Odel Johnson

[Ohm Grown Records/Obelisk Productions]

“Live from St. Ann’s, Jamaica, it’s the one and only, it’s the legendary, it’s the man from up in the hills…” No, wait. This isn’t Burning Spear, it’s the talented Odel Johnson! “Please give him a warm round of applause!”

Odel shares his cultural home of St. Ann’s parish with the likes of Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Burning Spear, all of whom have served as sources of great inspiration for this self taught drummer and songwriter. Odel’s highly-anticipated debut album, entitled “Mind & Body Sold” draws from the wellspring of his musical experience as a professional musician. To tap into this resource, he recorded with bassie George “Fully” Fullwood, guitsy Tony Chin and keyboardist Jawge Hughes, Sr. and he mixed with the legendary engineer Hopeton “Scientist” Brown.

In the drummie’s seat for several years as part of the post-Tosh Fully Fullwood band, Odel learned a lot from this group that has backed some of reggae’s most popular artists including Peter Tosh as the Word Sound Power band (which at that time had Santa Davis on drums.) The artist performed in countless sessions and played on many of Scientist’s engineered stages–from this he learned the “science” that creates this new treatment to the time-honored tradition of the live-off-the-floor-recording technique.

Odel in Toronto“Mind & Body Sold” is Odel’s time to shine. Absent are any programmed drum portions–he performs live on all the drum parts on the recording except for percussion from Remi Kabaka (percussionist with Hugh Masekela, Steve Winwood, etc.) The tracks are written by Odel with contributions on two songs, “Mr. Iron Curtain Man” and “Jah Son,” from Noel “Jafahda” Walcott III, colorful music business persona and actor in the film “Thelma and Louise.”

The recording was done in two stages, the first in Los Angeles with the Fully Fullwood Band and the second half was done in his current residence of Toronto, Ontario. Contributions on this portion included those by his lifelong friend and music partner, Tony Barrett who plays lead guitar and Tony’s brother Collin Barrett. Together, they comprise the Canada-based production team that perform and record with Juno reggae Award-winner, Sonia Collymore.

This record is a richly layered sonic experience complete with intricate horn patterns, lush gospel-influenced suppporting vocals, rock guitar fills and solos. It is fair to say with all due respect that this release is composed outside the confines of many contemporary reggae albums. It does not rely on remakes of vintage rhythms as a base nor does it attempt to rehash slogans or doctrine from spiritual teachings. What it does instead is embrace and exemplify the sonic vibe of the 70’s by delivering superlative tracks, potent lyrical phrasing, and unique rebel poetry that as a sum of their parts are essential to the great reggae experience.

The lyrics follow the journey of the individual’s place in the community, the quest for redemption, gratitude for life, respect for justice, the quest for knowledge and understanding, and the necessity for a positive mental outlook. It is indeed a testament to those following or observing a spiritual path. In particular the song “Signs” (which is presented in both a one-drop reggae version and a dramatic ballad version complete with elaborate choir harmonies) explains that “Signs tell me count your blessings, give all that’s been given, keep the faith.”

Odel takes us on a journey as “global citizens” through various genres and musical styles. On “Mantos Santos,” a song that deplores the tendency of the Catholic church to create doctrine that controls the masses, he creates a salsa vibe. The title track “Mind & Body, Sold” is actually an R&B song which he co-wrote with Barrett on a rhythm that is reminiscent of some East Coast classic hip-hop. It is Odel’s perspective on the African Diaspora–the song decries the emphasis on materialism and diminished returns of love in the modern community.

There are playful moments–a rroleplay both spoken and sung on “Mr. Iron Curtain Man” taunts the immigration officer by stating in patois, “I am a global citizen, yet you still wan come test me.” His Marley tribute, the anti-crack, pro-Jamaica anthem “Crazy Bumpheads” features Karen Grant (Word, Sound and Power) on supporting vocals and it suggest that we need to chase those crazy baldheads, warheads, gunrunners and of course… cokeheads “outta wi Yard.”

The lead track is perhaps the most pop-oriented and therefore most anthemic song on the record. The boom shot “Fire in the Hole” is a term used to describe bomb raids in foxholes at war time. This song emphasizes the ability to combat all manner of fears and challenges with love. Odel cries out the chorus in a strong voice reminiscent of his great mentor, Peter Tosh, “Fire in the hole and you can’t run. We’re coming to find you.” If you are ready to take the journey with Odel, you will find these lines a motivator to check out the album. “We are gonna take your soul, revive it, we’re gonna take your heart, rebuild it, we’re gonna take your tongue and heal it, we’re gonna take your brain, and rewire it.”

The release had its formal debut at the Mod Club in Toronto on March 25th, 2005 to a capacity crowd of 500 people. As Odel humbly puts it: “I was pleasantly surprised to see close to 500 people at the Mod Club for my CD release party. I am encouraged to continue making music…soon it (the concert) will be available on DVD and as a live CD. Keep supporting roots, rock reggae.” There was great effort to get the people out to this event which also featured the Iyah Yant Drummers and members of the Caribbean Dance Theatre. Odel gave several radio and print media interviews in the days ahead of the show and tickets were sold in combination with a free CD in advance and at the door.

MIND & BODY SOLD is available on the Toronto-based Ohm Grown Records and Odel’s own Obelisk Productions. Odel’s website, www.odeljohnson.com has selected tracks available for listening. It can be purchased now on www.cdbaby.com/odel.