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Published: 2013/05/31
by Glenn H Roth

John Brown’s Body: Roots, Reggae, Royalty

Tommy Benedetti sits in his Boston home and is itching to get out on tour. He considers John Brown’s Body to be his family and wants the fans to hear its proud new addition: Kings and Queens.

For 15 years, Benedetti has been the American reggae band’s only drummer and feels the band’s ninth studio album is its best recording.

“The band is in a really good place right now and it’s no small feat for a band that’s been around for 15 years to be in the best place that we’ve been in in our career,” said Benedetti, a graduate of Berklee College of Music. “The record, the shows, feel really good. We all look forward to getting together and playing. I feel the band is getting better after every tour and that’s incredibly satisfying.”

Benedetti spoke to by phone to talk about the state of JBB, the new record and its summer tour.

JBB’s lineup also includes vocalist Elliot Martin, bassist Nate Edgar, keyboardist Jon Petronzio, guitarist Jay Spaker and the horn section of Drew Sayers (tenor sax), Sam Dechenne (trumpet) and Alex Asher (trombone).

A number of critics have said that this is your best record, do you agree?

As musicians you always tend to think of your latest work as your best work, but I honestly believe that this is the best picture of JBB that we’ve painted yet. We put a lot of work and hours into it and I think it is Elliot’s best batch of songs. The tunes are massive and everything kind of came together – the tunes, the production, the artwork, the performances and the vibes of the sessions. A lot of people are really responding to the fact that there are a few more rootsier tunes that kind of hearkens back to our earlier work and I think a lot of people were craving that a bit. It’s a pinpoint representation of what JBB is, has been and what will be in the future.

How does this album honor JBB’s past?

I think it’s a perfect blending of the progressive style of JBB and the roots that we cut our teeth on too. The way we honor the past is to make the best music we can right now. We’re not trying to recreate an album we did, but we approach it with the same sincerity – music that we love to listen to and love to play. Elliot definitely targeted having a few more classic rootsier jams like “Plantation,” – which is melody after melody. It’s just a beautiful piece of music. And then we have a ballad on there, “Falling Deep,” which is something we haven’t done in awhile – if ever really. I think the album really captures the essence of what the band is right now and what it’s been and it all makes sense.

Two songs on the album that stood out for me were the opening track “Step Inside,” and a song that appears later “Old John Brown.” Can you talk about those tracks?

Elliot’s demos kick butt and I remember hearing the demo for “Step Inside,” and getting my head blown off. The groove – the cutting edge vibe of it – it sounded like one of those rhythm tracks that established Jamaican artists like Capleton or Morgan Heritage have. It’s a heavy-hitting tune and we wanted to let people know right off the bat that we mean business with this record and we’re ready to roll.

When I heard “Old John Brown,” I immediately thought 21st century Burning Spear, and Burning Spear is one of our huge influences and we’ve spent a lot of time on the road with them. Their horn section and their tightness was a huge influence on us. I think “Old John Brown” is a nod to Spear but it’s done in a JBB-separate style. You don’t really hear that groove played a lot in the modern reggae scene right now. We’ve been playing that during the live shows and people are going pretty hops over that one.

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