Soldiers of Jah Army Get Wiser

SOJA’s third album is a solid affair brimming with the kind of confidence that comes from a band that’s toured exhaustively over the past two years and believes emphatically in their material. It’s somewhat of an uphill battle being in a Rasta-wise reggae band out of Richmond — Virginia’s not exactly a haven of roots reggae credibility — but SOJA’s riddims and lyrics remain conscious throughout. In fact, everything here makes perfect sense on paper — socially hyper-righteous lyrics, crisp and careful production and memorable performances; but somehow it all seems too clean. While Get Wiser is full of sophistication, refinement and note-perfect execution, what’s missing is the freewheeling ragamuffin element found in the best roots reggae — you know, the stuff that gets so hot you think it could blow at any minute. There are no chances taken here, no looking up from the text. Instead it feels forensically produced and painstakingly acted out. The translation is that while Get Wiser is a good album to hang out and groove to, or one to throw on when you want to politely chant down Babylon, it lacks the heady passion needed to sit it side by side with its forebears — namely Burning Spear and his ilk. (Big Machine)