John Brown’s Body vaulted onto the American music scene in the mid-90′s with a brand of reverent roots reggae that paid particular homage to tradition rhythms and arrangements. Founded on the heels of lead singer Kevin Kinsella’s Boston-based, Caribbean-inspired group, the Tribulations, they eventually grew to a nine piece ensemble with a full horn section and dual vocalists.

Over the past two years, however, JBB has experienced a number of transitional events that have changed not only the composition of the band, but also the direction of the band’s compositions. Since 2006, the band lost its bass player, Scott Palmer, to cancer, saw the departure of Kinsella and dealt with uncertainty as their remaining lead singer, Elliot Martin, underwent surgery to remove polyps from his throat.


JBB managed to recoup from all this turmoil and, in fact, are now experiencing their most successful period to date. In September, JBB reemerged with a new lineup and released Amplify, their second on the Easy Star label. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard Reggae Charts, made it onto iTunes best of 2008 list and landed at number 10 on the CMJ World Music Chart.

The title Amplify signifies JBB’s sonic conversion from rootsy to progressive marked by Martin’s new role the band’s main songwriter. Instead of relying on traditional foundations to create their songs, Martin takes the band’s old world foundation and builds a complex and multi-genre crossbreed that places the band squarely on the forefront of the world music arena.

Fitting then that JBB should headline “Future Roots and Planetary Grooves” at Le Poisson Rouge last Friday night. The program billed various global sounds from the Persian-tinged pop rock of Haale to the spiritual soul of Morley. DJs from Globesonic Sound System filled in the space between acts, warming up the dance floor, but JBB set the crowd on fire from the first downbeat.

The band’s playlist was heavily peppered with compositions from Amplify, including the title track, which shows the group’s increasing tendency to incorporate other musical styles into their sound; the rhythmic base has as much to do with hip hop as with reggae. New textures from Matthew “Kofi” Goodwin on keys also give the band a thicker, ample sound on the album’s namesake song as well as the rest of the record.

Other new tracks, “Speak of the Devil” and “Give Yourself Over” highlight Martin’s tendency to pack his arrangements with dense harmonies and beautifully coursing melodies over increasingly complex rhythmic structures. A bass break towards the end of “Give Yourself Over” not only had the crowd riled and jumping, it also showed the band’s ability to get right down to the essence of their sound: the horns give the band its pomp, but it’s the continuous bass groove that carries the band forward and moves the crowd’s feet.

They embroidered the evening with classics from their last two records, Spirits All Around Us and Pressure Points, including an especially rousing version of “What We Gonna Do.” Although Pressure Points represents the passing of the songwriting torch from Kinsella to Martin,  “What We Gonna Do” takes cues from the older JBB playbook with its sparser, more traditional arrangements. JBB may have reached new heights, but they’ve never forgotten where they came from.–Julie Pinsonneault

  1. Julie this is a great article. Its nice to see JBB pushing forward and creating a fearless sound that is diverse but still reaches many people. I wish I was at this show it looked like fun.


  2. [...] Published on January 15th 2009 by Sentimentalist Mag: here. Many thanks to Julie [...]