John Brown’s Body has a reggae sound that drifts toward Jam Band. Today’s posting includes two reviews of Jam Band releases. Read on to find out how to win a Jam Band CD Prize Pack.
The sound hits you hearing John Brown’s Body live. Guitars, Hammond B3, drums vocals, trumpet, tenor sax, trombone, tambourine, and board magic reverb surround the songs, launch the sound, envelope the space and the crowd. It’s like the sound is creating a fellowship for the evening, weaving connections of aural energy, human ties, spiritual reach, and beats to infect your biorhythms.
Other reggae acts end up sounding somewhat hollow between the prominent bass line and vocals. That hollowness can be due to cheap drum machines, cheap keyboards, or uninteresting guitar playing. Seeing John Brown’s Body (JBB) Thursday night at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall erased the perception that reggae acts these days will end up suffering that same hollowness.
JBB’s latest release, Presssure Points, rises above the rest, displaying the heights that JBB has achieved here in 2005. However, where Pressure Points differentiates itself from the typical reggae sound by being led by more acoustic guitar sounds, JBB’s live show stayed entirely electric. That acoustic sound is a huge strength for Pressure Points, and that goes almost untapped in the live show. It only took center stage on the album opener, “Bread,” which live began with an acoustic jam and muted trumpet, ending with an acoustic reverb and muted trumpet.
The set list included obvious crowd favorites from the back library of JBB material, such as “Words of the Prophets” (from 1996’s All Time) featured an awesome B3 bridge and some old school horns with an riff almost like “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. However, the set list mainly drew from Pressure Points to tremendous results.
“Blazing Love” grooved, with Sting-like “whoa-whoa”’s throw in and a more-syllables-for-your-money section. “Not Enough” has more of a trad reggae feel with that Doors classic rock ability to bring jazz into the picked guitar solo by Nate Silas Richardson. Trumpeter Christofer “C-Money” Welter caught my attention on “Pressure Points,” waving his hand like a ska singer, bringing a soul skate attitude. Yet, he’s not just waving his hand in the air; Welter can play a mean trumpet.
“New Blood” is another song with that double-speed vocal, kind of the reggae equivalent of the “fast twista” Chicago rap sound referenced by opener Psalm One. The song got the bounce going, clearly showing that JBB is an aural force to be reckoned with. “Follow Into Shadow” drops down lower, groove’s harder, like a haunted side of things.
JBB’s Elliot Martin, who shares vocal duties with guitarist Kevin Kinsella, has the dreds for a reggae look. The rhythm section has more of a roots, laid back look with Richardson (keyboards, guitar, harmony vocals) having an outgrown beard like David Bazan of Pedro the Lion. Kinsella actually looks like Roger Clyne. Then the horns wear suits and ties like a Motown or ska horn section. All of this image talk is to say—looking at JBB, you know that anyone can be at the show. There’s no image prerequisite. The music speaks of diversity, and JBB encourage all to hear and experience the sound, the fellowship.
As the crowd swayed to the “riddim,” it felt like one of those music videos where the director has obviously cast one person from every nationality that can be found. The video shows the people dancing and singing along, implying that this artist reaches all people with this song. Yet, where a music video like that makes it look like forced diversity, as I looked around the crowd, this was real. The crowd really was dancing and singing together, obviously devoted to JBB. There were college co-eds, a balding white hippie, Hispanic women, young black men, an old black man shuffling, a jock wearing a tennis visor, and young hippies. Everyone was swaying, joining together for fellowship led by JBB, joining together from disparate places and situations. No director orchestrated this multiculturalism. JBB, Shank Hall, and the promise of music and beer brought together these wide range of people.
Rhythmically this diversity shows up in how the music encourages you to dance to so many different beats and tempos found in one song. You could scan the crowd, and in their dancing, you could see someone matching the drums, finding the highs and lows of the rhythm guitar, bouncing with bass, hopping and head shaking to the horns, or swaying slowly with the B3. Music that can develop your sense of composition and rhythmic harmony should definitely be applauded.
Thanks to John Brown’s Body, Easy Star Records, and the Planetary Group for their help.
Jam Band: Steel Train’s Twilight Tales from the Prairies of the Sun
A four-track sampler from Steel Train came my way with a recent issue of Paste magazine. I slapped the disc in the CD player, went about some household chores, vaguely aware of the Country sliding melodies in the background. I almost forgot about it—until suddenly I found myself grooving to a Santana-like, blazing Hispanic bluesy jam. I thought the CD player had switched to some other disc, but no, this was still Steel Train—traversing the sonic sounds from Country-influenced Rock to Hispanic blues rock.
Twilight Tales may have proved to be disjointed with such a mix, but instead, the album blends these strains together, highlighting the hints of all of these sounds in each song. It begins with “Better Love,” which could come from that tender Country place found in the music of Grand Drive. “Better Love” has some little guitar embellishments hinting at the jam to come later. “Road Song” then goes more toward an acoustic country blues. That sets up the slide guitar drenched ballad, “Dig.” So we’ve stared into the night sky, ridden to the town bar, and spent a lonely moment thinking about what was.
Steel Train doesn’t let you wallow, though. Track 4 hits with “The Lee Baby Simms Show: Episode 1,” one of the Santana inspired jams. Guitars and percussion pick out the new rhythms for this night. The instrumental is completed on track 11 with “Episode 2.” These same border town blues rock the “Gypsy Waves,” letting vocal harmonies add to this mix.
Those Hispanic blues jams cause the most anticipation for a Steel Train live show, yet Twilight Tales’s more Country side of things also features the gems of “Two O’Clock” (starting a bit like Ill Lit then going to a Grateful Dead sing along about smoking), “Catch You on the Other Side” (jams along with some country/new grass picking), and “I Will Stay Here” (more folky with vocal harmonies that rock like a lullabye that’s too beautiful to let you fall asleep).
The spacey jam of “Tickle Your Toes” could do well to get a festival crowd dancing this summer, leading many to ride that Steel Train.
Thanks to Steel Train, Drive Thru Records, and Big Hassle Publicity for the review and giveaway copies.
Jam Band: Zox’s Take Me Home
If you became disappointed when Boyd Tinsley’s violin became less of a factor in the music of the Dave Matthews Band, maybe Spencer Swain can fill the bill. Zox is pure Jam Band energy driven in many respects by Swain’s violin. Their 2003 release, Take Me Home, lets Swain play around with classical references before diving headstrong into songwriter/lead vocalist/guitarist Eli Miller’s jamming vision.
“The Butterfly” and “Homebody” have that ska hop rhythm which lends itself so well to the party in the pit at a live show. Other songs move forward in Folk-influenced Rock vein, like “Leaving Me.” There’s just same plain fun infused in these rhythms, too, like “Ghost Town” with its syllabic “ah-ee-ah-ee-ah” on the chorus.
Songs like “The Squid” creep around a haunted feeling like Scooby Doo ghost story that’s groovy and yet, “I’m scared, Shaggy.” That same haunted groove is found in other Jam Bands like pioneers String Cheese Incident. Even beyond the bluesy beginning, “Goodbye to You” has this something’s-lurking-around-the-corner sound.
Zox’s new album, The Wait, will be released August 2.
Thanks to Zox and Armo Records for the review copy.
JAM BAND CD GIVEAWAY!
Email Now! to win CDs from Music Spectrum. The GRAND PRIZE in today’s CD Giveaway is a CD Prize Pack featuring Steel Train’s Twilight Tales and a few other jam band discs including a promo-only live CD of the String Cheese Incident. Three runner-up prizes of the Steel Train CD are also available.