Reggae with a Rastafari message

Music Plus
with Winston Watusi

People tell me I take music too seriously; who am I to argue?

Someone has to. This week the wit and intelligence of Kim Hill disappeared from radio – thanks for all the years Kim! - and that wasn't even the most depressing thing.

For that, listen to the widely-available 'The Front Page' podcast, 'Future of music: How the collapse of coverage is limiting Aotearoa'. In it Chris Schulz, long-time music journalist, discusses how the gutting of the magazine industry has ended many specialised titles and how most coverage of music in wider mainstream media has also vanished. Essential if not cheerful listening.

My thanks to SunLive for still allowing such cultural indulgence...

John Michaelz.

What I've been taking too seriously this week is the debut album, 'Soul Exodus', from John Michaelz and the Black Brothers Band. That's first in a queue that includes Grant Haua's sensational 'Mana Blues', officially launched at last weekend's NZ Blues & BBQ Festival, Abysm's recent album, and one I missed last year from 5g Meatsuit...

There's also a single from heavy prog-rock quartet Dead Empire, 'Buckley', and very impressive it is too, big guitars and a big sing over big riffs in an unusual time-signature. It's a very solid piece of sophisticated metal-work. 

On to 'Soul Exodus'. The first thing to know is it's a reggae album; the second is it's a religious reggae album. Is it “Rastafarian”? I guess. I'm unfamiliar with those specific tenets but Jah appears in most songs and lyrics are in 'Iyaric' or 'Dread Talk', patois created by the Rastafari movement, tropes of which include no possessives and the words “me” and “my” replaced by “I”.

This isn't uncommon in reggae but 'Soul Exodus' still surprises. Highlighting religious material isn't the surprise; John was previously nominated for a Gospel Tui award for his 'Walk On Water' album. The surprise is that much like Bob Dylan's Christian “coming out” with 'Slow Train Coming', this is not an album of “peace and love” religious content. As the cover illustration suggests, it's “unbelievers are damned, get ready for the end times”.

John Michaelz.

The album is structured to emphasise this. After the welcoming “Come On In” there are two extremely slow tracks. There's no dancing here as John lays into “sad tortured agnostics”, “anti-Semitic liberals”, and promises “Jah judgement coming through loud and clear”.

But – hey! – many people don't listen to lyrics, perhaps I'm taking this too seriously. Musically, guitarist Mike Kirk delivers an understated masterclass of styles and textures while the Black brothers rhythm section is immaculate.

John Michaelz and the Black Brothers Band.

Production, by Dylan Israel (Summer Thieves), is tight and controlled, nicely weaving in guest musicians, with lovely flute from Karen Waldon on 'Jeremiah' and Mike Butler's effective harmonica on 'Feeling The Dread'. Lewis Martin's saxophone meanders through several tracks, not so much providing melody as a relaxed vibe.

John Michalez -Soul Exodus.

The package is excellent, with an extensive CD booklet and a USB stick containing extra videos and mixes. It's available at the Historic Village's Record Roundabout.    

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