The local sextet Old Jawbone creates music that is passionate, danceable and very difficult to describe. Thatís a compliment. On their recent CD release, Sounds Universal, OJB - the bandís alternate name - deals out an amalgamation of roots reggae, mambo, hip-hop, horn-section soul music and í70s-style synth-funk, to name a few of the many styles theyíve incorporated.

Elijah Kraatz, the bandís lead singer and a primary songwriter, was liberated from an early affection for "death metal" music when he discovered, and began to explore, the spiritual and musical legacy of Bob Marley. Kraatz writes and sings as if he was born and raised in Trenchtown. His lyrics echo Marleyís philosophy of faith, hope and optimism, and the recognition that a person should take a stand for whatís important in their lives. Many of OJBís songs are a plea for reason, revolution and peace in an overwhelming world.

The bandís name is derived from the weapon used by Samson to defeat the Philistines in the Old Testament. A quote on the bandís Web site warns, "Never doubt the power of a small group of thoughtful individuals to change the world."

Add to this strong philosophical core a seasoned team of fine musicians and songwriters who are absolutely comfortable playing together - the band reportedly hasnít skipped its regular weekly practice session in years. With a rock-solid rhythm section, OJB has become an imposing musical entity in Vermont.

Sounds Universal takes off with a Kraatz composition entitled "Come Along," which utilizes a catchy meter change in the refrain to pick you up and carry you into the feast of different styles to come. In "Elevate," the band delares: "We play music of 1. the revolutionary kind; 2. the evolutionary kind; 3. the loving kind to elevate your mind."

Old Jawboneís groove is unyielding, their message heartfelt, and their music fascinating, providing lots of much-needed good energy right now. The band plays Higher Ground this Thursday, with Manifest Nextome.

Robert Resnik, Seven Days, 3/5/03