While modeling themselves on East Coast underground Afro-centric soul-jazz and poetry groups like the Oneness of Juju, Fertile Ground have upped the ante on their second album. They are still deeply rooted in the airy soul and jazz music they evoked on their debut, Field Songs, but have added a keyboard sound and a host of percussionists, as well as a saxophonist to the mix that lends them a deeper groove and adds an element of breathy funk to the proceedings, allowing them to benefit from exposure to nu-groove audiences in clubs. This set features the classic title track with Navasha Daya, a true soul diva in the tradition more of Nina Simone than Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu, bearing the openness of the lyric with sincerity and severity. On "Be Natural," Daya and a horn section led by composer James Collins on trumpet calls for the return of vision to community, a letting go of tired broken values that hold nothing within them except for more emptiness. The funky backbeat is driven by Daya's singing, which echoes the horn line and becomes a dancefloor groover. But then there is the primitive Nyabingi chanting on "Natural Reggae," with its drums and hand clapping that dovetails into "Holyman," with its Cuban rhythms and sweet, seductive horns. It becomes obvious about halfway through the album that everything the trio of Collins, Daya, and drummer Marcus Asante touch becomes a kind of soul anthem with lyrics that are instructive for living alongside music that moves your ass, gets it out of the seat and onto the floor or into the street. A higher compliment to a band who makes records with a small budget sound like high-class studio efforts and yet retain their emotional power and aesthetic beauty for the benefit of whoever takes the time and trouble to seek them out. Fertile Ground is the band we need most in the 21st Century.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek