on one of my favorite albums of 2012 so far, Boddhi Satva’s brilliant Invocation. He featured on the beautiful and heartfelt Stop Crying, which closed Invocation. Having been so impressed by his vocal on Stop Crying, I looked into Sage Monk’s career so far. All he’d released was an E.P. Baram Bakie in 2009, plus two singles in March 2012, Lambs of Summerian Shepherds and Mbesto Ti Abuntu. These three tracks were released on Offering Recordings, who would have a pleasant and welcome surprise in store for me this week.

This pleasant and welcome surprise was that Sage Monk had released his debut album on Offering Recordings, Heartache Allegory and it was produced by Boddhi Satva. Even better, Heartache Allegory was free. Having downloaded the Heartache Allegory, I discovered it featured a whole host of guest artists, including two artists who featured on Boddhi Satva’s Invocation. These are C.Robert Walker who features on Never, while Leslie Kisumuna features on Lost Without A Sound. They’re joined on Heartache Allegory, by Quetzal Guerrero, Mizzy, Ade Alafia and Amalia. With some of the same personnel featuring on Heartache Allegory that featured on Invocation, will Heartache Allegory match the quality of Invocation? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on Heartache Allegory.

Mon Amour ”Eternal Love” is just a tantalizing taster of what’s to come on Heartache Allegory. It’s a thirty-second snippet of melodic and bold keyboards that whets the appetite nicely.

Ain’t Easy sees the introduction of the first guest artist on Heartache Allegory. Quetzal Guerrero join Sage Monk, as a similar melodic keyboard sound to the opening track is introduced. They’re joined by percussion and crispy drums in providing the backdrop for the vocal. The vocal is heartfelt and impassioned, delivered with a tenderness. Handclaps, crashing cymbals and melodic keyboards drift in and out of the arrangement, as the vocal, like the arrangement, grows in power, passion and drama. Later, a rapped vocal added, adding a hip hop sound to the mostly Nu Soul sound. This works well, adding to the drama, passion and beauty of the track.

Hatred Temple is another short interlude. Unlike the previous one, there’s a busier, bolder sounds. It piques your attention, makes you think, especially given the title. This means this interlude has worked. It’s designed to ask questions and make you think.

Truth Hurts is a very different sounding track, one that’s very beautiful. It features Mizzy, another of the guest artists. Here, elements of African Roots, hip hop and Nu Soul are fused, while the track reveals a vocal that’s impassioned, full of emotion and feeling. Keyboards, percussion, bells, pounding drums and backing vocalists combine, creating a backdrop that’s full of subtle sounds and nuances. The more you hear the track, the more you hear different sounds, subtleties and surprises. Similarly, the more you hear the track, the more you grow to love it and the more you feel and share the hurt, anguish and pain in the vocal. After all, as Sage Monk says Truth Hurts.

C.Robert Walker played an important part in the success of Boddhi Satva’s Invocation, both as a guest artist and songwriter. He plays an equally important role on Never, a track that’s dramatic and one that teases and tantalises you with its hidden secrets. Slowly, very slowly the track unfolds. Keyboards, percussion and samples are added, while the vocal is sincere, fervent and totally heartfelt. As Sage and C.Robert Walker’s vocals intertwine, each adding to the emotion, passion and beauty of the track. It’s impossible not to be touched and moved by their vocals, and it’s impossible to resist a track as beautiful, heartfelt and spiritual as this. This is music for the soul and for the heart.

Pounding drums reverberate dramatically Would You Walk Away begins. Keyboards and percussion are added, providing a contrast. Then comes the moody, broody vocal. It’s full of anguish and hurt, as it asks “Would You Walk Away?” When the vocal drops out, the keyboards take over, but you await the anguished, probing vocal. You feel and share the pain, you worry about the answer and the effects of that answer. You’re caught up in the drama, anguish and hurt. That’s how powerful the music is, that it can move and change your emotions. 

Seven Degrees Of Perfection sees marauding beats and squelchy synths combine and collide. There’s a boldness and drama to the this twenty-second snapshot of music. Elements of drum and bass and Acid House can be heard as Sage Monk leaves you hanging. You long for the track to last longer

Aching Heart is an eight-minute epic that features Ade Alafia. There’s a real African Roots sound to the track when it opens. Percussion, drums and shakers combine, before stabs of keyboards enter. You can hear water cascading before the vocal enters. It’s delivered with feeling, with sincerity and emotion. You’re drawn in, spellbound. When the arrangement grows, the tempo quickens. By now a myriad of percussion, drums and subtle, but dramatic layers of keyboards combine. Two things makes this such a great track, the African Roots influenced arrangement and an impassioned, powerful and absolutely heartfelt vocal.

The Thief Interlude is thirty-seconds of contrasts. The tempo is slow, with keyboards gentle and melodic. They’re the thief creeping along, while drums pound like the thief’s heartbeatm as he tries to escape or evade capture. Understated and dramatic, the track is about contrasts, but paints a picture in thirty-seconds.

Lost Without A Sound features Leslie Kisumuna, who also featured on Boddhi Satva’s Invocation. Her vocal is uplifting and joyous sound, while Sage’s vocal is the polar opposite. His vocal is dark and moody. Meanwhile, the arrangement has a contemporary house music sound, with keyboards, drums and percussion combining. With a tempo of 122 beats per minute, this is a real dance-floor friendly track. Later, a piano enters, joining keyboards, synths and percussion. Although they’re key to the track’s sound and success, it’s the vocal and their contrasting sounds and styles that are most important. While Leslie’s vocal is uplifting and joyful, Sage’s is dark and dramatic. As they unite, they both play vital role’s in the track’s sound and success.

Still In Love With You closes Heartache Allegory. It features a sassy, seductive vocal from Amalia. Her vocal is soulful and impassioned, one of the best on Heartache Allegory. She’s accompanied by crunchy drums, swathes and stabs of keyboards and percussion. The addition of a rasping, jazzy saxophone as a finishing touch is a masterstroke. It drifts above the arrangement, adding to the contemporary, emotive sound as Amalia fuses emotion and passion. Again, it’s a guest artist who plays a leading role in a track’s success, with Amalia delivering a seductive, sassy vocal.

Sage Monk’s debut album Heartache Allegory is a compelling musical journey. On this musical journey, Sage is joined by hugely talented artists of the stature of C.Robert Walker, Leslie Kisumuna, Quetzal Guerrero, Mizzy, Ade Alafia and Amalia. Together, they create eleven innovative tracks, tracks that straddle musical genres and influences. There’s everything from African Roots, house music, Nu Soul, jazz and hip hop. Four of the tracks are just short snapshots of music, posing questions. Sometimes, Sage Monk doesn’t provide answers, leaving you hanging, wondering and thinking. These tracks provoke thought, with Hatred Temple and The Thief Interlude two good examples of this. The other seven tracks vary from heartfelt, impassioned and beautiful tracks like Truth Hurts, Never and Aching Heart through to tracks with a real contemporary sound. Two examples of this are Lost Without A Sound and Still In Love, the two tracks that close Heartache Allegory have a more contemporary sound. There’s a real house music influence and sound to Lost Without A Sound. Still In Love With You which closes Heartache Allegory features a sassy, seductive vocal from Amalia along with an equally seductive, jazzy saxophone solo. Her vocal is just one of several quality vocals on Heartache Allegory. They’re key to the success and sound of the album. Boddhi Satva’s production was also key to Heartache Allegory’s sound and success. He brought his experience and talent, creating an album that’s a fusion of styles and sounds. This means there are parallels with Boddhi’s debut album Invocation.

Earlier, I wondered whether giving music away free cheapens music? I can say the answer to that is a resounding no. Instead, it helps a new artist build a large, loyal fan-base, who will buy their future albums. Giving music away free is an innovative marketing tool, but one that works and will life an artist’s profile.  I also wondered whether Heartache Allegory, which features some of the artists that appeared on Boddhi Satva’s Invocation, would match Invocation for quality? That was a big ask for any album, given that Invocation is one of the best albums of 2012. However, Heartache Allegory comes close. The eleven tracks on Heartache Allegory, like Invocation, are a similar fusion of musical genres and influences. Like Invocation, Heartache Allegory features some heartfelt, impassioned and beautiful music.  Heartache Allegory is music that’s from Sage Monk’s heart, music that’s for the heart and soul and music that’s not only uplifting and inspirational, but extremely emotive and beautiful. Standout Tracks: Truth Hurts, Never, Lost Without A Sound and Still In Love With You.



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