Adopting its name from the well-known American abolitionist of the 1850s, John Brown's Body is an extraordinary octet from Ithaca, New York, that manages to kick, drop, and groove in that funky retro-Jamaican vibe while never sounding derivative. The band plays reggae music, yet with such a unique approach that it's easy to see why the group has erroneously been labeled a "jam band" on countless occasions.
Like its previous releases, the group's latest, Pressure Points -- its first for Easy Star Records (the folks who brought you Dub Side of the Moon) -- is packed with sharp skanking tunes, traditionally augmented by bubbly B-3 organ shuffle and soaring three-part horn licks. It's all seamlessly interwoven with fat, bottom-end bass as well as reggae's characteristic hesitant one-drop beats.
Unlike previous outings, however, the prominent appearance of acoustic guitar adds a somewhat folksier dimension to Pressure Points, especially on such tracks as disc opener "Bread" and the thoughtful "Heart and Soul." While the rhythms are undeniably in the reggae mode, songs like these keep you pondering the "jam band" tag. Similarly, those heavenly Lennon-McCartneyesque harmonies heard on "What We Gonna Do" are by no means reminiscent of the Jamaican genre. The band's songs are becoming much more varied, affirming the talent of songwriter-guitarist Kevin Kinsella. Traditionalists may balk at the intricate time signature of "New Blood," which may border on dancehall a bit too closely for their taste, while hardcore dancehall fans are likely to find it too rootsy. Those of us who love both will just dance. If people remain reluctant to label John Brown's Body a true reggae band, it's because they just haven't heard reggae that sounds like this before.
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