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First Listen: Man-Like-Devin – “People’s Prayer”

“People’s Prayer” is the first single off of the first volume of a long awaited collection of acoustic reggae, rocksteady, and ska coming from acclaimed songwriter and Jamaican music connoisseur who goes by the name Man-Like Devin aka Devin Morrison. As a fan and friend of Devin, this has been one of my most anticipated releases of 2021. He mentioned the possibility of it during his weekly Songbook Sessions livestream which I watched religiously every Tuesday of the pandemic. I was beyond stoked to receive an advanced copy and I am excited for the world to gain access on August 20, 2021. I am excited not just because I know Devin, but because I KNOW. I know how valuable of a singer songwriter he is in the people’s lives who have heard him. I purposefully showcased Devin’s songwriting on repeat throughout my home during the first few years of my son’s life because I wanted him to hear and share the connection a great songwriter like Devin can embed in our subconscious. I truly believe this kind of sonic literacy can become a major source of strength later in life through trying times of growth and struggle. It’s a connection and meeting ground for yourself and others. Songwriters provide this. Songs can bring us back to life and learning how to love them deeply over and over again is one of the more worthy uniquely human experiences. It is vital to have the right tunes and the right artists for you. Man-Like-Devin and his songs may as well be a medicine man prescribed for such purposes.

Many have been introduced to Devin’s songwriting through The Expanders, a band he pioneered and traveled with for many years. In this first solo exploration, Devin has deepened his sonic style while staying distinctly true to his signature writing form. The sweet spot of his song crafting skills comes through even more directly channeled on this beautiful new record, aptly titled Wheel and Shoulder: Acoustic Reggae, Rocksteady, & Ska Vol. 1.

Rather than blasting out of a sound system with force to annihilate a standing army, Wheel and Shoulder helps to bring into focus why so many folk musicians find common ground in the roots of Jamaican inspired musical forms. The song writing will always be first and foremost, but the rhythm and style that acoustic instruments can bring nice-up the dance in a uniquely special way. It gives the players a place to talk. It has the spirit of a speakeasy informal gathering of the masters. Music for music’s sake. The medicine the musicians take.  The makeup of instruments on Wheel and Shoulder presents an exciting and inviting atmosphere akin to a moonlit jam meditation under a mango tree.  There is ample intimate sonic space made for the elements of the upright bass, banjo, the clickity clack bang bang of well chosen percussion and kette drum sounds to spark throughout the record.

And spark they do. The entire album has the ever crackling glow of a classic beach fire, with enough cool breeze to hear the spirits answer in the distance. For the very entrance of the melody of “Peoples Prayer,” we are showered with a mystically sustaining line of guitar harmonics played by Devin’s brother Patrick Morrison, who also plays upright bass throughout the record. The tenor guitar line tickles through the ear as the smell of the storyteller’s sage draws you nearer. Next we are awash in a beautiful splash of signature Man-Like-Devin harmonies before we are brought into the sonic meeting ground that is “People’s Prayer”

At the root of it all, we want a good song. Therein lies a distinct human power to translate the unspeakable. Through the art of songwriting, a stranger’s master craft magically weaves our personal emotions in with the chords of the melody and verbs of the vocalist. We find our lives’ most vulnerable moments threaded into a shared space of collective experience. Before even listening to the lyrics of “People’s Prayer” I heard it as the spiritual gathering ground a great song is supposed to be. In a way, Devin identifies this; the togetherness we can find in a song, the reasons why we listen and the effect that it brings.

“Everyday the people say, I don’t wanna be alone/ but everyday the people pray, why must I be so lonely/listen to the words weh the people say, I don’t wanna be alone”

The more listeners encounter the song, the more spiritual mass it gains. The more experiences listeners have with a song, the more experience the song will have. Each appreciator’s connection is unique to themselves, while also bridging an unspoken solidarity amongst a listenership. I take note of all artists and songs that can connect me to this community. I can say with clarity that every cut on Wheel and Shoulder delivers just that. I kept returning to images of fires, sparks flying, moonlit clouds moving by, and warm waves crashing in the distance as I closed my eyes and let the record run. The music is strong enough in its identity to melt whatever mood you’ve just had. It can transport you back to the community that we discover through our favorite songs. Like going to a concert alone only to find all of your friends, these familiar memories we’ve experienced while apart bring us together through the shared love of great tunes.

Man-Like-Devin is steeped in this type of alchemy. Weekly he streams and casually plays his heart out on the acoustic guitar through all songs old and new. Originals and covers blend together. Amongst all of the hats he wears, it must be mentioned that Devin is a beautiful singer. It would be enough of a quality to love the record alone but since there is so much vision and history behind the particular artist’s work here, one might forget to mention that it’s the voice that will really draw you in.

The tunes also sound ancient. New classics. Riddled with proverbs that you’ve never heard with all kinds of sprinklings from reggae familiarity. I heard Devin remark on one of his Songbook Sessions that his favorite songwriters, Leonard Dillon and Bob Marley, each had the gift of turning something ordinary into the subject of a timeless tune.

“Now I’m here to offer so much love to you. And to accept love alone as pay for all the work I do.”

Devin is a master of love songs and a delver of truth and revelation. His songs are direct and to the point, yet always offer a great sonic range of vision – straight through the heart. He has a distinct gift of supplying songs of great depth that crest the surface whenever the chorus hits. They bring the soul up for air from that deep cry. From the sob you needed. Right when you thought you had cried more than you could ever cry, Devin’s chorus’s have the ability to give your body that heaving gasp toward the sky, that heavy breath of oxygen that powers you to keep crying until the sorrow has been fully saturated by your spirit. And perhaps this is what is the “People’s Prayer.”

I have listened to Devin’s music for countless hours in my life. Anyone that has joined Devin on his stream during the pandemic knows what a treat this is, to finally hear these carefully collected versions of his newest numbers. Man-Like Devin’s Wheel and Shoulder: Acoustic Reggae, Rocksteady, & Ska Vol. 1 is packed with purity. This is Devin widening his channel and dialing in the power that word sound and power provide in its most stripped down form. The acoustic reggae guitar chop is rarely used in modern reggae music but it’s always the hardest hitting. Whether Binghi Bunny, Clinton Fearon, or Devin Morrison, it evokes fire lit nights and endless stargazing. The notes pop crackle and snap, illuminating the darkness of endless space. The excellent engineering works of Roger Rivas and Rivas Studios capture these flashes and you can follow them until they dissolve into your consciousness and warm your soul.

“People’s Prayer” is just the beginning. Give thanks for the record that is coming. One that can gift you a familiar comfort while deepening our understanding of that place inside of our heart. We all need to explore more. Devin has studied the masters over a lifetime. Let Man-Like-Devin be your guide. The ancient roles of bard and troubadour echo timelessly throughout the all-acoustic works of this first blessed solo record from Man-Like Devin.

Wheel and Shoulder: Acoustic Reggae, Rocksteady, & Ska Vol. 1 will be released through Rootfire Cooperative on Aug 20, 2021.

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Bass player and songwriter for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, James feels, plays and lives the music. Lucky for us he also has the knack for remembering what happened and writing it down in his own voice.

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