A pleasantly surprising offering from London’s reggae-and-beyond outfit.
Angus Taylor 2012
The fifth album by South London's jazz and roots collective Soothsayers finds them still celebrating the reggae sounds they embraced with third outing, One More Reason. Gone are that record's guest vocalists, but the core group sound more confident in their own singing, songwriting and genre-splicing than ever before.
Where immediate predecessor Red Earth Dub was all sound and studio wizardry, here trumpeter Robin Hopcraft, saxophonist Idris Rahman and singer Julia Biel's voices intertwine over rhythms that sit at a previously uncharted meeting point of roots reggae, Afrobeat, soulful pop and dub. Their harmonies carry lyrical themes of loneliness and nonconformity, of standing up for nature and for oneself.
At the reggae end of the spectrum is the colossal Hard Times (a version of which appeared on Red Earth Dub). At the opposite extreme is the title track – its moralising environmental warning offset by its infectious rhythm and blazing horns. In the middle lies hybridised hymn to struggle It's Not Easy, whose organ knowingly references The Specials' Ghost Town.
It takes a brave band to update Ralph McTell's busker favourite Streets of London – a song so well worn that it has become a comedy show staple. Yet update it they do, revitalising its message for the have-nots of today's capital. We're Not Leaving proves the group can write glorious golden reggae pop songs themselves - appearing in its single release and acoustic form.
Several of the compositions occur more than once but never outstay their welcome. This is thanks to the ingenuity of Patrick Illingworth's drumming and the album's hidden guests: engineers Prince Fatty, Raz Olsher, Nick Manasseh, Malcolm Catto and Yesking.
While the voices of past collaborators such as Johnny Clarke, Linval Thompson and Cornell Campbell would be useful on any record, Human Nature reminds that Soothsayers are a formidable creative force without them. If you're unfamiliar with their projects, this album will surprise. And if you know their capabilities, it may surprise you still.