||Big Crown Records is proud to present Ekundayo, Liam Bailey’s debut record on the label. This album is a long time in the making, and after listening, clearly worth the wait. It didn’t take a long time to record, but it did take years for all the stars to line up.
Bailey, born and raised in Nottingham, England, the son of an English mother and Jamaican father got his early influences from his mom’s record collection. Bob Marley and Dillinger, Stevie Wonder and The Supremes, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix would eventually shape the singer/songwriter we know today.
Fast-forward to 2005, Liam is in London and doing the whatever-gig-you-can-get musician hustle with hopes of landing a record deal. And it was through this time that Liam first teamed up with Leon Michels, musician/producer luminary, and the co-founder of Brooklyn's own Big Crown Records. Liam flew out to New York and those first sessions together produced the now classic tunes “When Will They Learn” and “I’m Gonna Miss You” which still get spins at reggae spots around the globe. That trip helped kick off what was to follow next for Liam: a slew of record releases, label deals, and working with some wildly-notable mainstream producers. Even a just-famous Amy Winehouse heard one of Liam's apartment-made, lo-fi recordings through a friend and liked what she heard. Regardless of the audio quality, Liam's particular sound shone through—all guitar, warm-rough and genuine soul. She signed him to her label shortly after.
But, as the story can go with major labels, they already had an idea of the Liam they wanted to make, promote, and push. With the typical pay-day enticement, Liam did his best to fit into whatever shape they put him to. "'Maybe I can make it work,' that's what you're thinking," Liam remembers, "but, you quickly find out that you can't."
While Liam’s career went through a bunch of record industry twists and turns he and Michels stayed in touch and would regularly connect and collaborate. Finally, in 2019, the time was right to do a full-length album together. And this time, it would be free of any restricting major label presumptions and opinions.
Set to release in October 2020, the album is called Ekundayo. And the word's meaning may be all you need to know to get to the essence of this project. It means "sorrow becomes joy" in Yoruba, a language spoken mostly in Western Africa. Liam's potently unique voice has always had to fight against label agendas to get through. Now, teaming back up with Leon and his production, that restraint has given way to a pure, liberating freedom that trusses up the entire record like a spine. "This is the record we always wanted to make," says Michels, nodding at those past projects, where they bottled a spark of lightning in a studio session. But then there always was the slightly deflating feeling of whether or not Liam's label situation at the time would like it.
On the surface, Ekundayo is a weighty Reggae record, full of new and old textured riddims. But listen more in-depth, and you'll find subject matter that's more recognizable from a modern-day R&B record.
An example of the former is the first single off the album. Sung to the most beautiful woman at the nightspot, "Champion" is a joyous anthem powered by a silly-thick Juno-bass throb and 808-proof drums. In short, "Champion" is dancehall-ready. But then there's a song like "Don't Blame NY." Moody and sparse with a somber drive, you might have to resist the urge to compare it to a Frank Ocean-ish type vibe. Liam's voice is in a different but fitting element here, showing stripped-back emotion and soulful restraint. Anyone who has lived and tried to thrive in New York won't have a hard time relating to the lyrics but they may join the masses who blame the city, while Liam points the finger at himself and sings praises to The Big Apple.
Credit to Leon's hand, elements of Jamaican production are everywhere, peppered throughout the record. Like the pitch-perfect organ stabs that push through the authentically positive "White Light," or the muted, percussive guitar strums that chug along in the back of "Fight."
In the same vein of any fantastic singer/songwriter album, Ekundayo is a reflection of who Liam Bailey is, a portrait of him for us to consider and take in. And what we see is an artist growing into himself, taking on topics and approaches he never would think of just a few years ago. Some evidence: "Ugly Truth" is about reconnecting with his biological father, a subject he once thought would be too personal to address. Sometimes we can't express ourselves before we're ready to.
The journey from conforming to major labels to this latest record has been a long one for Liam, and a bit of a struggle. But struggle may be the only way we truly grow and evolve. With a new clarity of purpose, sound, and life, Liam has found joy out of those struggles. And it's called Ekundayo.