Once upon a time stoners watched TV, munched on Doritos and played video games. The only effort they expended was the occasional trip to a Phish show and the consistent laughing when the alarm on their watches went off at 4:20. Those simple times are over with the release of the album New Prohibition: A Musical History of Hemp. This compilation album is based on a play written in the 1970s to promote the legalization of marijuana. The play was never produced because of the oppressive public opinion regarding marijuana. Welcome to 2001, where the living’s easy. This album has a varied collage of musical styles on it, from R&B to a cappella to traditional rock and roll. It’s interesting and varied, and without listening to the actual political statement of the album, it is good.
The music here reaches across boundaries and that is possibly the album’s most interesting component. Sweet Pea Atkinson does a soulful R&B song, “On to Something Good”, which is reminiscent of Tina Turner and James Brown. It has the feel of something older, although its lyrics address a more contemporary political issue. It is one of the best songs on the album, with its bass-heavy groove and sweet soulful vocals. “Slow Lane” by Taj Mahal is a funky blues song with some screeching licks and tight riffs. It is a blues-lover’s song and Taj Mahal’s vocals and guitar bring one back to that old honky-tonk in the South.
The point of this album, however, is not in the music or even the lyrics. The point is to mobilize a youth force to stop the prohibition of marijuana. This album will not convince those who are unsure of their stance on pot. It is for the already converted, those who believe that pot should and will be legal. It is a political manifesto as opposed to a political debate. In this sense, it works very well. The force with which the artists project their beliefs is staggering. There are a few missteps along the way. The Mighty Echoes (an a cappella group) sound alarmingly cheesy when they sing “Music’s So Much Better”. It makes listeners wonder if maybe that horrible music would be better if they were high. Regardless of these missteps, the music is great and it is the type of music that could reach across generations and boundaries, except that it is all about the legalization of marijuana. And ultimately, in terms of being a vital album in your collection, it is only worthwhile if you are one of the converted who believe that pot should be legal.
This is a great album musically and an interesting album lyrically, but by no means is it a great album over all. It is good. And perhaps that is better than most of the music released now, but that still doesn’t make it great. If you are a lover of soulful music with no political agenda regarding marijuana, then you will enjoy it a little bit. If you think pot should be legal, this will probably be your rallying cry. But all in all, where this album fails is in its embrace of a political cause that is not supported by the people most likely to enjoy this type of music.
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