By: Jake Krolick
Building off of their 2006 breakthrough reggae release, Get Wiser, SOJA's Jacob Hemphill, Bob Jefferson, Ryan Berty, Ken Brownell and Patrick Oshea pour their lion hearts and communally conscious lyrics into a third album, Born In Babylon. Their time touring through Hawaii seemed to have a greater affect on them than just a DVD and some live shows. Their previously punchy drum and bass reggae sounds have hopped a flight to a promised land filled with purple and gold sunsets of smooth, flowing rhythms that shimmer with the effortless drip that is the essence of reggae. These songs work magic on one's psyche by not raising the pulse as much as they expand the mind and lift the shoulders of a society that needs more positive minded storytellers that sooth with their craft instead of destroying.
SOJA had just started to scratch the surface of well-built reggae on their previous efforts, cultivating a depth that pushed them uniquely apart from the multitude of rock steady beats and so-called reggae stars around the globe. With Born In Babylon, we hear even more of that depth as each song manages to grow into something worthwhile and distinctive, while the free-flowing rhythms keep the record's tracks anchored to one another. The songs are timely hymns focused on our modern day struggle with global issues. Each theme is dealt with in a way that lets the listener relate without alienating some group or section of the globe. There is a significant depth and poignancy throughout Born In Babylon that stands out on several of the tracks where violin, viola and cello echo the tone of Hemphill's high-pitched voice and make up the choir to his songs. SOJA plays in a realm similar to the one Ben Harper went towards on his album Fight For Your Mind and Citizen Cope echoed on his Clarence Greenwood Recordings ballad "Sideways."
However, SOJA does not turn a blind eye to the greats of the roots reggae world. You can clearly hear hope and love flowing through Hemphill's voice as he sings original consciously minded reggae with the conviction of an old soul. He strikes me as a man well beyond the years he has already lived on the earth (or what he refers to as his "blue and green church" in "Waking Up"). At the record's core are simple messages that build into complex stories. Sitting on the top of these 14 tracks is SOJA's wildly catchy prayer for the world, encapsulated by "Waking Up" and "Here I Am," whose finger plucked guitar style and gentle melody plays out like an homage to Bob Marley's masterpiece, "Redemption Song." Both tracks grab at your neck and place a bump in your step while expanding your mind with multifaceted ideas of what is right and wrong in the universe.
Don't call me one and only/ Just call me when you get lonely / Something that gets her there/ So feel better and get well/ There is no time without this pain / There is no time without again ("Here I Am")
Turbulent times call for uplifting music and a hopeful sprit. Born In Babylon offers a refuge from the negative vibes found throughout most people's daily grind on the highways, interwebs, and elsewhere in this mass consumer, media driven world hell-bent on preacher convictions and reporter glory. Hemphill, Jefferson, Berty, Brownell and Oshea inject their reggae with the sort of love and hope that holds us on this spinning globe of life, while simultaneously stirring us to action and movement as they elevate this art form to new heights.
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