Drum & bass stalwart and the leader of Bristol's Reprazent crew Roni Size has blessed us with his latest album Return To V, the follow up to his solo album debut, 2002's successful Touching Down. After critically acclaimed 12" and album releases on labels like Talking Loud, XL and Full Cycle Records, Return To V - as the title suggests - marks Roni's recording return to V Recordings - one of the labels that first saw potential in Roni's production style. What makes this album different to his earlier releases is that all the tracks on Return To V feature collaborations with some of dance music's finest artists including drum'n'bass MC's Dynamite, Tali, Darrison alongside hip hoppers Rodney P and Fallacy, beatboxer Rahzel and house music vocalists Vikter Duplaix and Beverly Knight.
The first third of the album takes form of a continuous mix disc in the same way that Roni had produced Touching Down kicking things off with a big synth and bass intro on Bump'n'grind featuring the vocals of Sweatpea. The tune itself incorporates trademark Roni style drum patterns - tough, rock-influenced beats with punchy snares.
More tough bass and synths to follow with Vikter Duplaix gracing the mic on Pull Up featuring snare drum rolls aplenty before the mix section closes off with the percussive Cheeky Monkey featuring two of Roni's long time collaborators Tali and Dynamite MC.
Time featuring Darrison on the mic slows down the tempo to hip hop dropping a monotonic warbling bass line while Darrsion spits out some quick speed raps. More hip hop beats follows on with Blaze on Problems.
Roni provides a drum'n'bass remix for Rodney P's "Trouble" - a cover of Bob Marley's "No More Trouble", from his stunning debut album "The Future". Renamed for the album as No Trouble, the remix again features trademark Roni Size beat drops, dirty basslines and tough drum programming. No More offers up soulful R&B vocals courtesy of Beverly Knight accompanied by a funky guitar riff and a verse done by Dynamite MC. The single release is due out in early 2005.
The lead single for the album Out Of Breath featuring the beatbox stylings of Rahzel who impressed us all with his earlier collaboration "In Tune With The Sound" from Roni Size/Reprazent's In The Mode album. Rahzel beatboxes in a drum'n'bass tempo cutting with vocal samples and scratches and provides a wicked beatbox breakdown in the middle.
Finally long time drum'n'bass MC and Freestylers collaborator, Navigator brings the album to a close with the ragga infused Give Me A Reason. As he's shown on the first two Freestyler's albums, he drops ragga styled vocals mixing sung vocals with ragga chants on top of Roni's trademark production style.
In a way it's good to hear a drum'n'bass album full of vocals and on Return To V, Roni has shown exactly how well drum'n'bass and vocals work with each other - allowing room in some tunes to let the rhythm breathe while the vocals sit aside. The shortcoming of the album is that it feels far too riffy and the beats really don't differentiate much between tunes - basically the same drum beat with different basslines riffs all the way through. Perhaps Roni feels that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but it can sound monotonous at times, and I'm finding that I'm skipping through tunes during each listen.