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I woke up this morning and the first thing I did, after letting the dogs out and feeding them of course, was put on Stephen Marley’s new album Old Soul.  I couldn’t wait to hear it, but just like with all my favorite artists, I am always nervous with any new album release.  If it hits, it is pure satisfaction, but if it isn’t up to par, it can be so disappointing, such a letdown.  Ragga, being one of my favorite music artists, has been doing this a long time.  He’s the best producer in reggae, his music writing is great, he is a lyrical genius, a poet and storyteller, and his voice is beautiful. The voice has always been there but again, with this acoustic album you can really hear it and feel it, the way he changes tempo, the change of pitch, the clarity, the feeling and emotion, it is all there in your eardrum. So I dove into this with very high expectations.  I am very picky when it comes to music, I am a huge Bob Marley fan, and there are some songs of his I don’t care for.  Stephen is one artist that I can say I love almost everything he has done.  An acoustic album can be tricky, hard to hide any flaws, you have to make it perfect or near perfect.  But his idea for this acoustic album was genius, something we don’t get to hear very often in this day and age (to go along with his current acoustic tour).  This album is full of emotion, hope, compassion, sympathy, empathy, love, family, history to go along with some amazing collaborations.  I didn’t even have to get through this album a second time to know that I loved it.  A few songs in my wife came downstairs to get coffee and stops and listens and says “you know you aren’t Jamaican?  Family joke because my family and friends know my love for anything Marley and reggae and Jamaica.  I say it’s Stephens new album. She listens for just a few seconds and comments on how great his voice sounds, she has always liked his voice, but she said wow it sounds so good.  That crystal-clear but raspy voice.

The album starts off with “Don’t You Believe,” and within the first 20 or so seconds I knew this album was going to be great.  This features his son Jeremiah on drums, the drums come in and hit you, such a nice feel. Nice guitar strumming by Ranoy Gordon throughout, Stephen letting us know don’t listen to everything they tell you, don’t be fooled.  I like the subtle piano by Llamar Brown in the background. The second track is “Cool As A Breeze.” A heartfelt song about a love one that he knows is there with him and when his work is done, they will be together laughing and having fun.  Is it about his father, is it about his son, or is it both? That is for us to guess.  A great acoustic guitar solo in this song, it’s a song that everyone can relate to and love.  He takes his voice up a notch towards the end, you really feel his emotions. 

Track 3 is “Cast The First Stone” featuring his younger brother Damian Marley.  These two work so well together in everything they have ever done.  I really need an album, or at least and EP, from them. Stephen starts off the song with some thought-provoking lyrics over a nice chill guitar and then hits us with is typical Ragga scatting (I love when he does this in a song).  Then Damian comes in with his verse along with some powerful Nyabinghi drumming.  Zilla’s flow is so nice in this and while somewhat subtle, very powerful.  The drums just adding to the vibes, and then some beautiful flute by Megela Herrera over the drumming.  Great little guitar solo in this song as well and we get to hear Llamar Brown on piano. I just keep coming back to how great the writing and lyrics are in each song, no different with Damian’s lyrics.  We slide over to a ska inspired more upbeat tune “Thanks We Get (Do Fi Dem)” with the great Buju Banton.  I just wrote in my album review for Buju’s new album Born For Greatness and I’ll say it again, these two work so well together, they may be brothers from another mother, they need to do an album together, it would be pure FIRE!  This is a remake of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Junior Byles song from 1974, and hits us with a breezy flow, makes me want get up and dance while at the beach.  The flow between Ragga’s sweet voice and Buju’s raspy banton is a thing of beauty.  This song just makes me smile. 

Moving to “Don’t Let Me Down,” an up-tempo love song, he’s in love for the first time, a love that lasts forever.  I love the string work on this, a nice fast strumming flowing right along with Stephen’s voice. This is a remake of The Beatles song, but stripped down and acoustic, that really works so well. Stephen is never afraid to try something different or experiment with different genres of music, you just need to look at Revelations II: The Fruit of Life album.  Mixing different genres and having various and mixed artists on his tracks.  With track 6 he brings us some wonderful Jazz with a Ray Charles remake of “Georgia On My Mind.”  This song is absolutely fabulous, he keeps a nice aspect of Ray Charles, especially with his singing and voice, but brings a nice reggae flow to this classic.  And Chad Bernstein (trombone) and Javaughn Bond (bass) sound so amazing on this, with a nice guitar strum throughout.  This is what makes Stephen so amazing, he is not just a reggae artist, he can take his love of music into so many places.  “Let The Children Play” is next up, an anthem or freedom march, an up-lifting song, we must find a way, let that be today, everyone should be free to live life.  This song could be a Bob Marley song, the flow, drumbeat, lyrics, it reminds me of “Time Will Tell.” 

We go to the previously released and title track “Old Soul.”  This song is a masterpiece, an amazing composition, you feel this song in your heart, soul and spirit!  It is Ragga revealing himself up-close and personal. Bob Marley wrote “Redemption Song” towards the end of his life’s journey, it is a song about his career, his life, an amazing song that will carry on forever, his life story.  “Old Soul” is a song that Stephen’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren with cherish forever.  It is that song that sums it all up, just like “Redemption Song.”  What better way to follow up a song that really can’t be followed up but with a song with another brother, Ziggy Marley on “There’s A Reward.”  The musical history between the two brothers is well know and been active for forty-plus years, and this may be one of the best songs they have done together.  I feel as though Bob was in the studio with them.  It is a simple yet complex song, This song gives homage to the late, great Joe Higgs, the man that mentored Marley, Tosh and Wailer when they were just starting off. 

“This Time” is the next song, it was co-written by Buju Banton and has a nice sweet flow with some wonderful sax play by Juan Torrros.  I love the way Stephen changes up his voice, pitch and tempo in this song.  Some beautiful strumming from the guitar in this as well, but it is the sax and the voice that pull you in, I would say one of the better songs on this album, but they are all so amazing.  A Frank Sinatra remake is next up with “These Foolish Things (Reminds Me Of You).” I can almost see Stephen in a suit in the 30’s or 40’s singing this in a smoke filled club, well maybe not, but he really does nice work on this, again showing his range of music and ability.  The music arrangement is great and I like the change of “A cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces” to “A spliff tail that bears a lipstick’s traces.”  We knew we had to have one Bob Marley remake, so he hits us with “I Shot The Sheriff” with Eric Clapton on guitar.  We’ve all heard this song many times, Bob, Eric Clapton and redone by so many others.  This is a fantastic version, the song that came out when Stephen was just a year old, but a song that still holds true today with the slow pace of social change when it comes to racism and racial inequality.  Eric Clapton’s work on the guitar is so nice in this thew flow is so beautiful but it is the way Ragga slows it down from the original and his take on the lyrics that makes this such an amazing version.

The next track is a nice love ballad with Slightly Stoopid's Kyle McDonald, “Standing In Love.”  What I like about this and any of his collaborations is the way he incorporates the guests style on the song, while it’s still a Stephen Marley style, he subtly brings in the guest style.  This song is a perfect example.  I would love to hear them do this song together on stage during a reggae festival, it would have the crowd holding each other, dancing, swaying, and signing along.  These two voices work so well together, there is something about their singing styles that have a similarity but not.  Just flows well together.  “Winding Roads” is the last track (it actually ends with “Old Soul” the single version), a song that was recorded with a full band and features Jack Johnson and Grateful Dead’s founding member Bob Weir.  It is my least favorite track on the album, I have never been a Dead fan and you really feel the Dead style in this.  But it is actually an amazingly composed song, the music is so tight and the vocals are spot on with Stephen, Jack and Bob.  I can see many reggae and non-reggae fans liking this song.

My worry was put to rest pretty much right at the beginning, I could tell it was going to be a good album.  This is a not only a good solid album, this is a masterpiece, this is not just for reggae fans, this is for any fan of good music, Stephen gave us all a gift for our ears, hearts and minds.  I really am not a good enough writer to explain the many feelings and emotions I get from this album.  I will say that this is an album I will keep listening to now, next week, next year and 20 years from now.  This is as near perfect as a music artist can get.

One Love- Todd

Todd Judd

Photojournalist - Pennsylvania

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