Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I must admit that I've never paid much attention to 'SOJA'. I don't know why. I have no plausible excuse. I guess I wasn't willing to give them much of a chance since most of the state-side reggae bands I've heard in the past have not impressed me. Over the years there has been very little originality on the American reggae scene. Too many imitators and not near enough originators. I never purposely placed SOJA in this category, I just blindly assumed they were like all the rest. That was a huge mistake! How could I have missed such a treasure? I've definitely learned a valuable lesson: Not all American Reggae is what it seems. There are bands out there that are producing Reggae of the highest quality whilst bringing originality to the genre. SOJA is definitely one of those bands. (Check Rebelution for another)
Their 3rd full-length album 'Born In Babylon' catapults them to the upper echelon of Reggae Bands. The music is tight and the selection is right. Jacob Hemphill epitomizes what it means to be a reggae songwriter with simple, yet multi-layered lyrics and messages. "This is the album we've been wanting to make for ten years", says Jacob. "At first we were hard-core old school, then we got new school and inventive. This is what we've learned from all that. 'Born In Babylon' is hard roots drum and bass, big wide guitar and vocal melodies, and two and three sided lyrics, and two and three sided messages." Beautifully stated!
The title track leads the way. Layer 1: Critics and judgemental ones beware! There's no tolerating mindless criticism as Hemphill asks: 'Who do you think I think I am?' Layer 2: Hemphill declares 'I got the feeling that there's more like me, Born in Babylon but you just got to be free.........I WON'T STOP.' A very pointed beginning.
From there the listener is treated to track after track of quality reggae music. Losing My Mind, Used To Matter, and Bleed Through are smart and insightful tunes with horn arrangements that would make Lucky Dube proud. You and Me with Chris Boomer (and a well placed violin) is smooth and mellow. Hemphill and Boomer compliment each other perfectly on a well-penned tune about a love that won't quit.
Decide You're Gone is one of the gems of the record. Hemphill's voice is crisp and expressive with the horn section again playing a prominent part in the bubbling riddim. I Don't Wanna Wait is superb lyrically, melodically and musically. A militant stance against political corruption coupled with a message of personal responsibility. Absolutely brilliant!
Germaican sensation Gentleman along side Empress Tamika shows up on the powerful lovers tune I Tried. The sullen and bluesy Thunderstorms adds another nice dimension to the record while the stripped-down Here I Am featuring Marley, Rory, and Eric of Rebelution is a fabulous, though unwelcome, conclusion to the album.
From top to bottom 'Born In Babylon' does not disappoint. It is an album that will impress even the most seasoned reggae listener. SOJA is for real. BUY THIS ALBUM .
The beautiful thing about it for me is this: 'Born In Babylon' is my first SOJA album. That means there are 5 other albums and EPs that I haven't really heard. I can't wait to go back and listen to see how they arrived at 'Born In Babylon.' The magnificent journey that is Reggae Music continues....... What a ride!