Stephen Marley’s new album, Old Soul, his first full-length project since 2016, is out now via Tuff Gong Collective/UMe/Ghetto Youths International. Featuring a stellar line-up of special guests, including Bob Weir, Eric Clapton, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Buju Banton, and Slightly Stoopid. Old Soul will be available on CD, a 2LP standard black vinyl, and as a limited-edition double LP vinyl in translucent yellow and green on December 1.
Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and singer/songwriter Jack Johnson join Marley on “Winding Roads,” the album’s latest single. A metaphor for life’s journey, struggle, and eventual salvation, the song soulfully closes out Old Soul with interlacing guitar and vocal trade-offs from Marley, Weir, and Johnson, creating an unforgettable bluesy classic and the only song from the album recorded with a full band. “Winding Roads” was recorded at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios with his Wolf Bros band, including Don Was and Dead & Company members Jeff Chimenti and Jay Lane.
The release of “Winding Roads” followed two previous singles, “Old Soul” and “Cool As The Breeze.” A retrospective music video for the album’s title track, “Old Soul,” released earlier this summer, features unseen family images and a montage of Jamaican musical heritage. A warm acoustic narrative, the song carries listeners through Stephen’s evolution, intertwined with the Marley legacy. Lyrics such as “April 1972, my mom and poppa brought me through, back then I was the favorite, so they say,” give a nod to his lineage and early years. Originally penned by Jamaican artist Omi, Stephen adapted the song to reflect his personal journey, suggesting a familiarity with past life experiences. Echoing his father’s sentiments, Stephen’s core message promotes mental freedom and unity.
Stephen Marley’s Old Soul comes as a complete revelation. While grounded from the road during the COVID lockdown, Stephen set up a new studio on a remote family farm in the Florida countryside, holding nightly jam sessions in a converted garage. With a stripped-down ensemble comprising binghi drums, bass, acoustic guitar, and flute, Stephen played whatever he felt like — ranging from original compositions and reggae rarities with deep personal meaning to classics recorded by Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and The Beatles. “Irie vibration,” Stephen says of the sounds made together on the farm. The lion’s share of Old Soul was recorded during these “unplugged” jam sessions.
Old Soul explores a musical palette that spans a variety of cultures and genres alike, with hand-selected special guests furthering the spiritual journey that encompasses the album. Stephen and his elder brother Ziggy collaborate on “There’s A Reward,” a heartfelt tribute to Joe Higgs, the man who mentored young Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer when they were all aspiring singers in Trenchtown. Meanwhile, Stephen’s younger brother Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley features on “Cast The First Stone,” a powerful, thought-provoking tune set to an ominous groove that sounds like something from a lost spaghetti Western soundtrack.
Stephen enlists his old friend Buju Banton on the ska-flavored “Thanks We Get (Do Fi Dem),” a Lee “Scratch” Perry composition made famous by Junior Byles that explores the idea that no good deed goes unpunished. And Kyle McDonald of Slightly Stoopid joins on a verse on “Standing In Love,” a beautiful ballad that hearkens back to reggae’s sweet rocksteady era.
“We definitely did want some different sounds,” says Stephen. “We never want to come with the same ray ray ray. We try to make some of them something you can’t really identify. Ah, just music.” Among the more unexpected selections embedded on Old Soul are a disarmingly sweet cover of Sinatra’s “These Foolish Things (Reminds Me Of You),” as well as Marley’s take on The Beatles’ perpetually pleading “Don’t Let Me Down.”
The song selection on the new album demonstrates Stephen’s courage to defy expectations. “You have to be true to yourself,” he says. “I refuse to be put into any category. I am inspired by everything. So, if I feel like I want to play some jazz music, I will go play some jazz music. Who dig it, dig it.”