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John Brown's Body | Kings And Queens

album review by John Powell

John Brown's Body | Kings And Queens

How do you challenge the universally accepted best live reggae act of the modern age? Well, you get them to make a record that sounds as free-flowing and organic as their live shows, and this is no easy feat.

Five years in the making, John Brown’s Body’s Kings and Queens lives up to fan expectation, capturing much of their live energy. It is the most uplifting JBB record in a long time.

I’ll mostly compare Kings and Queens to Amplify, JBB’s last album, because it was the first album with loss of lead singer Kevin Kinsella and some other powerhouse musicians from the band’s previous incarnation. With the musician changes, the sound took a turn. Many fans thought JBB couldn’t keep going.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, and Elliot Martin and Tommy Benedetti pulled together a crew of incredible musicians for Amplify, which has its moments of pure elatedness and profundity, while some tracks included guest rappers and the whole album sounded very foreign to anything JBB had done before. Songs seemed tapered to the album. On Kings and Queens, however, the songs have been crafted and practiced live and on the road, so they went to record more freely and it shows.

The best bands go through phases. JBB seems to carousel around roots reggae, dub, hip/hop, world beat, rock, and at times folk- all tied flawlessly by reggae riddims. Amplify showed a fascination with synths and even things like soca, Elliot coming off more like Damian Marley than Bob. Amplify popped with a wall of sound.

Kings and Queens has an incredible roots influence, sparser, relaxed. Burning Spear (check out the horns on “Shine Bright”), Steel Pulse, and even guys like Mikey Dread are all clear inspirations throughout this 12-song set. The band that reimmerged from the change over is now so cohesive it’s overwhelming. The musicianship is impeccable. Nate Edgar’s bass, Mike Keenan’s guitar, and help in the studio from JBB ghost member Nate Richardson, combined with a newer arrival, Jon Petronzio on keys- well, it just makes for a great range of drum n’ bass, synth glitz, and roots riddims, and the horns play the biggest role they’ve played since Spirits All Around.

Elliot himself sounds freer and happier than he has in years. Amplify was full of not so much anger as apprehension and a call to arms, whereas KAQ’s “Step Inside” has a chorus that really sums up Elliot’s reestablished ease: “Step inside/ got to make the dancehall tight.” On “Invitation” he offers, “Everyone’s voice can be heard.” He’s happy. You can tell. And it’s well-earned.

Some songs are too good to be written about. “Dust Bowl”, “Old John Brown”, and “Shine Bright” are perhaps some of the best reggae songs written ever. JBB never focused too much on roots topics: marijuana, Rasta culture, Babylon- although much of the language and messages of roots reggae came through. Elliot’s lyrics are rich with stories, history, and insight, touching on roles of love and music, while also being more self-reflecting than he ever has before. “Deep Summer” is a gorgeous love song that brings out the depths of this man’s character. JBB is still writing brand new flavors of music.

Success? You bet. The record isn’t too compressed- a modern music fault. Instead, it’s loose and well mixed- although maybe Elliot’s voice could be louder in the mix so we can learn the lyrics better. The horns glisten, (I just love these horns, man), and the drum n’ bass get some studio boost from percussionist Brian Davis.

What a glorious record. Beautiful, heartening, and well deserved for this hard working band. It's great to see reggae gain footing, and it's great to see the revolutionists continue to burn walls and build bridges.

I could talk about this record forever. Just go get it.

Bottom line: Living up to expectation through wise risks and return to old school. Great, great album.


0 # Phil Johnson 2013-04-08 14:44
After reading this I am in heaven. I have been waiting for years for JBB to release a new, full-length album that is not DUB! Don't get me wrong I love the dubs, but after hearing "Shine Bright" live for the first time I could not get the tune out of my head. Now with "Dust Bowl" out I cannot WAIT UNTIL FRIDAY APRIL 12 TO SEE THEM LIVE IN PROVIDENCE!!!!! !!
0 # Rob 2013-04-24 16:29
Yes indeed...the brass sound from Burning Spear is there, as well as the Pulse influence. Good observations.
0 # Pete 2013-05-24 16:46
I absolutely ADORE this CD! And your review is perfect in every way. Thanks!
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