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iLa MaWaNa | Soldiers of Sound

Album Review By John Powell

iLa Mawana  ~ Angelica-Music

My first listen of iLa MaWaNa’s recorded music was their six-song EP, an impressive glimpse of the band’s capability to produce sweet sounding music fronted by a unique vocalist with a lot on his mind. With the 2010 release of “Soldiers of Sound”, however, I expected the songs from the EP to resurface on the full-length, but mistaken, iLa MaWaNa delivers twelve more, brand new songs, proving that they had a firm platform before they leapt into the recording world; they had a handful of songs to pick and choose from. In understanding a band’s sturdiness this is important because it meant they went into recording Soldiers of Sound with a complete thought, like it was all there to be recorded, and not built up simply in order to complete an album to tour behind. This is music as art.

The album begins with “The Golden Age”, or rather, it starts with several seconds of what sounds like insects squirming, and then the bass leads into a funky rock steady groove and singer Gianpaolo Blower singing, “Looking back at the reign of Cronus,” and if that doesn’t evoke an emotion, a vibe, then I don’t know what will. The horns lay down a classic Lee “Scratch” Perry line and the song continues to grow from there.

Overall, the album celebrates roots reggae, paying attention to driving bass lines, one-drop drums and complementary hand percussion by Ryan Nava. There are also old-school backing vocals by saxophonist Nancy Loedy, who not only has soothing chops but also a great understanding of her instrument. I don’t know who writes the horn lines, but they are stellar. Blower’s voice is reminiscent of Groundation’s Harrison Stafford, and doesn’t sound like a Bostonian white boy. He doesn’t try and sound Rasta though, either, a downfall of some white-led contemporary reggae groups. His voice is instantly recognizable, and his lyrics, though careful and often cliché in their rhyme schemes, are rich with images like, “Soldiers of Sound” and “Journeyman”, which causes you to pause and consider what they might look like. Words like “Freedom”, and “Time”, run rampant throughout the album, and on “Green Bridge” he sings, “Your smile/ makes me feel so wild”, an example of how some of his lyrics can be predictable, but he also says, “Frankly, I fall through your heart’s door,” and, “So far the story showed/ we’re all created by the life we chose.” His knack for melody is where he succeeds, as well as little inflections and a way of singing words within the melody as if they stood alone, as if each word matters.

Jason Moore’s keyboard playing, however, is the band’s most powerful ally. He scorches, adding tid bits in perfect locations and grinding out heavy lower ends like on the jam at the end of “Journeyman”. His most impressive playing is on the album closer, “I Define Me”, when he lays down a groove that would make dub masters like Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad grin with glee.

I don’t want to overlook Ryan Hinchey, a wonderful bass player that drives the message home, especially on the title track, a freaking amazing song that sums up the band’s message and creativity. Unfortunately, Hinchey’s bass is turned down too low in the mix. He and Sammy Wag’s drums should have more room in the speakers, but that’s my only critique as far as the sonics go.

Key tracks are the opener, “The Golden Age”, for its horns, “Soldiers of Sound” for its gradual build and release, “40 Hours” for its message, and “I Define Me” for its everything.

Soldiers of Sound is pure pleasure.

“Frankly” is a ska blast and by far the album’s best song, a song for summer, for the windows down, for destroying your speakers. It’s everything you could ask for, a sweet love song that displays each part of the group, everyone able to show off that they know it’s the tiny detail, the simple additions, that make a reggae song great. Guitarist Dave Rosen shines on this song, one of his few opportunities to display his control over his guitar. Get this album for “Frankly”, if nothing else.

Overall, iLa MaWaNa has made a fun, party-filled work of art. It’s reggae without the overbearing religious and cultural lyrics that sometimes make the listener uncomfortable. Soldiers of Sound is pure pleasure.

Purchase Soldiers of Sound here


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