Soldiers of Jah Army

Get Wiser

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This is a band that has made tremendous progress since it was formed almost ten years ago. Its members have always had an impressive ability both to generate heavy roots-wise grooves and to incorporate elements of hip-hop and even go-go music (the band hails from Washington, DC) into those grooves without undermining their appeal. Soldiers of Jah Army's most serious limitation has been the singing style of guitarist and frontman Jacob Hemphill, whose affected Jamaican accent and gravelly tenor voice have generally been such an uncanny imitation of Bob Marley's that he has at times he's sounded like a parody. That tendency is not completely gone, but on Get Wiser it's at least under control, and both the playing and songwriting are stronger than ever. On this album the band is joined by guests who include former Wailers guitarist Junior Marvin and several members of the Puerto Rican reggae band Gomba Jahbari, as well as the Eddie Drennon String Quartet, who play very nicely on the album-ending "Devils" but don't really add much or integrate well into the song's arrangement. Just about everything else flows and bumps along very nicely, especially "Be Aware" (on which bassist Robert Jefferson toasts wonderfully), "Strong for Them" (which features an excellent horn arrangement) and "Can't Tell Me" (on which Hemphill expresses affection for the members of his family, "even the baldheads," which is very nice of him to say). Recommended.

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