Stephen Marley ADD


Album Review: Stephen Marley - Old Soul


by Gardy Stein

Album Review: Stephen Marley - Old Soul

Wistfulness. Empathy. Awe. Love. Tenderness. Hope. Stephen Marley's new album Old Soul both conveys and evokes a w.e.a.l.t.h. of emotions, raw and direct and undiluted. Its conception as acoustic oeuvre is a masterstroke, making it stand out like a giant sequoia tree among the scrub of all those entirely digital productions flooding the world of music today.

Piano (Llamar Brown), bass and guitar (Ranoy Gordon), binghi drums and percussion (Stephen Marley) as well as an occasional flute (Magela Herrera) are all it takes to create a magic that will carry you through the fourteen tracks included, right from the start. Next to the instrumentation, the second outstanding element of this musical creation is Stephen's voice, of course, capturing us with crystal-clear clarity in the opening track Don’t You Believe, filled with common-sense advice and featuring his son Jeremiah on drums as well as backing singers Karene Brown and Keiko Smith.

Cool As The Breeeze, the second single release of the album, is a very personal communication with a close one not here anymore, and it's up to us to understand it as addressing the singer's father or son (or both). "You're with me every day, you ain't far away…" Reaching out to another family member, the subsequent Cast The First Stone brings Stephen's younger brother Damian "Jr Gong" Marley to the mic. Together, they offer a gripping new interpretation of this old biblical theme, powerfully delivered on a track dominated by Nyabinghi drumming in the second half.

Another feature, another highlight: in comes Mr. Buju Banton! Thanks We Get is one of the more uptempo pieces of the album, a fine remake of Lee "Scratch" Perry's 1974 original, back then sung by Junior Byles. While Stephen lays the perfect foundation in the introductory part of the track, sweet harmonies and all, the fangirl in me squeals with joy when the Gargamel takes over with his trademark growl at minute 1:57. Pure bliss!  

Turning to the title track now, Old Soul is a world on its own. Upclose and personal, it tells Stephen's story from boy to man, accompanied by beautiful, minimalistic guitar picking. The arrangements of both harmonies and lyrics speak of the singer's exceptional skills as songwriter, although in this particular case, the credits mention several other authors (Omar Pasley aka OMI, Clifton Dillon, SaLaAm ReMi and Ryan Dillon). Well done, team! "I'm an old soul, tribute to the ones who made it all possible! Inside me, the legacy lives on…"

Yes, this album is a tribute to legends, too. To daddy Bob, of course, whose I Shot The Sheriff is re-created together with the great Eric Clapton on guitar, but also to Jazz and Ray Charles with Georgia On My Mind (grand: Chad Bernstein on trombone, Javaughn Bond on bass), to Frank Sinatra with These Foolish Things (only that the original's cigarette becomes "a spliff tail") and – who would have thought – even to The Beatles. Their track Don’t Let Me Down sounds awesome in this off-beat acoustic version, making me wonder if anyone ever did that before (turns out, yes! Marcia Griffiths released her version back in 1974). Homage to the man who mentored Marley, Tosh and Wailer when they just started out as teenagers, There's A Reward remembers the late Joe Higgs. The song features none other than "Melody Maker" Ziggy Marley, and try as I might, I can't tell which brother is singing which part.

After talking about these cover versions, it's important to point out that the album contains several original compositions, too. The tender This Time, for instance, co-written by Buju (as is the opening track, btw) and adorned with sweet saxophone notes by Juan Turros, or Standing In Love, a heartfelt lover's ballad and another amazing collaboration in which Stephen is joined by Kyle McDonald of Californian reggae rockers Slightly Stoopid. "True love never dies!"

The freedom celebration Let The Children Play (a title by Ernie Smith) carries a distinct resemblance to Bob Marley's Time Will Tell, and even part of the lyrics come from the senior Marley, as some lines are taken from the song Children Playing In The Streets which he wrote for the Melody Makers in 1979: "Children playing in the streets, on broken bottles and rubbish heaps, in the ghetto, bitter was sweet, another little baby got no food to eat." 

Last but not least, a song that's been in the pipeline for several years (it appeared on a tracklist for Stephen's planned and unreleased debut album Got Music? in 2005) now finally sees the light of day. Winding Roads is the only track that's been recorded with a full band, the Wolf Bros, at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios. Next to the Grateful Dead founder himself, we hear Don Was on bass, Jay Lane on drums, Jeff Chimenti on keys and Randy Singer on harmonica, as well as the voice of Jack Johnson. And why not end a multifaceted album on a country note?

"We definitely did want some different sounds," Stephen Marley explains in the press release, and goes on to say: "Ah just music!" Old Soul is an album that is just that indeed. Pure, beautiful, handmade and heartfelt music, music that finds its way from a talented, ancient spirit straight into your ears and hearts. And those of you who yearn for the visual experience as well, there is an extensive US tour in full swing right now. Welcome, every acoustic lover, to heaven!

Release details

Stephen Marley - Old Soul

Stephen Marley - Old Soul

DIGITAL RELEASE [Ghetto Youths International, Tuff Gong Collective, UMe]

Release date: 09/15/2023


01. Don't You Believe
02. Cool As The Breeze LISTEN HERE
03. Cast The First Stone feat. Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley
04. Thanks We Get (Do Fi Dem) feat. Buju Banton
05. Don't Let Me Down
06. Georgia On My Mind
07. Let The Children Play
08. Old Soul
09. There's A Reward feat. Ziggy Marley
10. This Time
11. These Foolish Things (Reminds Me of You)
12. I Shot The Sheriff feat. Eric Clapton
13. Standing In Love feat. Slightly Stoopid
14. Winding Roads feat. Jack Johnson & Bob Weir
15. Old Soul (Single Version) LISTEN HERE