SOJA EP (SOJA, 2000)

Fans of Soldiers of Jah Army's full-length albums should consider taking a step back and checking out their brief but potent debut SOJA EP.  It contains only four songs and their respective dubs, but all of the rich roots sound you've come to expect from the group is here in full force.  "Nuclear Bomb" is quite literally a booming (in sound and substance) indictment of the use of what's now known as "WMDs".  The best track, though, may be "Zion Livity," a proclamation of faith and unity in the face of divisive forces, delivered over funky musical accompaniment.  "Freedom Time," meanwhile, is a rollicking celebration, and "Watch Them" is a dark, bluesy view of the messages put forth in modern music.  The dubs, courtesy of Washington, DC-area producer/mixer extraordinaire Jim Fox, are solid, the most effective being "Atomic Dub," with its stark drum and bass sound and haunting bomb and siren effects.  It's hard for me to give a really high rating to an EP, but SOJA EP is about as good a reggae EP an as you're gonna find, as it set the stage for SOJA's exemplary full-length releases.

Track Listing
1. Nuclear Bomb
2. Zion Livity
3. Freedom Time
4. Watch Them
5. Atomic Dub
6. Livity Dub
7. Makonnen Dub
8. A Stray Dub
SOJA EP
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Peace in a Time of War (SOJA, 2003)

Add to the ever-growing list of impressive home-grown American roots reggae talent the band Soldiers of Jah Music (SOJA). This group of Washington DC-area youths, all only in their early 20s, performs with a confidence and proficiency well beyond their years, and on Peace in a Time of War, they present roots fans with a gift from above that may set a new benchmark for US reggae. Although thus far they have not really reached beyond the Mid-Atlantic region of the US, the quality of their material rivals nationally renowned American acts like John Brownís Body and Groundation. Their music is full-band, live-instrument roots (except little or no horns; trust me, though, you donít miss it) performed with a sincerity that comes through in their flawless performances. Their message is righteous and unifying, their tone ranging from fiery exhortations with slight dancehall strains ("Brothers and Sisters," "Creeping In," "Reality," "Forgive Donít Forget") to muted, introspective odes with acoustic guitars and/or African drums ("Look Within," "True Love," "Rasta Courage," "Jah Atmosphere," "Mother Earth"). Lead singer Jacob Hemphill (insert your own hemp joke here) has a remarkable voice and passionate delivery seemingly made for roots reggae. He transitions effortlessly from a slightly raspy Marley-esque growl to a smoother, almost Ali Campbell-like wail that is mesmerizing. The songwriting too is amazingly strong and consistent, the quality not letting up until the last couple of tracks -- which doesnít dampen the experience in any way. I could pick any number of tunes as standouts, from "Non Partial Non Political" to "True Love" to "Look Within" to "Reality," "Rasta Courage," "Jah Atmoshpere," and "Revolution." Peace in a Time of War is truly a breathtaking, awesome showcase for SOJAís talent. Although it isnít their debut (this is their third release to date), this set could Ė and, if there is any justice, should Ė serve as their coming out party. It is a major statement that bodes well not only for the groupís potential, but also for the future of the American reggae scene.  For more info, check out www.sojamusic.com.

Track Listing
1. Revolution
2. Reality
3. Non Partial Non Political
4. Look Within
5. Rasta Courage
6. Peace in a Time of War
7. Creeping In
8. Brothers and Sisters
9. True Love
10. Jah Atmosphere
11. Mother Earth
12. Forgive Don't Forget
13. Did You Ever
14. Time Come Due
15. The End
Peace in a Time of War
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Get Wiser (SOJA, 2005)

With the release of Get Wiser, it's safe to include Soldiers of Jah Army among the very best American reggae bands today.  Not that their previous work didn't warrant this distinction, but it's just hard to judge an act on a body of work that includes only one EP and one LP.  Now that they have "more body," though, you've got to rank them up there with Groundation and John Brown's Body as far as US groups go.  Comparing Get Wiser to Peace in a Time of War, there's a sense of evolution.  The melodies are a bit more distinct, the structure a bit more rock-like, and the music a bit fuller and more diverse, incorporating elements of rock, pop, dancehall, and even go-go.  While some reggae purists may initially scoff at this mix of styles, a quick listen should prove that Get Wiser is not only well-rooted in the reggae sound, but it's just as good (probably slightly better than) their first album.  Apart from the straightforward pop/rock finale "Devils" (still an effective tune), every track resonates with rootsy goodness, occasionally spiced up with DJ chats from bassist Robert Jefferson (as on "Works" and "Be Aware"), electric guitar riffs ("My Life Alone," "911"), and the brilliant use of local go-go icon Go-Go Mickey on the kinetic "Sorry."  As a whole, the album is an emotional powerhouse driven by tight music and Jocob Hemphill's vocals, with tracks ranging from melancholy ruminations ("My Life Alone," "I've Got Time") to fiery exhortations ("What Would," "Be Aware") to tender love songs ("Can't Tell Me") to funky, classic roots jams ("Strong for Them," "Bring Back Truth").  Get Wiser could be the album that gets SOJA the national exposure they deserve.

Track Listing
1. Open My Eyes
2. By My Side
3. My Life Alone
4. Faith Works
5. What Would...?
6. Strong For Them
7. Can't Tell Me
8. Be Aware
9. I've Got Time
10. Sorry
11. Bring Back Truth
12. You Don't Know Me
13. 911
14. Devils
Get Wiser
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