Wednesday, September 02, 2009

SOJA 'Born In Babylon' Review

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!

SOJA - Born In Babylon (Bonus Track Version)

Track Listing:
1.Born In Babylon
2. Losing My Mind
3. Used To Matter
4. Bleed Through feat. Black Boo of Mambo Sauce
5. You and Me feat. Chris Boomer
6. Don't Forget
7. Decide You're Gone
8. I Don't Wanna Wait
9. I Tried feat. Gentleman and Tamika
10. Never Ever
11. Waking Up
12. Summer Breeze
13. Thunderstorms
14. Here I Am feat. Marley, Rory, and Eric of Rebelution


8 comments:

  1. Well written. I love SOJA! Although I think their first version of Bleed Through (from a past album) is better.

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  2. Nice review. I agree with the writer track by track this album is a gem. I've been a SOJA fan for many years and witnessing the progression of the band has been a true treat; I'm proud for them.

    I can say to the writer I hope you will further be surprised and pleased by the SOJA catalog.

    @ Anonymous above; I can too agree that personally I like the original "Bleed Through." Listening to the original vocals and arrangement there's a different sense of emotion expressed through Jacob's lyrics and vocals, but the beauty of "Bleed Through" on Born In Babylon is one you already have the original and nothing takes away from that and two it's a different level of expression with a new feel and a go-go tempo...solid track and the addition of Black's vocal are on point.

    Born In Babylon is brilliant; my favorite album of the year. And with an extended U.S. tour, I can't wait to hear them live. Peace to all and Congrats to the brothers of SOJA!

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  3. Groundation and John Brown's Body are pretty damn inventive for American Reggae bands, idk what u mean theres some good stuff here.

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  4. i agree theres a lot of great bands that sound like reggae in so cal, some is unoriginal true but bands such as tribal seeds and slightly stoopid come from cali and there really great. sojas new album is amazing absolutely mind blowing and it should be savored during a fat bowl or blunt in hand

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  5. this album is good..
    but IMHO their masterpiece is STILL get wiser..
    it is true they are progressing as a band,
    taking what worked in PIATOW and GW
    and incorporated it into this new album..
    case in point, "decide you're gone" took
    the sonic guitar intro of "true love"
    and melt the body of this new song with
    "you don't know"..no they are not playing
    the same chords or licks, but sonically
    you can see they took the ingredients of
    dem 2 great tunes and put it into decide
    you're gone, (btw, my current fav track
    on this album)
    i've always told everyone SOJA is a great
    departure from "typical" reggae bands,
    stateside or islandwise..the way they
    build their songs are more based on
    rock ballads rather than a "typical" rasta tune, but they add the D&B of reggae
    and their lyrics are definately jahbased.
    and wot comes out is SOJA..a great reggae
    band!

    nicely done..now, can they hurry up
    and make another, 4 yrs between getwiser and
    this album is alas a bit long right now..hahahha

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  6. pure reggae in the air, powerfull messages lyrics throughout the album
    bowdown

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  7. ahh i love SOJA. Every song is depicted perfectly and even if a non-reggae listener heard the song, they can take away the same message. I just saw them in concert with rebelution and zion i and SOJA is amazing live as well. Jacob has an amazing voice and when bobby lee does his raps oh man the crowd goes crazy, especially when he drops his long dreads. They are definitely something to listen to if you haven't and if you havent seen a show, GO! it will not be a waste of your money. promise

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  8. The album "Born in Babylon" is one of my favorite alums by SOJA and truly inspires me. But what does Babylon exactly mean? I understand Baylon is an ancient city in Mesopotamia and played an important role in the Bible as the symbol of all evil, as well as for the Rastafari's, but does anyone have any more insight? And what does it mean to you personatly?
    Annika

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