J. Nadir Omowale, a.k.a. Nadir, was in an activist mood when we last heard from him. It was an election year - 2008, to be exact. The nation was involved in two wars and was about to enter the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression. Nadir looked at the state of the nation and the state of protest music, and must have concluded that new crises, atrocities, scandals and scams required some new protest music. Nadir responded by giving the world the polemical Working for the Man, an album with a title track that captured the zeitgeist of the time when banks got bailouts and workers and homeowners received foreclosure and lay-off notices.
It’s 2012 and Nadir is back with his latest, The Book of Jonah. The title hints at another work of prophecy and judgment. However, The Book of Jonah returns to the thematic terrain of one of the guitarist’s earlier election year releases – 2004’s Distorted Soul, 2.0. The Book of Jonah features 11 energetic tracks that primarily deal with the artist’s take on love and life. And while Working for the Man stands as one of the best records in the last five years due to its timeliness, The Book of Jonah will just have to settle for being one of the top albums of 2012.
Thematic differences aside, The Book of Jonah and its musical predecessor have a lot in common. The most obvious is that ease in which Nadir fuses all of his many musical influences. Nadir moved from funk, to rock, hip-hop, soul and Latin rock on Working for the Man.
The Book of Jonah features the rock/funk anthem “95 Miles Down the Road,” a duet that pairs Nadir with frequent collaborator Mayaeni. The tune tells the story of people escaping a bad situation and is a track where it is possible to discern some type of political statement. Sometimes our current situation is so untenable that driving into the unknown stands as a better option than staying put. That’s a message that someone stuck in a bad relationship with a lover or mired in rough economic waters might need to hear.
Another such track is “Stickin’” a funky, percussive, bass plucking number that finds Nadir letting a smooth talker know that he is listening closely to find the lie among all the flowery words. That’s something that will work at nightclub and while watching the many political ads you will watch during election 2012.
Nadir showcases his ability to render a ballad on the mournful cut “The Bottle.” This ‘I can’t quit you, even if you quit me’ song that tells the story of the singer’s unsuccessful attempt to use liquor to wash away the memory of a lost relationship. The track begins as a classic soul ballad, but moves into rock territory as the number reaches its crescendo. Vocally, Nadir begins this track in R&B mode, but he is going to church at the end as he growls “Woman I can’t drink you out of my head/but I can’t put the bottle down.”
Although, The Book of Jonah is not as overtly political as Working for the Man, Nadir latest project yet manages to capture the tenor of the times: We are a war weary nation – whether the battles feature soldiers in far away lands or rhetorical political fights. Americans are stressed out emotionally and at their breaking point economically. An album of ballads and dance numbers might just be what war weary people are looking for. And if that’s the case, The Book of Jonah stands as the perfect musical escape. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes