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John Brown’s Body – Among Them

Shanachie Records, 1999

Despite what I have mentioned before about record covers that might be trying too hard for your attention, I could not resist this one.  Something about the colors and design spoke to me, as well as the idea that it’s got a picture of a guy with a powerful beard on it.  I had never heard of Shanachie before, so this record could have gone either way in terms of quality.  However, in hindsight, the “Ruff Tuff” wording at the top of the cover should have given this away to me.  No big deal, because pleasant surprises are welcome.

John Brown’s Body is a wonderful group that specializes in some of the most relaxing reggae I’ve heard.  What is even more spectacular is that these guys come from Ithaca, NY!  That means I could actually go see them live!  But I’m getting ahead of myself … John Brown’s Body have managed to put together a reggae record without sounding like they’re trying too hard to mimic the old reggae style.  It just sounds easy for them to develop that late summer night with a cold one in hand feeling.  They’ve got the signature reggae steady riff, the dancing bass beneath all, and the fantastic horn section to carry out the easygoing music that reminds me of Marley’s quieter moments as well as the spirit of the Skatalites’ earlier stuff.

The first song on the record, which also happens to be the title track, combines a lot of elements that can be heard throughout the rest of the album.  It begins with a bit of reverb before vocalist Kevin Kinsella strides in discussing how he wishes to be spiritually fulfilled.  It’s true, Kinsella does not come from a land known for its reggae roots (aka America) but his vocal style is convincing enough to allow the listener to not dwell upon that fact.  His voice actually just slips in with the rest of the instruments that are serenely busy in developing a light, bouncy mood.  This is particularly evident in “Love is a Fire” which is feather-like in its sound.  Sam Godin’s keyboard work, as well as the crisp brass coming from Lee Hamilton and Paul Merrill, make this clearly one of the highlights of the record.  With a band that comprises of seven members, one can expect a full, intricate sound on every track.

Ease on out with a few listens of John Brown’s Body at their website or their MySpace page.

I don’t often gush about a record, especially since most records I listen to for this blog tend to be dodgy in quality.  Even the ones that I find to be good are usually 70/30 at best in regards to likability.  However, I am finding that if one can find an affordable record that picks up one’s mood seemingly without any sort of aggressive effort, then it’s a wonderful thing.  Plus, there’s something about reggae that can be uplifting no matter what the subject matter is, and I have found that John Brown’s Body has put together an excellent collection of bright songs that might turn a stranger onto this kind of music.  The group is still releasing records and touring the States, so if you’re up for a fine evening of reggae rhythms be sure to see if they’re coming to town.  And yeah, these guys get the Golden Dollar and a permanent place in the collection.

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