Awake, Julian Marley's latest album released earlier this year is a great example of him stepping out from the Marley Brothers fold and into his own musical identity. Not to say that Julian didn't work with his brothers during the making of this album; Stephen, Damian, and Ziggy play and offer production touches throughout, but Julian has grown vastly in his songwriting capabilities by crafting material that is roots-oriented and echoes back to the days of his father's music. Nowhere was this evolution more visible than when Julian came to The Wild Hare reggae club as he passed through Chicago on a six week tour alongside his brother Stephen Marley.
It was a rainy, chilly, Friday evening and The Wild Hare was packed to the gills. A banner with the cover of Awake hung as the stage backdrop. The Uprising Band came onstage without an introduction and started off with the Slow Motion riddim, which was the intro chant during Bob Marley's final tour in 1980. Once the MC came on and introduced Julian, the first song of the evening was Babylon Cookie Jar, followed by the rootsy title track from Julian's 1996 debut, Lion In The Morning.
As the setlist went deeper and more people crammed up to the front of the stage, Julian spoke to the audience about a few new tracks on the Awake album. We were all invited to dance On The Floor, where everyone was grooving in their own way. We also heard the old Montego Bay tale of a white witch in Julian's temptress taleRose Hall. Boom Draw, one of the standout songs on the new album, was a heavy reggae/dancehall equivalent to Damian Marley's Welcome To Jamrock. Like Jamrock, the song is a conscious Rastaman's homage to the sacramental herb, explaining the association of a Rastaman or woman with his/her herb and Bible. Sharp As A Razor was a rebel jam reminder to stay aware that Babylon is ruthless.
Julian squeezed in a few of his dads more obscure classics like Positive Vibration and a quicker paced version of the original Studio One rhythm Stir It Up from the sixties. You couldn't miss glimpses of Bob in Julian as he sang his father's music while he danced and skanked around the stage, down to using the same Gibson guitar as his dad.
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