Album review: Hirie “Wandering Soul”

With the release of her self-titled debut (Roots Musician Records, 2013), Hawaii-residing Hirie became as much a figurehead of contemporary reggae as she was known for being a singer. She’s not only physically beautiful; she’s confident, kind, and always seems to be popping up at different festivals and events. Hirie is just so stinkin’ likable.

In doing so, she’s since sung alongside several legendary musical acts such as Tribal Seeds and Trevor Hall. On the surface, she seems like a pop princess using reggae as a platform, and this was, honestly, my first impression of Hirie, especially with her first major single, “Sensi Boy”, being a bubblegummy snap, crackle, and pop of a tune. But Wandering Soul really tears down any of those preconceptions, and caused me, actually, to go back to her first release for a deeper listen. Hirie’s integrity is not only sewn into every aspect of the songs themselves, but she released Wandering Soul through the Rootfire Rootfire Cooperative, which is reggae’s newest response to the collapsing record industry, and shows, more than anything, that Hirie is here to stay.

Above all, the production of WS is excellent. Undoubtedly, Hirie is going for a pop feel, but instead of making island-y pop songs, Hirie is so deeply reggae that the pop gloss is merely her indulging in contemporary production possibilities, so mad props to Danny Kalb (look him up if you haven’t heard of him) and Gavin Lurssen for really making this record sound like it should. Hirie’s band is exceptional, so as much as I love her voice, I can’t help but bounce to the incredible horn section. In fact, it’s the horns that give the album an old-school vibe. Peppered use of ukulele, lots of bass, and really exciting guitar work, WS is as much Marley as it is Aguilera, (who I love). From start to finish, WS rolls with quality.

To the songs specifically, Hirie teams up with likeminded juggernauts, first with Trevor Hall on “Good Vibration”. Hirie offers, “I know that everybody wishes to be born again… Speak it to the Earth and put it into rotation/ Receive the good vibration.” It’s a mystical set-up for Trevor to add, “All at once I’m feeling raised from the ashes… Listen to the voices in your head/ Sing along for once/ Do not run instead.” The song is a call to spiritual arms (the embracing kind). Trevor’s good friend, Nahko, appears on “Renegade”, a paunchier one drop that sounds like something concocted from Medicine For The People directly. Hirie swears, “These are poison times,” with another call, this one a bit more formal, even if her solution is to dance your cares away. Nahko is right at home here, offering, “I’m calling on the warrior dancer in me… I’m searching for a higher love.” See what I mean? These are well-written songs!

One of Hirie’s most original pieces is “Woman Comes First”, a glorious meditation on the power of femininity. “Do you believe that a woman comes from the rib of man?/ Do you understand/ we are more than that?” It’s somehow accusatory and forgiving within the same breath. Astutely, Hirie called on Nattali Rize for a verse. Nattali is arguably the most badass female in the reggae revolution, so here, tempered by Hirie’s subtle, slinky reggae backdrop (soooooo good), Nattali brings da fyah! “Give it for the women and the sisters/ they were there at your birth!” This song is a great expression of reggae’s influx of quality female musicians.

Hirie can be poetic. “I tell the man in uniform, loot the jewels from the master/ You can take anything you want/ but don’t take my ganja,” (“Don’t Take My Ganja”). Likewise, on “Boom Fire” she quips, “We can grind and pack and rip a cherry whole/ Lovin’ you is like toking the seed.”

But the key track is “Queen”. The groove is infectious and Hirie’s voice is on point (sexy, sultry, and stubborn). In this break-up/love song- (it’s a complicated love)- she bellows, “I’ve been giving my all/ when I only get half of you.” She’s mad, but she’s capable, so she adds, “I wish you well and goodbye/ to the man I thought I knew.” Later she believes, “I will love again.” It’s hard to imagine anyone doing wrong by Hirie- she’s kind of the whole package, but love can be convoluted and Hirie speaks it truly. I’ve nearly fried my speakers cranking this song.

The nitpicky critic in me doesn’t love that she uses the word “Okay” at the end of a line, and I’m not sure another song needs the line “You know you can count on me”- but come on! These songs balance old school reggae with contemporary flare. I encourage Hirie to work with her friends Nahko and Trevor on developing increasingly personal songs that will do her good in the long run, but regardless, Wandering Soul will go down as one of my favorite records, definitely of the year, if not of all time.

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