What you may wonder about "Break The Soil" is whether Bambu Station breaks new ground. Well, no, they don’t; this album comes from the same piece of mother earth as "One Day," their first outing. That is to say it is roots reggae of a particularly deep and fertile kind, featuring the fine musicianship and production genius of Jalani Horton, Tuff Lion, Andy Llanos and the rest of the Mt. Nebo crew. It even boasts the predictably handsome design work of Mark "Feijao" Milligan II. So it’s not remarkably different, just remarkably good.
There are 14 tracks, numbered 0 to 13 (perhaps that first cut, titled "Brotherhood" is so basic a concept that it is a kind of ground zero for the album), totaling a generous 72 minutes. The rhythms create a strong and unyielding groove around which the songs are built with detailed attention to the production values. As you may expect if you’ve heard the earlier album, the lyrics are more important than the melodies. Mind you, there are sufficient hooks, usually in the choruses, to keep a listener interested, but most of the tunes won’t keep you singing long in the shower. They do the job, but with a few exceptions, they’re not truly hummable. So it may be just as well that lead vocalist Horton inclines to a semi-chant style of singing.
Which brings us to the words being semi-chanted. The Bambu Station lyricists are distressed by the world situation and broad elements of Western society as well as by certain evils closer to home, but are not content merely to pass judgement and condemn. They want to find a balanced, ethical response to what’s going on. Therefore the lyrics keep moving from the communal to the personal and back again, exploring our role in the world and the responsibility we each have to do something about this mess. "Every situation is a chance to grow/And every sunrise another chance to sow/With our hands in soil, we making furrow/Examine what you know." Naturally enough, we also get the Rastafarian conviction that spirituality is a big part of the answer. As for album highlights, I’d pick the two that the label itself was initially promoting for radio play. "Chance to Grow" has a good tune (yes!), strong lyrics that smack of truth, and a soulful vocal by Reemah Vanterpool, who trades leads back and forth with Horton. "Who?" features high harmony singers in the back crooning who-oo-oo inna doowop style while the lead singer spits out phrases condemning the "litany of liars," which among other wrongs has colored the language with negative connotations of the word "black" – black market, black sheep, black-listed, blackmail, and so on. It’s a well-argued diatribe.
As should be obvious by now, "Break the Soil" continues the commitment to high quality reggae we have come to expect from the Virgin Islands, and from Mt. Nebo in particular. If you haven’t harvested any of it yet, breaking the soil with this disc would be a great way to start.
–Ted Boothroyd is a well published Canadian music critic and contributor to the Jahworks Magazine. You may find many of his reviews and more at www.jahworks.org. The source article is available online at http://www.jahworks.org/v2/musicreviewsdetail.asp?ID=66.